Lucy Frazer debates with Department for Work and Pensions

There have been 6 exchanges between Lucy Frazer and Department for Work and Pensions

Mon 18th December 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (65 words)
Tue 5th December 2017 Universal Credit Project Assessment Reviews 15 interactions (877 words)
Wed 29th November 2017 State Pension Age: Women 3 interactions (52 words)
Tue 21st November 2017 State Pension Age (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (53 words)
Tue 24th October 2017 Universal Credit Roll-out 20 interactions (713 words)
Wed 18th October 2017 Universal Credit Roll-out 15 interactions (88 words)

Oral Answers to Questions

Lucy Frazer Excerpts
Monday 18th December 2017

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Work and Pensions
Sarah Newton Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Dec 2017, 2:45 p.m.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising this very sad case. Clearly something went wrong in that individual case. I look forward to answering questions and spending time with his Select Committee later this week. I point him to the response to Paul Gray’s evaluation of PIP that I published today. I am sure we will have more time to look at that in detail, but we remain utterly committed to making sure that we continue to improve PIP.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Dec 2017, 2:45 p.m.

At my surgery last week I met Frances, who has cerebral palsy. She made an application to the clinical commissioning group to get e-motion wheels for her wheelchair, which has been denied. Does the Minister agree that ensuring that people have the equipment to enable them to go to work is incredibly important and increases their self-esteem and their ability to contribute to the economy?

Sarah Newton Hansard
18 Dec 2017, 2:46 p.m.

My hon. and learned Friend raises an important point. Of course, PIP is a benefit that is available to people in work and out of work, and it is there to support everyone with the additional costs of their disability. Of course, mobility is really important. There is also the excellent Access to Work scheme, which each year is funding more people, enabling them to play their full part in society, including at work.

Universal Credit Project Assessment Reviews

Lucy Frazer Excerpts
Tuesday 5th December 2017

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Work and Pensions
Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 2:38 p.m.

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the five project assessment reviews, carried out into universal credit between 2012 and 2015 by the Government’s Major Projects Authority now known as the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and any subsequent project assessment reviews carried out into universal credit by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority between 1 January 2016 and 30 November 2017 that have been provided to Her Majesty’s Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions, be provided by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to the Work and Pensions Committee.

The purpose of today’s debate on universal credit, the fourth in nearly eight weeks, is to seek the release of the project assessment review reports on universal credit to enable this House to scrutinise the Government’s flagship social security programme.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con) - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 2:39 p.m.

The hon. Lady has just said that this is the fourth debate in eight weeks. Can she clarify whether she asked for the documents in any of those four debates, or indeed on any other occasion in this House? [Interruption.]

Debbie Abrahams - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 2:40 p.m.

As some of my colleagues are saying, we are asking for the documents now. We are pleased the Government finally acknowledged that their universal credit programme is not fit for purpose, and now we need to understand the extent to which it is not fit for purpose through the publication of these reports.

I wish to start by giving some context to today’s debate and then set out why it is so important that we have access to these project assessment reviews. For many months now, Labour has been calling on the Government to pause and fix universal credit. This is a direct response to the mounting evidence that the full service programme is driving hardship in the areas where it has been rolled out. I am sure hon. Members from across the House will now be aware of the figures, but the realities of the misery being caused by this programme bear repeating: half of those in rent arrears under UC report that their arrears started after they made their claim; 79% of those in debt are recognised as having priority debts by Citizens Advice, putting them at higher risk of bailiffs and evictions; and two in five have no money to pay creditors at the end of the month.

Break in Debate

Debbie Abrahams - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 2:46 p.m.

Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes such as a good point. This is what we have been calling for all along. We need to have an in-depth understanding of what the real issues are. We have outlined a number of those, but it is clear that the programme contains deep flaws. If we are serious about resolving these problems—I believe the Secretary of State is genuine in his offer to do so—we must understand exactly what the extent of the problems are.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 2:47 p.m.

The hon. Lady referred to the decision of the Information Commissioner, rightly saying that there was a limitation in that the names of non-senior officials were not disclosed. However, there were two other things in that decision. First, there was an acceptance that it was reasonable to argue that routine disclosure of PAR reports would reduce their effectiveness. Secondly, and more importantly, it was stated that they were disclosed because six months had passed since the reports had been put together and therefore officials could feel that they had been able to give free and frank advice. But six months has not passed since the date of the reports that the hon. Lady has requested in this motion.

Debbie Abrahams - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 2:47 p.m.

I do not think that gets away from the ultimate ruling, which was that these things should be published. I understand exactly what the hon. and learned Lady is saying, but at the end of the day the ICO ruled that these PAR reports must be published.

Break in Debate

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle) - Hansard

Order. I am reducing the speaking limit to seven minutes. I hope that I shall not need to drop it any further.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 4:04 p.m.

Earlier this year, having tabled an emergency motion, the shadow Leader of the House argued passionately for more Opposition day debates. She highlighted at least four topics that she felt needed urgent debate, including social security and the personal independence payment, NHS nursing numbers, the Swansea tidal lagoon, and higher education regulations. Since she made that speech four months ago, only two of those topics have been raised by Labour Members in Opposition day motions. Instead, they have used their motions as a procedural tool to seek access to documents from the Government, but I want to raise the question of whether that is the appropriate route for such requests. The Secretary of State has acceded to the request in today’s motion—I welcome that disclosure—but he made it clear that this was an exceptional case. A five-hour Opposition day debate is not, in fact, the appropriate route to make such a request, and let me explain why that is the case.

Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 4:04 p.m.

Will the hon. and learned Lady give way?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 4:04 p.m.

I will make some progress for the moment.

By means of today’s motion, the Opposition seek the disclosure of various documents to a Select Committee. There is a procedure whereby Select Committees can ask for such documents themselves under Standing Orders. When I asked the Library last night whether there was any record of the Work and Pensions Committee having asked for these documents, I was told that there was no such record. If there had been such a request, there might have been the opportunity for a discussion between the Chairman of the Committee and the Secretary of State about the basis of the request and the use to which the documents might be put—the very issues that have been raised in this debate.

Raising such matters can be achieved in various ways, including through written and oral parliamentary questions, urgent questions and debates. Again, I asked the Library whether the Opposition had availed themselves of any of those procedures with regard to this request. The only record that the Library had of any such request related to one parliamentary question tabled three years—two Parliaments—ago. In this Parliament, we have had six debates on universal credit, as well as two ministerial statements and one urgent question. On none of those occasions has the relevance of these documents been raised, and nor have they been asked for. If it were in the public interest urgently to disclose the documents, I would have expected Labour Members to have used one of those routes to request them through official channels over the course of this Parliament, but they have not done so. This is the first time the matter has been raised in this Parliament.

My question is whether it is appropriate to use an important procedure of this House to require the Government to produce documents when no prior official request has been made to obtain them through the usual procedures that are available to hold the Government to account. Is it appropriate to request important documents from the Government for the first time in a Opposition day motion when the contents of that motion were not known by the Government until yesterday?

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab) - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 4:06 p.m.

Of course it is right for the Opposition to raise the problems of universal credit at every opportunity. Surely the hon. and learned Lady can understand that. I know that the additional 30% of people using food banks in my constituency understand it.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 4:07 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, as universal credit is an important measure. I endorse that point, which many Members have made today. Universal credit affects those who need help the most, and that is the issue that we should be debating, rather than the disclosure of documents that could have been asked for before, to which the Secretary of State has now willingly granted access. We do not need a five-hour debate. It is the issues that affect our constituents that need to be debated, not a procedural request for documentation. In the course of the Standing Order No. 24 debate on the need for more Opposition day debates, the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) stated that such debates were important as

“the key means in this House of raising issues of concern to our voters.”—[Official Report, 17 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 616.]

I am sure that my voters care about universal credit, and I am sure that they care about getting people into work, but I am not sure they would welcome a day-long debate about a request for documents that could have been made, and granted, through the ordinary procedures of this House.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Dec 2017, 4:09 p.m.

Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I welcome the concessions that the Government have been forced to make on universal credit, but I do not believe that they go anything like far enough to relieve the hardship and stress that this roll-out is causing, and will continue to cause unless and until the Government take on board the concerns and take further action. There are so many issues with universal credit that it is essential that the full extent of all project assessment reviews that the Government carry out are placed with the Work and Pensions Committee. The Government must come clean about their assessments so that the risks can be identified and scrutiny can be provided by the Committee.

I know that many Members across the House share my concerns about the roll-out of universal credit. It might be convenient for the Government to ignore the views of those on the Opposition Benches who have expressed legitimate concerns on behalf of their constituents and, in the case of the Secretary of State, to pass them off as scaremongering. However, the Government should not ignore the concerns shared by many outside this House, too—by organisations at the forefront of supporting people through difficult periods and supporting those who are most vulnerable. These organisations include Community Housing Cymru, which acts as an umbrella body for housing associations across Wales, and Citizens Advice, Shelter, and the Child Poverty Action Group. Does the Secretary of State consider these organisations to be scaremongering, too? These organisations know the pressures and hardship that UC is causing, as they are picking up the pieces when people’s lives are turned upside down due to the debt and anxiety caused by issues created by the roll-out, and the Government should take note.

Recent research undertaken by Cardiff Metropolitan University has highlighted the fact that one in five claimants is not receiving their full entitlement on time, with some facing a delay of four to eight weeks. The Government should address the waiting time as it is what causes most hardship. Many people do not have savings or money set aside to cover day-to-day living expenses during this period. The Government have taken away the seven-day waiting time, thus reducing the period to five weeks, but this is still too long for people to wait. We should also note that this is a minimum waiting time, and many people are waiting longer, leading to arrears and claimants needing to use food banks, increasing their debts and living in poverty.

We know that food bank use is increasing. A recent Trussell Trust report shows a 30% increase in people using food banks in areas where UC has been rolled out. Perhaps the Secretary of State thinks that report is scaremongering, too.

State Pension Age: Women

Lucy Frazer Excerpts
Wednesday 29th November 2017

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Work and Pensions
Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford - Hansard
29 Nov 2017, 2:53 p.m.

I welcome that intervention, and I certainly look back fondly on the period when he and I were holding the Government to account. When the evidence is before us that the women did not get appropriate notice and that the acceleration is happening so quickly, it is an absolute outrage that we have had nothing from this Government.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con) - Hansard
29 Nov 2017, 2:54 p.m.

This is an important debate on an important issue—I also attended the debate in Westminster Hall last week—but does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is wrong to say that the Government have taken no action? In 2011, they ensured that no one waited for an extended period beyond 18 months.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford - Hansard
29 Nov 2017, 2:54 p.m.

I have heard about spinning, but let me deal with the facts. The hon. and learned Lady refers to the fact that the Government brought in the Pensions Act 2011, but that increased the acceleration. To say that the Government have mitigated the situation is a distortion of reality, and Government Members should stop spinning and tell the 3.8 million affected women the truth: the pensionable age is increasing by three months per calendar month. That is the reality. The Government should be utterly ashamed of trying to argue that they have mitigated things, which demonstrates that some Conservative Members simply do not get what is going on.

State Pension Age

Lucy Frazer Excerpts
Tuesday 21st November 2017

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Work and Pensions
Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) - Hansard
21 Nov 2017, 5:06 p.m.

Because of the constraints on time, I will rattle through this fairly quickly. We have basically got three main concerns that are relevant to this debate.

First, we want to make it clear that we oppose plans to increase the pensionable age beyond 66. That is a reckless move just now, and is not reflective of how long people are really living. The other element—which was touched on by the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney), who I am very grateful to for securing this debate—is that Scotland has a very different demographic to many other parts of the UK. Even within the UK, we have different demographics in different areas. As was mentioned, some people in Glasgow barely see their 65th birthday, never mind live long enough to receive the pension that they have paid into.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con) - Hansard

This is a very important debate, and women play a considerable role in society, but will the hon. Lady accept that statistics from the National Records of Scotland put the life expectancy for women higher than that for men? In fact, it is 77 years for baby boys and 81 years for girls.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black - Hansard
21 Nov 2017, 5:08 p.m.

No, and I will tell the hon. Lady why. Yes, I recognise that physically human beings are living longer, but the inequalities that exist within our society are not moving with that. We have a situation where some folk in Glasgow or Paisley barely see their 50th birthday. They are doing well if they get to 65. That is the reality for many of our constituents and it has to be reflected when we make new policy.

When I first laid eyes on the issue of pensions, when I was elected, I just thought, “This is such a mess.” What strikes me most about the issue is that I do not think the Government have sat and cruelly decided who the most vulnerable people are and how they can attack them; I do not think that has happened. What I think has happened is that we have realised that pensions have become a bit of a mess, and we are so worried about—I do not know—what Channel 4 is going to report the next day or whatever, that we have to grab the headlines and have to be seen to be doing something good. All that is doing is trying to stuff this big problem back into the closet, rather than taking it out and going, “Let’s have a serious look at this.” That is what I had hoped the Cridland review would do. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), the Scottish Government and I made many appeals to the Cridland review, raising our concerns about how the rise in the pensionable age could affect different areas. It is really disheartening to see it so swiftly dismissed, considering how big an aspect it is of the lives of my constituents.

Secondly—surprise!—I want to touch on the issue of the WASPI women. I have honestly lost count of the number of debates we have had on this issue, so I will not do the usual stuff of saying how terrible that is, because I have accepted that that is just how this place works, but I will say that this is a real chance to get something right with pensions. It is not a political thing. I know that many Conservative Members will say, “The WASPI women are just a stick that the Opposition are using to beat us with,” but it is not. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) said earlier, this issue is affecting women in every constituency from all different backgrounds. Their only crime is that they were born in the ’50s. That is unjust, and it cannot be allowed to happen. The Government should do something right and inspire us a wee bit. They should do something good for pensions. When we add to that a further rise in the pension age, when they have not even dealt with the WASPI women, it is downright insulting and shows that the Government are putting the final nail in their coffin in terms of pensioners. If this issue is not dealt with, people will remember.

The third thing I want to touch on is frozen pensions. I met the International Consortium of British Pensioners and, to be honest, my knowledge at first was very much on the surface. The group explained that this is not just a bunch of pensioners who went away to Spain, to the Costa del Sol. These are people who, when they were of working age, were encouraged to go to Commonwealth countries. They were offered work and deals and told, “Go, and the bonus is that you will retire in sunshine. Brilliant—go!”, but because of some ancient bilateral agreements, we now have people in Canada and Australia whose pensions are still at the same rate as they were when they left in the ’70s. It is so mad that their pensions get uprated when they physically land here. A guy was in the UK for two weeks and his pension was uprated because he was physically here. It is ludicrous.

I am conscious of the time, so let me just say this: pensions are a mess. Please work with us to get it right.

Universal Credit Roll-out

Lucy Frazer Excerpts
Tuesday 24th October 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Work and Pensions
Debbie Abrahams - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 1:58 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why this debate is so urgent—we cannot wait. Although, yes, this is still a small proportion of the full number of people who will have universal credit rolled out to them, this amounts to a 63% increase in the number of people who will be on full service over the next six months.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con) - Hansard
23 Oct 2017, 4:18 p.m.

Does the hon. Lady accept that 50% of people who have received universal credit have actually received it early and applied for an advance payment?

Break in Debate

Debbie Abrahams - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 2:12 p.m.

Again, my hon. Friend makes a very important point. I will come on to all the different issues. I have raised the so-called advance payment, which is in fact, as I have said, a loan—it has to be paid back within six months.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 2:12 p.m.

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Debbie Abrahams - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 2:12 p.m.

No. I am sorry, but I am not going to take any more interventions.

Other design problems I mentioned last week include: the fact that payment is made to one member of the household—predominantly men—and that the second earners, who are predominantly women, face much reduced work incentives; the fact that severe disability premium payments were not incorporated into universal credit; the fact that rent is paid to the claimant rather than the landlord; the fact that self-employed people are subject to the punitive minimum income floor, which fails to reflect the reality of the peaks and troughs in their working hours; and the fact that in-work conditionality is coming down the track, meaning that 1 million working people will have to visit jobcentres while much of the Jobcentre Plus estate is being closed, and will face financial sanctions if they fail to work the hours their job coach deems they must work. On top of that, there are the real-time information flaws, which have been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), and the fact that there is no time limit on disputes, which will lead to more delays in payments. There is also, of course, the fact that the child element of universal credit has been reduced from 20 to 19 years.

I turn to the cuts made to the programme since its introduction. Universal credit was meant to simplify the system, but it was also meant to make work pay. We have always supported those principles, and we still do, but unfortunately the 2015 summer Budget slashed the work allowances, and the rate at which support is withdrawn was dramatically increased. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies said in its response to the Budget, that meant the promise that work would always pay was lost. The cuts reduced the work allowances from £222 a month to £192 a month for a couple with two children claiming housing costs. It is estimated that that will result in an additional 340,000 people in poverty by 2020. Some families have been left as much as £2,600 a year worse off.

Families with three children face even greater difficulty, as the Government have decided that the state should play no role in supporting the life chances of the third child. A whole generation of children will be born without the support that was offered to their siblings, which is a break from the historical principle that the state should not punish children for the circumstances of their parents. Single parents have been hit particularly badly. In real terms, a single parent with two children who is working full time as a teacher will be £3,700 a year worse off.

That is even before we reach the Government’s freeze on social security rates, which the Joseph Rowntree Foundation predicts will push 500,000 more people over the poverty line. Its analysis shows that the freeze will mean that a family of four receiving universal credit will be over £800 a year worse off in 2020, and that is on top of the other cuts I have outlined. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will continue the freeze on social security payments, including universal credit, given that it was introduced when inflation was 0.3% but the rate is now 3%?

As I revealed last week, the Child Poverty Action Group’s forthcoming report estimates that these cuts will push 1 million more children into poverty, 300,000 of whom are under five. What does it say about this Government when their policies knowingly push children into poverty? The Secretary of State, the Minister for Employment and many other Conservative Members have tried to suggest that data apparently showing a 3% increase in employment outcomes under universal credit compared with the situation under the previous system is evidence that universal credit works to get people into work. However, they fail to add that the data is from 2015—before the cuts were implemented. Will the Minister now commit to updating the figures, and will he retract these particular statistics, which he has used numerous times?

It is worth pointing out that the most recent figures show an underspend—I repeat, an underspend—on tax credits of as much as 2.4% compared with the projections of the Office for Budget Responsibility. Will the Government provide an exact figure for the savings that that has created? Could not some of the underspend be put towards sorting out the problems that we are now encountering under the new programme? I will return to that point in a minute.

Break in Debate

Debbie Abrahams - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 2:17 p.m.

I am very sorry, but I will not give way now.

I turn to the implementation failures. Leaving aside the many changes to the programme’s schedule over the past few years, the most recent roll-out has been beset by problems. I was glad that the Government listened to Labour and will replace the high-cost phone line with a free one. Will the Minister give me a timetable of when that will happen? Will he also assure me that the free phone line will be funded not by the taxpayer but by Serco, the contractor?

Other implementation issues still remain, however, including the fact that people are denied prescriptions and dental treatment because pharmacies and dental practices do not know who is eligible for free treatment. People also do not know about advance payments or alternative payment arrangements.

I have been inundated with emails and calls from people telling me their UC horror stories. For example, a self-employed Oldham woman is worried that she will lose her business and home when she goes on to universal credit. I have received so many stories from self-employed people that you would not believe it, Mr Speaker. They are really concerned about what universal credit will mean for them. A private landlord is worried that three of his tenants are thousands of pounds in rent arrears under universal credit, although they had never previously been in rent arrears. Southwark Council estimates that such arrears will be an average of £1,700 per universal credit tenant. Disabled people are isolated and alone as the support of severe disability premiums disappears, along with other disability support. As I have mentioned, food banks are running out of food. Even current and former DWP advisers are expressing their deep concerns about the programme and the fate of claimants.

I come back to my asks. First, the Government must end the six-week wait. They should bring it forward by at least one week, but if it is to be brought forward by two weeks, as has been widely reported, that will make a huge difference to people. Secondly, they must ensure that alternative payment arrangements are offered to all claimants at the time of their claim. To suggest that this already happens is more than a little disingenuous. The DWP guidance is vague to say the least. The alternative payment arrangement options include fortnightly payments, split payments and payments directly to the landlord.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 2:19 p.m.

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Debbie Abrahams - Hansard

I will not; I am sorry.

My third ask is that the Government reconsider closing one in 10 jobcentres at the same time as they are rolling out the programme. It is nonsensical that those closures are happening at the same time.

Finally, given the latest assessment from the OBR, which shows a projected 5% underspend in tax credits, which is equivalent to £660 million, will the Government commit to investing that money back into the programme, for example to eliminate the two-child limit? I also remind the Minister of my earlier question about lifting the social security freeze.

All this is reason for the Government to respect the will of the House—this country’s elected representatives—and pause the universal credit full service roll-out. I stand ready to work with them in the national interest to address these problems and avert the disaster that is universal credit.

Break in Debate

Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 2:38 p.m.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to debate universal credit again today, and well done to the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary for securing today’s debate.

In my two and a half years in this place, I have become accustomed to some big, historic events happening, such is the nature of the era of politics we are living through right now. Last Wednesday, we witnessed something very rare: not only a Government losing an Opposition day motion, the first time that has happened for over 40 years, but a Government refusing to concede an inch to try to win the vote and Mr Speaker giving as close to a rebuke as is possible for the Chair to give to those on the Government Benches.

I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, in that regard. I do not believe the Government would have had any intention of respecting last week’s debate, last week’s vote, or indeed the conventions of this House, were it not for you challenging their behaviour in such a way. The statement from the Leader of House at business questions on Thursday was apparently to be the sum total of the Government’s response to the defeat. It gave no indication of when the Secretary of State would return to the House following the debate, nor did she say which areas of concern the Government were looking to act on. The Government’s behaviour last week encapsulated perfectly their approach to difficult decisions, whether they be difficult because of divisions within the Cabinet, divisions within the Conservative party or divisions among our constituents.

Either way, this is a Government paralysed by fear, indecision and a complete lack of strategic direction, a Government desperate to deflect, defer and delay. I say that because they have basically accepted they need to do something in key areas that are completely undermining universal credit, but rather than accept a partial solution, offered to them on a plate by a group of Tory Back Benchers ahead of the debate last week, they deflected and deferred, caught up in indecision. They threw up red herrings on the telephone charges but refused to do anything substantive in the key policy areas. Their every move is a desperate calculation to fight the fires of that particular day. Strong leadership would have seen action last week; strong leadership would have accepted the parliamentary arithmetic and the mood of the House and of our constituents, and would have accepted the need to act.

Last week, we saw the desperate weakness of a Government unwilling to defend their flagship social security policy in the Lobbies, in what must be a near unprecedented scenario. They completely misread the House. They had no idea—or decided to ignore the fact—that the main Opposition parties were working together to force a vote on Wednesday night. They completely misread the strength of feeling in the House against universal credit in its current form and the way that you, Mr Speaker, would react to that defeat and the Government’s sleekit abstention. In doing so, they showed a disrespect for Parliament. They thought they could wriggle out of an embarrassing defeat by abstaining, but instead they had to contend with a defeat and an embarrassing rebuke from the Chair. Even now, after the Government have been dragged to the House, we still get nothing.

I feel for the Minister, who has been forced to substitute for the Secretary of State, because he has been asked today to defend the indefensible. I am hoping that the events of the last week will have offered some steel to those on the Government Back Benches who pushed hard for reform but accepted the three-line Whip to abstain. This is a Government on the run. Now is the time to force home the changes we have all been pushing for: fixing the six-week wait, fixing the advance payment being a loan, fixing the monthly payments. All of these would be a start, but the biggest win would be for the Government to acknowledge the glaringly obvious—the evidence in front of their eyes—and admit that universal credit as it stands is failing those it should be helping.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 2:42 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) put a very good question to the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) when he asked whether she anticipated that the overall pot would increase. She said she would come to that, but she did not—I twice tried to intervene because she did not come to it, but she did not take my interventions. What is the SNP’s position on that?

Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 2:42 p.m.

That is a question for the Labour party, not for me.

The Government could and should accept the three proposals already outlined, which would garner the support of the House, but they should also be going further, and we all know it.

Break in Debate

Mr Speaker Hansard

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I call Lucy Frazer.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 3:55 p.m.

The issue of how we encourage more people into work and ensure that those who are not in work have a decent standard of living is an important one and is worthy of debate. It is valuable to debate not only the principle behind universal credit and the Government’s formulation of the policy, but, given that a further roll-out is due shortly, whether there should be a further pause to resolve and discuss issues such as the timing of payments before the roll-out is extended.

Both of those are legitimate concerns, but the difficulty with the motion and the debate last week was that those two issues were conflated. On the face of it, the motion before the House purported to raise the second issue—namely, whether there should be a pause, and a pause alone. A pause is a temporary or brief interruption, after which service will resume. However, the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), in speaking in support of the motion, went far beyond arguing for a pause and instead identified fundamental weaknesses, as she saw it, in universal credit. She identified no fewer than 11 individual amendments she wanted to see. She quoted the charity Gingerbread as saying that the errors in the administration and structure of the system itself needed addressing. She concluded by saying:

“We cannot allow the devastating impacts of universal credit roll-out to happen.”—[Official Report, 18 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 865.]

Those points are important, because when the Opposition bring an Opposition day motion before the House on an important point that affects the lives of our constituents, it is important that we as MPs know what we are voting on. When the Labour party put that motion before the House, did it intend to request a short and temporary pause to universal credit, or was it asking significant questions about the operation of universal credit? My concern is that, in that motion, the Opposition were playing politics and would have sought to use how we voted on it. If the Government had voted in favour of the motion, it would be open to the Opposition to say the Government agreed with the wider issues in universal credit outlined by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth. If the Government had voted against the motion, the Opposition would say the Government were not even willing to agree to a short-term, temporary measure to fix administrative issues with universal credit.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) Hansard

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the Opposition’s motion would have had more credibility if it had included the word “fix”? There was no mention of that. It was simply about a pause.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 3:58 p.m.

I do agree, because it would have identified what they were addressing.

I also agree with my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen). She asked the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth whether she was just asking for a pause or would accept administrative changes, and the hon. Lady did not answer the question.

We know the Opposition are playing politics, because the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) admitted that in the last Standing Order. No 24 debate. It was put to her by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) whether she thought it was potentially contemptuous to put forward a motion for political effect, and she answered:

“I am sorry but I thought we were in politics. We are politicians, so that is what we would expect to do in here.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 217.]

Mr Speaker, in this House I expect to debate motions that affect the lives of my constituents. I expect when I vote that it is clear what I have voted on, so that I can be held to account. That should be the nature of politics.

Hugh Gaffney (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
24 Oct 2017, 3:59 p.m.

Today, like every day, I am going to be speaking for the many, not the few. In my constituency and across the United Kingdom, people are worried. They live in fear that they cannot build a better, brighter future—and most criminal of all, no one is listening. So many of those constituents do not feel they are being listened to—not by the Tories in Westminster and not by the SNP in Scotland. Policies north and south of the border make this clearer every day. Indeed, this Government’s flagship policy on universal credit is the best example of this. Last week, I shared with the House a very simple message I had for the people of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, and people across the country: we are listening. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) is listening, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is listening, and those on the Labour Benches are listening. That is why we are here today.

I want to start by tackling the myth that people want to live on benefits; that they are lazy; that they are immigrants stealing from British taxpayers. How offensive, how wrong, how damaging, and how reflective of the society we are living in today. People do not choose to live on benefits. Millions of children across the United Kingdom are growing up in working poverty.

Universal Credit Roll-out

Lucy Frazer Excerpts
Wednesday 18th October 2017

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Department for Work and Pensions
Debbie Abrahams - Hansard
18 Oct 2017, 1:39 p.m.

I am sorry but I am not going to give way again, as I need to make progress, with 90 people having put in to speak.

This summer, the Library analysis that I commissioned showed the real-terms impacts on different family structures and for different income groups. It found that a single parent with two children working as a full-time teacher will be about £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared with 2011-12.

So where are we are up to now? The most recent statistics show that there are currently about 600,000 people claiming UC, over a third of whom are receiving support via the full service. The roll-out of UC over the next six months will see the overall case load rise to just under 1 million, which is a 63% increase. On average, 63,000 people a month may start a new UC claim before January 2018, and by 2022 we expect about 7 million people to be seeking support from the programme. We are at a turning point in the Government’s flagship programme, the roll-out of which is currently being ramped up dramatically.

On top of the design flaws and cuts that I have just mentioned, several other issues have emerged. Perhaps the most pressing is the Government’s decision to make new claimants wait six weeks before they receive any support. Four weeks of that is to allow universal credit to be backdated, plus there is an additional week, as policy, and then a further week waiting for payment to arrive. This “long hello”, as some have called it, is believed to be one of the primary drivers of the rising debt and arrears we are now seeing. Citizens Advice reports that 79% of indebted claimants

“have priority debts such a rent or council tax, putting them at greater risk of eviction, visits from bailiffs, being cut off from energy supplies and even prison”.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con) - Hansard
18 Oct 2017, 1:40 p.m.

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Debbie Abrahams - Hansard
18 Oct 2017, 1:40 p.m.

I am sorry, but I will not.

Half those in rent arrears under universal credit report that they entered into arrears after they made their claim. What is worse is that many claimants do not even receive support within the Government’s lengthy six-week deadline: one in four are waiting for longer than six weeks and one in 10 are waiting for more than 10 weeks. The Government’s so-called advance payment, which is meant to be available to those in need, is in fact a loan that has to be paid back within six months out of future social security payments. I recognise and welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement about speeding that up, but I will explain later in my speech exactly what we might need to tweak.

As we have heard, the measures I have outlined are pushing people into debt, rent arrears and even homelessness. Last year, the National Housing Federation warned that approximately 80% of tenants on universal credit were in rent arrears, with the six-week delay being attributed as the key cause. A few weeks ago, a nurse came into my surgery. She was a single mum who had transferred from tax credits to universal credit. She had the six-week wait, and as a result the arrears racked up. When she came to see me, she had just been served an eviction notice. As universal credit is rolled out, such stories will become more and more common.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester has warned that rough sleeping will double over the winter if the universal credit roll-out continues without its fundamental flaws being addressed. This is not scaremongering; it is based on estimates by local authorities in which universal credit has already been rolled out. Throughout Greater Manchester, the average arrears for people on UC in social housing is £824, compared with £451 for non-UC tenants. It is already having an impact on rising evictions and homelessness—and that is without even going into what is happening in the private rented sector. In addition, the increase in rent arrears for social housing landlords means that less money is available for investment in housing-stock maintenance or the building of new social housing, thereby adding to the existing housing crisis.

The increase in food bank use is another consequence of universal credit delays. Earlier this year, the Trussell Trust reported that referrals for emergency food parcels were significantly higher in a UC area, at nearly 17%, compared with the national average of just under 7%. The trust’s report also highlighted the impacts on the mental health of people on UC, who were described as stressed, anxious or depressed, as they worried about being unable to pay bills and falling into debt.

Who is most likely to be affected and why? Single parents are particularly vulnerable under universal credit. There are now 65,000 single parents on UC. Gingerbread has described how, through

“error in administration and the structure of the system itself, single parents have been threatened with eviction and jobs have been put at risk”.

Gingerbread told me about Laura, who lives with her two sons, one of whom is severely disabled. Laura had to apply for universal credit when her temporary contract at work ended. She had to wait eight weeks for support, and visited a food bank to feed her children. She was not told about advance payments and was struggling with rent arrears. Reflecting on her experience, Laura said:

“it’s very stressful, single parents quite often have enough stress and worry about money; and other things, bringing up your children to start with and it’s exacerbated by this very unfair, very unjust system”.

With child poverty among single parents forecast to increase sharply to 63% by the end of the Parliament, it is vital that we fix the social security system to ensure that it is working. In a forthcoming Child Poverty Action Group report analysing the cumulative effects of social security changes on child poverty since 2010, the section on universal credit highlights its design issues and, in particular, the detrimental impact on single parents. It states:

“Universal credit was designed to be more generous to couples than single people, with lone parents in particular expected to lose out compared with tax credits. This was a deliberate reaction to the decision, within tax credits, to boost support for lone parents in comparison with couples because of their higher risk of poverty and the greater difficulty of increasing earnings from work if you are a lone parent.”

The report goes on to say:

“Since its initial design, universal credit has been subject to a succession of changes and cuts which have substantially reduced its adequacy overall… As a result, it is now less generous than the system it is replacing, and no longer offers the promise of reducing poverty.”

Universal credit is not just affecting single parents; young families and families with more than two children will also fare much worse under UC. Young families going on to universal credit will be affected by the decision to introduce a lower under-25 rate of the standard allowance in universal credit, even for parents with children. As a result, young families will be at increasing risk of poverty, especially if they have a single earner or a second earner working part time. Of course, among other cuts, limiting the child element of support to only two children leaves families with more than three children worse off as well. The report reiterates that as well as being less generous and actually cutting family income, UC fails to incentivise people into work or to progress in work, which are fundamental principles of UC. Shockingly, it has been calculated that, because of the cuts, universal credit will push a million more children into poverty by 2020, with 300,000 of them under five.

Break in Debate

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con) Hansard
18 Oct 2017, 1:57 p.m.

rose—

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
18 Oct 2017, 1:57 p.m.

rose—

Mr Gauke Hansard
18 Oct 2017, 1:57 p.m.

I give way to my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.]

Break in Debate

Mr Gauke Hansard
18 Oct 2017, 2 p.m.

I will just make a little bit of progress.

Universal credit gives a person a work coach, who provides personalised support, helping them to stay close to the labour market and overcome barriers to work. A universal support package provides people with assistance to build confidence and competence with IT, manage their universal credit account online and access online job search facilities and training. Universal credit makes being out of work more like being in work, because people are paid monthly, as 75% of employees are, and because it is paid directly to tenants instead of to their landlord. It also stays with recipients during the transition from being out of work to being in work.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard

The Secretary of State makes a really important point about the unemployment figures and the importance of getting people into work. Will he join me in congratulating my constituency, which has one of the lowest levels of unemployment—the sixth lowest—in the country, with only 375 people unemployed or claiming unemployment benefit?

Mr Gauke Hansard

My hon. and learned Friend is right. We need to build on the progress that has been made in her constituency and, indeed, generally across the country, and further assist people into work.

Break in Debate

Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray - Hansard
18 Oct 2017, 2:34 p.m.

Yes, absolutely. The Trussell Trust has reported a 17% rise in food bank aid in areas in which universal credit has been rolled out, which is double the year-on-year rise in the rest of the UK. There is, therefore, a direct correlation between the roll-out of universal credit in its current form and people living in food poverty. That cannot and should not be ignored. Citizens Advice in East Lothian, where UC has been rolled out, says that more than half its clients on UC are £45 per week worse off. The third of clients who are better off are up only 34p a week. Citizens Advice Scotland says that rent arrears are up 15% in UC areas, compared with a 2% drop everywhere else in Scotland. The DWP’s own figures show that one in four UC claimants wait longer than six weeks—some of them up to 10 weeks—to receive a payment.

The SNP has been warning about these issues for years. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) met the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), who was then the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, on 14 March 2013. My hon. Friend was, at the time, the leader of the Highland Council, which was one of the first areas for roll-out. Nothing has been done. The warnings from Highland have been ignored, despite the roll-out being designed to allow improvements to be made as it progressed.

Where universal credit is currently in operation, rent arrears have spiked, because housing benefit is no longer paid directly to the landlord and people are not getting their money on time. Food bank need has grown because of the minimum six-week wait for payment. In-work poverty is rising as new work benefits start to become sanctionable, and the incentive to work is removed by the cuts to work allowances.

Of course, the DWP has claimed, and will claim, that universal credit is motivating people into work, but that is not true on the scale that it would wish us to believe from its rhetoric. The DWP’s own figures show that for the 2% of jobcentres with UC, there has been a 3% uplift in employment rates. That accounts for all the factors that contribute to people finding or staying in work. Are the rises in food bank use, rent arrears and in-work poverty really worth a 3% uplift in employment, when many of those jobs are precarious, low-paid and unsustainable? The DWP must look again at cuts to work allowances to really make work pay, cut in-work poverty and allow people to get on. The roll-out is supposed to allow the DWP to adapt where things are going wrong, and to fix the problems. Why, then, are the Government not listening to their own Members, to the expert charities, to the Scottish and Welsh Governments and to constituents?

On the subject of listening to constituents, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) is failing his constituents by failing to be here to take part in a potential vote on this issue, which will impact on thousands of his constituents and a huge proportion of children in his constituency. Normally, Whips give slips for votes or business days so that MPs can take part in important constituency events or travel with Committees. The Government Whips appear to have slipped the hon. Member for Moray so that he can run the line at a football match in Barcelona. Far from standing up for his constituents, who would get sanctioned for not turning up to a work-related meeting—

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
18 Oct 2017, 2:36 p.m.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it appropriate, in a debate about universal credit, to talk about the absence or otherwise of a particular Member of Parliament?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
18 Oct 2017, 2:37 p.m.

I allowed a passing reference to the hon. Gentleman, because I understand from exchanges at Prime Minister’s questions that the hon. Gentleman in question had already been informed by colleagues of the hon. Gentleman who currently has the floor that his name might be mentioned in this context today. I have allowed a passing reference; that is all. I think we have had enough about the hon. Member for Moray.