Monday, 13 November 2017

Which year was this Parliamentary Debate: 1817, 1917 or 2017?

On the 18th October, MPs debated the topic of Universal Credit in the Main Chamber of the House of Commons. This draws attention to a complex of issues, but more significantly an insight into views and counter views. These views and counter views are revealed in an analysis of the content of this debate, illustrated by appropriate selected quotes.

 Is this a debate from 1817,  1917 or 2017?

Pro Universal Credit
Anti-universal Credit
Is Universal Credit Working?
“Universal credit is working and the roll-out will continue—to the planned timetable. We are not going to rush things. It is more important to get this right than to do it quickly” (Gauke)
“pausing the roll-out of universal credit does not help anybody, given the positive effects it is having on getting people into work and allowing them to progress in the workplace” (Harper)
“to fix the many and varied issues associated with universal credit” (Abrahams)
“In spite of the concessions and potential changes, and in the full knowledge of the evidence of the harm that universal credit is doing to our constituents, the Government are determined to press on” (Gray)

Emphasis of participants to debate:
Upon Principles
gets people to take responsibility for their situation
Upon Practice
a mechanism which moves people into hardship

“what concerns me is some of the language used by Labour Members, and their scaremongering” (Rowley)
“Ultimately, the Opposition seek to undermine the system in its entirety—from beginning to end” (Rowley)
“some Opposition Members do not want to fix universal credit, but to destroy it and go back to an earlier world of throwing more money at welfare. The second is that some of them know they cannot fix it, because their own record on tax credits—their big attempt at welfare reform—was an absolute disaster, for which we are still paying in HMRC’s annual accounts” (Graham)
“I know what is happening in mine, and I do not need the Leader of the Opposition to tell me; and when it comes to making things up, he should stop scaremongering and get his facts right.” (Graham)

“It is obvious once again that this Government care more about saving face than serving the people of this country. This Conservative Government say that they are improving the lives of working people and getting people back into work, yet they are ignoring pleas from across this Chamber and the country to halt the roll-out of this shambolic universal credit system” (McMorrin)
“This is a country where families cannot feed their children, where people are reliant on the generosity of others and where disabled people face being thrown out on to the streets. We have a Government who do not seem to care, and who continue to push on with their plans regardless. The universal credit roll-out has been a disaster, and it must be halted to make sure the Government get it right. We are not talking about policy or austerity; we are talking about people’s survival.” (Walker)
“All I ask is that the Government show some empathy to the parents who need to juggle childcare and work as they try to provide the best they can for their children and families” (Antoniazzi)
“I fear that the problems with the policy run much deeper. In demanding that the Government address these select issues, we risk presenting them merely as bugs, but they are not bugs; they are built into the system… When we hear from the frontline about the problems with universal credit—long payment delays, rent arrears, domestic abuse victims trapped, and the arbitrary sanction of payments—we must understand that they are no accident; they are about ideology. They are not bugs; they are features” (Sobel)

“the whole nature of the roll-out was deliberately set so as not to repeat the grave mistakes made when they rolled out tax credits and other benefit changes… The roll-out of universal credit has been deliberately designed—it is called “Test, learn and rectify”—so that, as it happens, we can identify where there are issues, rectify them and then carry on rolling it out.” (Smith)
“we cannot have a “test and learn” environment if we are not testing… The pauses are built into the system already, and the system is using them as opportunities to develop.” (Burghart)
“we have seen that a policy of test, learn and rectify can work” (Wollaston)
“the roll-out has been slow and measured. At every opportunity, the Government have looked at the system again and made improvements. They have introduced advance payments, alternative and direct payments and are making the helpline free, among other measures… pauses are already built into the system to allow us to learn and change” (Bradley)
“Although we support the principle of simplifying benefits, the evidence so far suggests that the design problems in the system, compounded by operational problems, delays and errors, mean that too many people are experiencing real financial hardship” (Morden)
“In 2013, Inverness was a pilot area for universal credit. We have a simple view. We thought we would see what the problems were and report them to the Government, who would look at them and fix them. What actually happened was a one-sided arrangement. We were telling them about the problems in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. There were endless ministerial meetings, debates, questions and letters asking—begging—them to sort out the shambles, but nothing was done” (Hendry)
“Why do they think there is such a level of feeling among advice and support agencies? Do they think those agencies are just making it up? How dare this place test and learn a policy on actual people, on actual citizens?” (Pidcock)

“The Government were, however, warned by IT companies that it was not possible to build a universal credit system, bringing the six systems together, in time for implementation, but they ignored that and continued; they developed in haste” (Rimmer)

Acceptability of Principles
“Getting back to the principles, we supported those then and we support them now” (Abrahams: Labour)
“The initial premise of a simplified social security system streamlined with one payment was a good idea. The SNP still supports that idea” (Gray)
“but particularly the DWP, such that indiscriminate and unco-ordinated cuts were required. Cuts to tax credits, to the work allowances, to employment support allowance and to housing benefit—all component parts of universal credit—have undermined the new system” (Gray)

Insights from third parties:

“They are shared by organisations at the forefront of supporting people through difficult periods and supporting the most vulnerable in our society, such as Community Housing Cymru, Citizens Advice, Shelter, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Trussell Trust—to name but a few. Those organisations know at first hand how a system is meant to work and when something is not working, because they are generally the ones picking up the pieces when people’s lives are turned upside down by debt and anxiety, caused at this time by problems with the roll-out of universal credit” (Jones)

Old system:
Deeply flawed:
“We will address the historical failures of our benefits system” (Gauke)
“The existing system is not very good, does not work very well, and does not support people very well” (Harper)
“our historical social security system is badly designed, but that in many ways it was never designed as a whole at all. It has evolved from myriad changes over the decades, and for too long Governments of all shades shied away from this challenge” (Argar)
“the welfare system we inherited was a disaster. It has been a disaster since its birth in 2003: it cost £1.9 billion in errors, left hundreds of thousands of people with too little money and created a system that paid people not to take work” (Burghart)
“Even before universal credit, people needed help from a food bank mainly because of problems with the benefits system. Where families claimed multiple benefits, however, even when one was suspended, others usually kept being paid and the family often still had some income. There is no backstop to universal credit, however, meaning that a failure to receive a payment can leave a family and their landlord with absolutely nothing” (Gill)

Prevents people from fulfilling their purpose

Limits work to 16hrs /week:
“If people reach 16 hours, they no longer have the incentive to work additional hours… For people who work erratic, relatively few hours that increase and decrease, it is challenging in the current system to keep up with the paperwork that that entails for six different benefits” (Green)

Complexity and bureaucracy:
“In 2010, the coalition Government inherited a broken welfare system that was over-complicated and encouraged a lifestyle of benefit dependency, with more and more families on benefits for successive generations” (Bradley)
“One had to be a nuclear physicist to navigate the old system. We all saw in our casework some of the most vulnerable people missing out on benefits to which they were entitled” (Tomlinson)

New system:
“It is about setting up a system that is like work, so that those people who are not yet in work have a system that enables them to get into work and manage those challenges” (Harper)

“documentation provided to the DWP at constituents’ cost is being lost or even destroyed… the staff do not know the system themselves. How can constituents be expected to navigate the system when staff do not have the correct training and support to assist people who are having difficulties?” (McKinnell)
“The problem is not just that delays to payment cause debt, that mistakes are made time and again, that communication is rubbish, and that it takes months to respond to evidence provided and months to pay what is owed; the biggest problem for my constituents is that when all the benefits were lumped together, with a laudable aim, the Government also trimmed the components, leaving my constituents with not enough money to live on” (Jones)

Monthly payments with 6 week initial wait:
“a waiting period is fundamental to the structure of universal credit, which pays people monthly, mirroring the world of work” (Gauke)
“Our latest data show that 80% of new claimants are being paid in full and on time: (Gauke)
“the very large number of people who are still paid weekly” (Timms)
“according to Citizens Advice—one in three people now wait longer than six weeks, and one in 10 wait longer than 10 weeks” (Brake)

“I do not think it is reasonable to assume that everybody on universal credit is incapable of managing their own money” (Harper)
“A split-payment system must therefore be considered” (Wilson)
Payments are direct to main household earner (but not direct to landlord), but there is a need for split payments:
“ensure that victims of domestic violence can access any of their finances. At the moment, under the current system, they have to admit it in the jobcentre, often in front of their partner” (Phillips)

Role of work coach:
“His work coach provided tailored support, building his confidence and capability” (Gauke)
“work coaches could be helping people get into work, rather than helping them to deal with debt, stress and mental health issues” (Allen)
“my constituent who suffers from severe mental health problems, failed a PIP assessment, and was told to claim universal credit? He has a sick note up until the end of December but was made to sign a form advising him that he will take any job. The sick note was dismissed by the work coach, who said that if he did not sign he would be sanctioned” (Sherriff)

Clear claimant commitments: 
“claimants have a flexible, clear and tailored claimant commitment so they fully understand their responsibilities. The commitment supports and encourages them to do everything they can to move into or towards work, or to improve their earning” (Gauke)

“People suffering from motor neurone disease came to see us in Westminster yesterday to say that on top of the agony of their disease, they faced the indignity of fighting for their full entitlement under PIP” (Dromey)

“The core design element is that the system looks back over what someone has earned over a month and automatically adjusts payments based on that. It erases the binary distinction between in work and out, and removes the need to flip from one benefit to another, then back again” (Hinds)
Delays and unreliability of real time information

Two children cap on benefits

Cuts in work allowance from 65p/£ to 63p/£ (which is higher than originally proposed 55p/£)

Advance payments:
“We know that some people cannot afford to wait six weeks for their first payment, which is why we have advances that provide those in financial need” (Gauke)
“typically payment is made within three days” (Gauke)
Loans to be paid back within 6 months

Most seriously affected are
-        Single parents with disable children
-        Disabled
-        Self-employed and impact of ‘minimum income floor’ (assumes a minimum income base on 35 hrs per week and minimum wage)
“single parents are among the hardest hit by waiting times for their universal credit payments” (Duffield)
“Evidence from Scope, the disabled charity, shows that a household with a disabled person in it is twice as likely to be in debt as a household without a disabled person” (Walker)
“Time dictates that I should speak about one section of the community for whom universal credit will have a particularly devastating impact: the self-employed, and specifically actors and creatives” (Brabin)

Gauke announces phone calls are free that morning
“Having secured the Adjournment debate on 21 June 2017 on call charges for phoning the DWP, I was delighted with today’s announcement” (Stephens)
“people trying to claim universal credit have reported being on the phone for an hour trying to get their case dealt with? At 55p a minute, that cost is astronomical” (Whitford)

“most jobs have to be applied for electronically and most jobs require a certain level of IT skill. If someone is not capable of applying online, they will find it very difficult to get into work. It is important that the work coach can identify that requirement, so the proper help and support can be put in place to enable that person to have the digital skills to be able to get into the workplace” (Harper)
“Some people use internet cafés. Some use other people’s access to the internet so that those people can work with them through the process. It can be daunting, but they do it and stumble because they do not have the full paperwork. We need real clarity on what paperwork is required, and then people will feel less frightened and see it more as an opportunity” (Davies)
“but the fundamental difference with universal credit is that in order to remain live, the application has to be updated daily using a smartphone or a PC. Many of my constituents do not have access to PCs and smartphones” (Morris)
“Constituents are finding it difficult to make their daily updates, to verify their claims and to post activity on their web activity report, which is necessary to stop their claim being suspended—never mind getting hold of a human being to help when the system goes wrong” (McKinnell)
“What about those who do not have the IT skills or internet access to be able to apply online? They can go to a library or a jobcentre if they are still open, but that is not an option for many” (Killen)
“5 million people in the UK lack basic literacy skills, 8 million lack basic numeracy skills and nearly 5 million had below entry-level IT skills. Many people on low income cannot afford internet access, or face increased difficulty accessing it because of the closure of libraries and jobcentres” (Greenwood)

“the problem is compounded by the level of deductions of third party debt that are allowed under universal credit—for example, council tax or utility bill debt? It is higher than the level allowed under legacy systems, which means that people are left with much less money” (Green)

Labour statistics on (youth) unemployment:
“Thanks to a Conservative Government, we now have almost full employment in this country” (Soubry)

Claimant numbers down.
Claimant numbers down due to sanctions.
“There may be many and varied reasons why the claimant count is down, not least the system of punitive sanctions the Government also introduced in 2012” (Abrahams)

“Our latest data show that about 80% of new claims were paid in full and on time, and over 90% of people receive some payment at the due date. Among all claims, 92% are paid in full and 96% are getting some payment by the due date. Advances are available, paid within five working days and, in an emergency, on the same day. They are paid back over six to nine months. For vulnerable claimants, it is possible to have rent paid direct to the landlord, and 34% of social sector tenants on universal credit have this arrangement right now. Our trusted partner system will further streamline
the system for landlords to identify tenants who should be on those direct payments… Split payments and more frequent payments are also available where needed” (Hinds)

“our research shows that compared with people in similar circumstances under the previous system, universal credit claimants spend more time looking for work, apply for more jobs, take up jobs that they would not even have considered previously, and take on more hours or extra jobs” (Gauke)
“claimants spend twice as much time actively looking for work and, for every 100 claimants who found employment under the old system, 113 will find employment under universal credit” (Sunak)
“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… when many of those jobs are precarious, low-paid and unsustainable?” (Gray)

“I speak regularly to the citizens advice bureau in my constituency, the food bank, the jobcentres and local councils about many issues, including universal credit. They have reported back to me that universal credit is working well in my area and across Kent—[Interruption.] Kent includes some seriously deprived areas and should not be mocked” (Whately)
“All we have heard is a catalogue of negativity” (Hoare)
“We are not blind to the stories of human suffering that we have heard this afternoon; they are profoundly devastating when we hear them… Please let us remember that for every heartbreaking story we hear in this place, there are positive stories of people’s lives being changed by their being able to get back into work and meet their aspirations of taking on more work without being penalised for it.” (Maclean)
“absolute misery and destitution” (Onwurah)
“I have seen people in the most desperate circumstances—starving, suicidal, broke and broken” (Hill)
“There has been humiliation, degradation, desperation” (Hendry)
Quote: “last week the stress of everything got too much and I attempted to take my own life” (Whitfield)

Growth in foodbanks:
“The only measurable difference we have seen is that food bank referrals have gone up by 70%” (Cowan)

“it is better to assume that people can manage their rent themselves” (Harper)
“Before universal credit, too many people were left to get on with their lives and get deeper and deeper in debt” (Smith)
Growing debt / rent arrears (survey of 105 councils):
-        Old housing system à 10% in arrears
-        Universal Credit à 50% in arrears

“eight people evicted during the past year—are a quarter of the number that Gloucester City Homes, when it was the city council housing department, used to evict, on average, every year during the 13 years of the Labour Government” (Graham)
Increase in homelessness (evictions due to rent arrears) / sleeping rough:
“but there is an understanding among landlords that they do not take people on universal credit, and they are beginning to evict their tenants who are on housing benefit… I recently went to a private landlords forum in my borough and none of them said they were prepared to let to people on universal credit, because they simply did not want to wait for their rent.” (McDonagh)
“Owing to the nature of their business models, private sector landlords will not wait two, three or four months for their tenants’ money to be paid” (Lloyd)
“if people have nowhere to live and nothing to eat, how can we expect them to get a job?” (Rashid)

Stress is creating mental health problems:

The work offered is low quality:
“most of the jobs they get are on zero-hours contracts” (Cunningham)

“the non-consensual sex exemption… they should make contact by phone or online, or collect a form from their work coach. In Northern Ireland, under the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, anybody to whom a claim of rape is made has a legal duty to report that crime to the police. That duty falls not only on the work coach and the DWP, but on the third-party referrer—the doctor, nurse, social worker or sexual violence support worker has to report that crime to the police. Women in Northern Ireland should not face the choice between being forced into a criminal justice situation, which may make them feel not safe from a former partner, and putting food in their children’s mouths” (Allen)


“Why, then, are the Government not listening to their own Members, to the expert charities, to the Scottish and Welsh Governments and to constituents?” (Gray)

The Vote

“I know that Members on this side of the House will be abstaining tonight. Personally, I do not agree with that. The House should have an opportunity to express its view…If there is no way for me to express my view, on behalf of my constituents… I am afraid that I will have to vote against the Government… I hope the Minister will give an
assurance from the Dispatch Box so that I do not have to vote against the Government. (Wollaston)

Ayes: 299 Noes: 0
That this House calls on the Government to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit full service

“We are elected to come to this place to debate and decide what our position is on motions. If people choose not to vote, that is perfectly in order, as I have explained, but the motion was carried… it is a statement of fact. The motion was passed. End of subject” (Mr Speaker)
I think it highly desirable that the Government, in the light of the result, should come to the House and show respect for the institution by indicating what they intend to do” (Mr Speaker)

“Of course, we have heard hard stories today, but let us be clear: the existing system produces hard stories” (Wilson)
“We have heard many compelling cases today, and we cannot ignore them” (Wollaston)
“I know of one family who have had their two children taken into care because they were forced to move into a tent in a park after being evicted when their housing benefit was not paid on time. These children were taken away from their parents not because they were not loved, not because they were not cared for, but because this Government failed them” (McMorrin)

“Mr James Moran from Harthill in my constituency qualified as an HGV driver and managed to find work on a zero-hours contract as a driver while also receiving universal credit—exactly the sort of scenario under which universal credit was supposed to work better. Not long after gaining employment, however, Mr Moran was sanctioned, despite being in employment. As he started the process of appealing the sanction, he suffered a stroke, which meant that he was no longer able to work as a driver. As the sanction was still in place, he returned home from hospital with no means of receiving an income. Despite getting some help from his elderly parents, Mr Moran struggled with no money whatever for more than a month. He then suffered a second stroke. Mr Moran has advised me that the doctors who treated him in hospital at the time of his second stroke admission told him that the low blood pressure that caused the second stroke was almost certainly caused by malnourishment. That malnourishment was a direct result of a DWP sanctioning error, forcing Mr Moran to live without an income—to live on fresh air” (Gray)

“…the chief executive of the East Durham Trust, Malcom Fallow. He spoke to me about a young boy who was attending the community barbecue, which was trying to feed some of the most deprived and vulnerable families in the community of Peterlee in my constituency. He said that the young boy put a burger in his pocket. When he was challenged about it, he said that he was taking it home to feed his hungry sister. That is an indictment in 2017” (Morris)