There have been 28 exchanges between Alok Sharma and Department for Work and Pensions
|Mon 1st July 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||17 interactions (384 words)|
|Wed 5th June 2019||Universal Credit and Debt (Westminster Hall)||14 interactions (1,831 words)|
|Mon 13th May 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||32 interactions (566 words)|
|Tue 7th May 2019||Universal Credit Helpline (Westminster Hall)||6 interactions (1,412 words)|
|Tue 9th April 2019||Devolution of Welfare (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (1,280 words)|
|Mon 18th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||67 interactions (1,191 words)|
|Mon 11th February 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||46 interactions (823 words)|
|Mon 14th January 2019||Universal Credit (Urgent Question)||73 interactions (2,617 words)|
|Tue 8th January 2019||Universal Credit: Managed Migration (Urgent Question)||88 interactions (3,380 words)|
|Mon 7th January 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||56 interactions (1,257 words)|
|Wed 28th November 2018||Universal Support: East Suffolk (Westminster Hall)||2 interactions (1,689 words)|
|Tue 27th November 2018||Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit: Two-child Limit (Westminster Hall)||16 interactions (1,375 words)|
|Mon 19th November 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||43 interactions (970 words)|
|Wed 14th November 2018||Universal Credit Roll-out: Nottingham (Westminster Hall)||8 interactions (1,283 words)|
|Wed 17th October 2018||Universal Credit||9 interactions (950 words)|
|Tue 16th October 2018||Universal Credit||121 interactions (3,528 words)|
|Mon 15th October 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||58 interactions (984 words)|
|Wed 11th July 2018||The Secretary of State’s Handling of Universal Credit||8 interactions (634 words)|
|Mon 2nd July 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||38 interactions (791 words)|
|Wed 6th June 2018||Employment Rates (Westminster Hall)||9 interactions (2,572 words)|
|Mon 21st May 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||41 interactions (643 words)|
|Wed 9th May 2018||DWP Offices Closures: Merthyr Tydfil (Westminster Hall)||18 interactions (1,329 words)|
|Tue 20th March 2018||Scottish Welfare Powers (Westminster Hall)||11 interactions (1,408 words)|
|Wed 14th March 2018||Women and Work (Westminster Hall)||4 interactions (1,072 words)|
|Thu 8th February 2018||Work and Pensions Committee||3 interactions (67 words)|
|Mon 5th February 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||46 interactions (685 words)|
|Mon 5th February 2018||Jobcentre Closures||22 interactions (2,062 words)|
|Tue 16th January 2018||Food Poverty: Merseyside (Westminster Hall)||38 interactions (2,502 words)|
6. What steps her Department is taking to increase working people’s incomes through universal credit. 
Will the Minister join me in thanking the excellent DWP staff on the Isle of Wight, some of whom I met in Newport a few weeks ago? I am sure he and the team will seek to make further improvements to universal credit, but it was clear to me, talking to those staff, that universal credit enables them to do more good for more people than the inflexible system that preceded it.
My constituent, Amanda, who is a single mum with significant mental health problems, had her UC claim closed—unknown to her—at the beginning of May. She was told by the DWP that this was a sanction because she failed to complete an online review. I should also mention that she was in the last few weeks of her pregnancy. Given that Amanda is clearly a vulnerable person, will the Secretary of State commit to ensure that all work coaches are aware of their obligations following last year’s High Court judgment, which demands that they should treat vulnerable claimants appropriately?
My constituent, Craig Ferguson, has Asperger’s, but works in retail. He broke his leg, was not entitled to statutory sick pay and was advised to switch to UC. He then lost his severe disability premium. His UC has automatic deductions for an employment support allowance overpayment and, at times, he receives no UC award at all, which means that he has to depend on savings. How is that fair? Can his case be reviewed?
7. What recent assessment her Department has made of the adequacy of levels of local housing allowance. 
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T6. I established a universal credit action group in my constituency to track local progress and add performance indicators to see how the roll-out is going in Clackmannanshire. What measures are in place to track local success and progress? Are Ministers willing to meet me to discuss the progress of my action group? 
T2. I have the honour of chairing the all-party parliamentary group for terminal illness, and we have been taking evidence over recent months on the challenges that dying people face in accessing social security due to the six-month rule. Incidentally, the Scottish Government are already committed to allowing clinicians to make judgments for PIP, with their limited powers. We will be launching the report on Wednesday at 4 o’clock in the Members’ Dining Room, so will the Minister attend and agree to meet me and Marie Curie to discuss the report’s findings? 
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T8. Will the Minister provide an update on the Department’s work to help people who are out of employment back into work, particularly in the Black Country and, more specifically, in my constituency of Walsall North? 
T3. I want to ask the Secretary of State about my constituent who hanged himself shortly after losing his personal independence payment. I wrote to her asking whether she would establish an inquiry, whether that inquiry would be independent, whether it would be headed by somebody who knows something about this area, whether it would report in three months, and whether the report will be made public. 
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful contribution that shows the need for more compassion and flexibility in the system. It is clear from the evidence and from this debate that initial decisions to apply deductions follow rigid rules and rates and do not include an affordability test. Will the Minister introduce an affordability test for deductions, particularly multiple deductions, to ensure that nobody is pushed into poverty or destitution?
The Government’s stock response to criticism of their welfare policies is to deny that there is even a problem, but their talk of a jobs miracle is nothing more than a mirage to many people who struggle on zero-hours contracts or in low-paid and part-time employment, with wages not even at 2008 levels. The same attitude is on display again in the new “Universal credit uncovered” propaganda campaign, with newspaper ads—seemingly designed to look like journalism—that aim to explode what are perceived to be media myths about universal credit and set the record straight, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) pointed out. It is perhaps telling that one charity has already reported the campaign to the Advertising Standards Authority. As we have heard today, these are not myths. They are facts, which illustrate a social security system that is failing—a system hollowed out by cruel cuts.
In conclusion, I call on the Minister to halt managed migration in its entirety, end the five-week wait, stop punitive sanctions, introduce split payments, restore the local housing allowance to at least the bottom 30th percentile, pay 85% of childcare support up front, stop the benefits freeze and the immoral two-child limit, and properly fund a compassionate social security system.
The Minister lists the changes that have been made of late; does he acknowledge that none of them make up for the cuts made in the 2015 Budget?
I called on the Minister to bring forward some of the changes. I do not know whether he understood the waffle that his Department gave him to explain why that will not happen, but I would be very grateful to hear his proper explanation for it.
I thank everyone who has contributed, and the organisations for all their research and briefing. To anyone who is watching who is suffering under universal credit and the deductions that are being made, I say this: get advice, challenge those deductions, and come and see your MP about them. Let us get them sorted.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10 (6)).
10. What steps she has taken to tailor universal credit to claimants’ needs. 
As I understand it, the test and learn approach has been crucial to improving the system and getting it right for individual claimants. What key lessons have been learned and what steps have been taken to address them?
19. It is no coincidence that, as universal credit has hit Ealing in the past year, food bank use has doubled. Ealing Churches winter night shelter and Ealing soup kitchen report unprecedented demand, and six deaths have been reported among users of the soup kitchen in the past year. Are the Government not ashamed that Christian charities are having to mop up thanks to the gaps in their policy, and when will they put in place the National Audit Office’s recommendation to look into hardship as well as spouting statistics at us? 
I have constituents in Stirling who would like to take up work or to extend their hours of work but cannot afford to pay the upfront costs of childcare. Can the Minister tell the House what is being done to help parents with upfront costs of childcare?
It is welcome that the Secretary of State has finally responded to pressure and abolished three-year sanctions, but failure to scrap this punishing regime entirely means, as we have heard across the House today, that many people including children will still suffer. Six months is a long time to go without money, so will she go the extra mile and abolish punitive sanctions altogether?
11. What steps her Department is taking to support people with disabilities in employment. 
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15. What assessment her Department has made of trends in the level of unemployment in the UK since 2010. 
The latest figures do indeed show that Britain’s economy is booming, unlike those of the rest of the European Union. Do the Minister and his colleagues on the ministerial team agree that the prospect of Brexit, with or without a deal, is driving forward the British economy and confidence in it?
16. What steps the Government are taking to support ex-offenders into employment. 
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A constituent of mine is being passed from pillar to post by the DWP and the Scottish student loans group, both of which say she is entitled to support. She wants to start studying full time in September but, as a single parent, cannot do so without appropriate financial support. Will the Secretary of State or one of her Ministers meet me to see whether we can find a way out of this Catch-22 situation and ensure that my constituent and other single mothers like her, who want to improve their families’ opportunities, have the support to do so?
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1.9 million pensioners now live in poverty, which is a complete disgrace. Given that 46,000 pensioners died prematurely last year, why has the winter fuel allowance not been increased for more than a decade?
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My caseworkers recently updated me on the thousands and thousands of pounds of public money that they have helped to recover for constituents who are entitled to it, often after many months of delays. I am not satisfied with that; I am angry that this Government Department is keeping so many of my constituents and, I presume, others across the country in poverty for so long when they are owed this money. What is the Government doing about reviewing DWP’s shameful record on paying people money to which they are entitled?
Visits to one of the food banks in my constituency have increased by 20% since the roll-out of universal credit. Trussell Trust referrals have risen by 52% since the roll-out of universal credit. Everything suggests that universal credit is not lifting people out of poverty, but pushing them further into it. Was that the Government’s intention with the roll-out of universal credit, because that is what is happening?
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The Verify identification function for those claiming universal credit online does not work properly. When the Secretary of State is looking at that, will she also look at the problem that requires couples making a joint claim to verify their identity in person at the same time, which causes those sharing childcare and working shift patterns difficulty in claiming?
The Secretary of State just said that universal credit is better than the legacy system, yet evidence published this weekend shows that twice as many children will be pushed into poverty by universal credit, the two-child limit and the benefit cap. On top of that, universal credit is actually increasing infant mortality—the first time we have seen an increase in 100—
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Centrepoint’s evidence to the DWP Committee showed that 96% of the young people it surveyed were not offered a traineeship or work placement if they were still on the youth obligation for six months. Does the Minister think it is worth having a closer look at what more could be done to improve the youth obligation?
My hon. Friend and other hon. Members—I am sad to see no Back-Bench Conservatives here—will be familiar with the experience of the journal letting people down, just like the helpline.
I have some questions for the Minister, which I hope he will answer. Will he take the opportunity to be clear about what happened in the Department leading to the development and implementation of a deflection script on the helpline? Will he apologise to claimants who have not received the support they deserve, often in times of great need, and to the whistleblowers on whom we have had to rely to expose these damaging practices?
Have any changes been made to the helpline since the Secretary of State said that there should not be a deflection-script strategy and that she had taken control to ensure that that was the case? If so, what changes have been made and what evaluation was carried out to inform those changes? When were those changes made, or when will they be made? What checks have been put in place to ensure that people receive the support that they need on the helpline and they are not deflected online? Does the Minister really believe that the helpline is sufficiently resourced and run, with the best interest of claimants in mind and staff being fully supported?
The Minister may know that a jobcentre employee described universal credit as like being in a leaky boat: a leak springs up, and someone sticks their finger in the hole, but then a new hole appears, and they end up sprawled across the boat trying to block all the leaks. The holes are not the problem though; it is the boat. The Minister will know that many people and many groups in civil society believe that universal credit should be paused. Will he think about pausing it so that all the holes in the boat can be fixed?
The Minister says that the universal credit helpline is there and that staff are not necessarily trying to direct people on to digital platforms, but the complaints procedure for universal credit cannot be undertaken by phone—people are simply directed to make a complaint online. Those who struggle with online access are unable to do the very basic thing of making a complaint when they have a problem with the online service or the helpline. How does that square with his commitment that people are not being directed online? Will he make sure that people can make a complaint over the phone?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the excellent record of Labour in Scotland, campaigning to change things for people on the ground.
Together, SNP and Tory politicians repeatedly voted down a £5 a week top-up to child benefit during the passage of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill and the budget process. In February, they endorsed George Osborne’s uprating cuts, blocking Scottish Labour’s move to revert to RPI uprating of the carer’s allowance. During the recent budget, the SNP refused to mitigate the two-child limit—a policy that would have supported 4,000 families and lifted 5,000 children out of poverty, and would have cost just 0.2% of the Scottish budget. After years of warm words and claims that it will build a system based on human rights, the SNP relied on the Tories to block the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights from being included in the social security Bill.
Labour Members know the effects of Tory welfare policy all too well, wherever in the United Kingdom we represent. We have heard about those effects today: my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian argued that we need bold action for women born in the 1950s, and was right to highlight the woeful response of the Tory Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) argued that in-work poverty is a major problem in Scotland, as well as out-of-work poverty, with over a million people in Scotland living in poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) attacked the political choice of austerity, and called for a social security system that draws on the founding principles of the Attlee Government: security, opportunity and dignity. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley) correctly pointed out that she needs to be the champion of women in this place, because women are disproportionately affected by that political choice of austerity—a choice made by this Tory Government.
Labour believes that the Tories’ approach to welfare is flawed and failing. It is a story of failure that begins with the Tory Government in Westminster’s cruel and unnecessary welfare policies, but has been worsened by the decision by the SNP Government in Holyrood not to use their powers to effectively mitigate those policies. As a result, it is a story of hardship and hunger, wherever in the UK a person is affected.
My questions to the Minister are simple. First, will he accept that universal credit is failing? It is cruel in design, it is under-resourced, and its roll-out needs to be halted. How about scrapping the benefit freeze, the two-child limit and the five-week wait? Hardship is hardship, wherever we are in the UK. Finally, will the Minister confirm whether the devolution of welfare to Scotland could have happened earlier, had the Scottish Government not asked the Department for Work and Pensions to delay the process twice, in 2016 and 2018? The only way we will change things is by having a Labour Government.
The Minister is setting out well some of the areas where there has been good working between the Scottish and UK Governments, particularly at ministerial level, as I said in my speech. I should put on the record that there have previously been problems at ministerial level between the two Governments, but in the most recent exchange of letters the Secretary of State appears to make a more conciliatory and helpful suggestion for work going forward. So I hope that the two Governments will be able to work together constructively, whereas previously that has not happened.
Will the Minister give way?
12. What steps she has taken to ensure that universal credit is tailored to individual claimants’ needs. 
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Will he say what support he is giving to people in my constituency to help them back into work?
I have seen the positive effect that the roll-out of universal credit has had in the jobcentres in both Boston and Skegness, but it remains the case that some applicants’ assessment is overturned on appeal. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to get this right first time more often, and can he tell me what he is doing to make that happen?
When I last read the claimant commitment, it was like a prison manual. The duties were all on the claimants’ side, with none on the Department’s. Will the Minister meet me and community groups that have designed a fairer commitment, in which there are duties on the Department to make a success of universal credit, as well as duties on claimants?
15. In 2015-16 in Wales, 22,000 households were eligible for homelessness assistance. In 2017, universal credit was introduced. By the time the roll-out finished in 2018, the figure was 28,000—a 30% increase. Will the Minister acknowledge the harm that universal credit has done in promoting homelessness in Wales? What immediate help can he give to those people who are suffering? 
I thank my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for both coming to my Harlow jobcentre to see how universal credit works in practice. May I ask the Minister specifically what he is doing to help single parents who are moving on to universal credit?
Four single mothers won a legal challenge against the Department for Work and Pensions in January because their universal credit payments did not take into account the way in which their incomes changed from month to month, yet the Government decided to apply for permission to appeal. This was turned down, with the judge saying that the way in which the Secretary of State had interpreted and applied the legislation
“was not only wrong as a matter of language, it produces absurd results”.
Why did the Government choose to spend public money seeking to appeal the original decision, and what are they going to do now to address this grotesque injustice?
4. What assessment her Department has made of the financial effect of universal credit on disabled people. 
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5. Which criteria her Department uses to decide whether people can make an application for universal credit by telephone. 
What efforts are made to engage by telephone with those who are considered to be in need of making a claim, who may include elderly, disabled or rural claimants with poor or no internet access?
How fast will the fast track be for cases of mental disability?
6. How many people in Kettering constituency receive (a) personal independence payment, (b) employment and support allowance and (c) universal credit. 
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7. What recent assessment her Department has made of the number of people in work in Hampshire. 
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. That is great news, but what more will the Government do to help people who find themselves out of work into new jobs?
8. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of her Department’s policies on levels of poverty. 
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16. What assessment the Government have made of trends in the level of employment since 2010. 
More people in Southampton, Itchen are in work than has been the case for years, but many of them are in jobs with poor prospects and low pay. What are the Government doing to create jobs with higher pay and better prospects, not just in Southampton, Itchen, but across the country?
Last month’s unemployment figures showed rises in six areas, including the north-east. There are more than 800,000 people on zero-hours contracts and wages are £9 a week lower than in 2008. Will the Minister describe how he intends to address job insecurity, low pay and the clear failure of the Government to tackle regional inequalities?
We are glad to hear that employment has gone up in every region of the country. Will the Minister at some stage, if not today, put out a written statement on why it is thought that unemployment always rises with a Labour Government and employment increases with a Conservative Government?
17. What recent assessment her Department has made of the (a) accuracy and (b) efficiency of contracted-out health assessments for (i) employment and support allowance and (ii) personal independence payment. 
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24. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the roll-out of universal credit. 
Of the claimants who have been transferred from legacy benefits on to universal credit, what proportion are now receiving more money than they were under legacy benefits, what proportion are receiving the same and what proportion are receiving less money than they were?
The Minister will know that universal credit uses Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs real-time information to determine the amount of money a claimant will receive each month. Late submissions by employers have led to claimants having reduced or cancelled payments because of money they earned a long time ago. Does the Minister not agree that this issue needs to be looked at if universal credit is to be an effective system that does not increase poverty?
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. 
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My SNP colleagues and I have been seeing a growing number of constituents who are EU and European economic area nationals and who were previously entitled to social security payments but who are now seeing their universal credit claims rejected because they have failed the habitual residence test. Can the Minister tell me categorically whether DWP guidance has been issued or changed on this matter, and whether this is just an extension of the hostile environment?
A mother in my constituency is struggling due to a lack of financial support from the father of her children. The woman’s ex-partner is not in work, but he gets considerable income from several properties he owns. However, that income is not considered by the Child Maintenance Service when calculating maintenance for his children. What can the Minister do to make sure the Child Maintenance Service focuses on not only salaries but other forms of income?
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T4. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker; I did not quite hear you at first. In the west midlands, workers involved in the administration of universal credit recently voted to strike over an oppressive workplace culture and understaffing. Does the Minister believe that the roll-out of universal credit has been affected by understaffing, and is there an oppressive workplace culture coming from the top? 
T5. When Bright Blue surveyed claimants for its new universal credit report, it found that the five-week wait was their biggest concern. According to the report, “Only a handful of interviewees said they had enough…to cover their expenses in this period.”The Secretary of State cannot justify the five-week wait. Will she scrap it? 
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T6. Council tax payers in the highlands are continuing to bear the burden of additional administration expenses amounting to many hundreds of thousands of pounds as a result of universal credit. The Minister met me in January, and his officials have subsequently met council officers. The situation is clearly unfair. When will it be sorted out, and the money reimbursed? 
T8. Disability Direct, an advocacy organisation in my constituency, has a staggering 89% success rate at tribunals where its clients appeal against judgments on employment and support allowance and personal independence payments. Do Ministers really not accept that when they are losing nearly 90% of the time, their system is not working? 
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Were the Secretary of State to get a tax rebate she would be very surprised if she was taxed on it, but my constituent saw an abatement by 63%. Will the Department sort out the reductions to universal credit when people get tax rebates?
Like the Secretary of State, I will miss the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton); she was working with me on my Access to Welfare (Terminal Illness Definition) Bill—a critical Bill at a time when the Scottish Government are consulting on new standards for clinicians to decide when someone is terminally ill. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the Bill and move it forward?
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My constituent received a UC sanction for accompanying her younger sister, who has severe cerebral palsy and for whom my constituent cares, to an appointment at the children’s hospice at Loch Lomond. Surely that is an inhumane way to treat young carers under the UC system.
My constituent has a connective tissue disorder that has left her bedbound for three months because she regularly dislocates her joints. Despite evidence from her GP and chiropractor, the Centre for Disability and Health Assessments has refused a home assessment because she takes taxis to her GP appointments. Does the Secretary of State think that decision is fair? If not, will she look into it to overturn it?
2. What recent progress she has made on the roll-out of universal credit. 
It has now been a calendar month since the High Court found the DWP unlawful in its universal credit work assessment periods, yet hard-pressed families are still being penalised for receiving payments on a four-weekly basis. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment to make a statement to this House on how to rectify that appalling anomaly?
Can the Minister confirm that, because of the Budget, there will be £4.5 billion available in additional measures over the next couple of years?