The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, for bringing this Motion to the House, and I thank all noble Lords for their valuable and heartfelt contributions to the debate, which I am extremely grateful for.
Let me say first that we are committed to supporting the most vulnerable in society and in this financial year alone we will spend £55 billion on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions in Great Britain. Since this awful virus attacked, that commitment has been shown in the way we have mobilised our welfare system like never before to protect vulnerable people and those who are affected by the pandemic. I hope briefly to provide some reassurance about the protections and support that are in place for those moving from the severe disability premium to UC.
On the question of whether claimants migrating to universal credit will be worse off, importantly, it is not true that everyone who moves to UC who was entitled to the SDP loses money. The regulations ensure that the arrangements for providing financial support to those previously entitled to the SDP continue from 27 January this year. We are not reducing the levels of the SDP-related transitional payment; they remain the same as now. Additionally, through universal credit, disabled people in receipt of the limited capability for work and work-related activity addition receive more than double the equivalent monthly rate available to those in the same circumstances on legacy benefits. Those who are moved to UC by the department and have no change of circumstances will benefit from transitional protection if their UC entitlement is less than what they were receiving on their legacy benefit.
I also take this opportunity to bring to your Lordships’ attention new regulations that will also take effect from 27 January 2021. This is a positive change to existing regulations and will ensure that, in circumstances where a couple who are entitled to the SDP separate and make a new UC claim, both ex-partners will be eligible to be considered for the transitional SDP element in UC.
We have already introduced transitional payments worth up to £405 a month for people previously entitled to the SDP who are eligible. By September 2020, we had paid transitional payments to more than 16,000 people, and by 2024-25, approximately 25,000 claimants will benefit from the total package of support provided by the SDP gateway and the SDP transitional payments, worth an estimated £300 million over six years.
The SDP group is the only one to receive a form of protection after moving to UC following a change of circumstances, because we recognise that it is a distinct group, with people frequently seeing a reduction in award when moving to UC and who are less likely to be able to work. The SDP-related transitional payments are set at levels which broadly reflect the amounts for SDP only, with an adjustment made for people who are receiving the UC limited capability for work and work-related activity addition.
Many, if not all, noble Lords in the debate raised the UC uplift. We will continue to keep everything under review as the situation evolves. The Secretary of State, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister meet regularly to discuss all these issues and will consider the economic and health context before making any decisions. The Government will continue to assess how best to support low-income families and a decision on the uplift will be made in due course.
Noble Lords also raised the issue of extending the uplift to legacy benefits. I have to be straight and truthful: there are no plans to do that. It has always been the case that claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for UC if they believe that they will be better off. On the important point that noble Lords raised about advice to be given to people before they make that decision, I would encourage those contemplating such a move to go to GOV.UK or contact the citizens advice bureau to determine, based on their household circumstances, whether they would be better off on UC. That is because of the point noble Lords raised already: claimants cannot return to their previous legacy benefits once they have claimed and been awarded UC. It is very important that they satisfy themselves that they will be better off financially in the new system.
From 22 July 2020, a two-week run-on of income support, employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance is available for all claimants whose claim to UC ends entitlement to these benefits, to provide additional support for claimants moving to UC.
I will now deal with some of the points that noble Lords raised. I will do my best to fit all of them in; if not, I will write to noble Lords after the debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, raised the issue of what the Government are doing about bringing forward long-awaited changes to special rules for people with terminal illnesses. We take the issue of terminal illness very seriously and treat people in such circumstances with the utmost speed and sensitivity. Our processes for dealing with people who have a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six months or less have been designed specifically to enable decisions to be fast-tracked at all stages. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, also made a point about this issue. I can confirm that universal credit provides enhanced personalised support for those with a terminal illness, and that it is done in the most sensitive and appropriate way possible.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about a decision on the uplift. I have already covered this; the decision will be made at the time the Chancellor has said, and all circumstances will be taken into account.
I thank my noble friend Lady Altmann for her thoughtful and considered contribution, and for raising the point that what we really want to do is get people back to work. All our energies and time are being spent doing this, because it is one of the best ways to help people in these circumstances.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and my noble friend Lady Altmann asked about an update on managed migration. The move to the UC pilot was suspended following the outbreak of Covid-19 and currently no confirmed restart date has been set. The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and my noble friend Lady Fookes raised other issues about universal credit. I understand that people have serious concerns about it, but I would ask all noble Lords to consider the fact that, as my noble friend Lady Fookes said, had the legacy system been in place, it would have buckled and would not have stood up in the robust way that universal credit has done.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, raised the issue of a universal basic income. I will say as politely and straightforwardly as I can that the Government have not changed their position on this and have no plans to introduce it. She also cited the case of a person who has obviously had great trauma and felt badly treated—that is probably an understatement. I will say to the noble Baroness again that, if she gives me the details of the case, I know that the Minister for Disabled People will want to look into it.
I turn to the questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, who I personally have the utmost respect for. First, as of 27 January, SDP claimants have been able to move to UC, should they wish to do so. Secondly, the transitional SDP element is treated in the same way as the transitional element for those who are required to move to UC by the department. It is eroded only if a claimant is awarded a new element in their UC or an existing element increases, with the exception of the childcare cost element. At this point, although the transitional element will reduce, the overall money will remain the same.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Primarolo, said that disabled people find it difficult to get work and that, in the current circumstances, that difficulty is all the more pronounced. I know that the Minister for Disabled People is absolutely committed to doing all he can. We are already helping disabled people stay in work and enter work through a range of programmes: Access to Work, Disability Confident, the Work and Health programme and the Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme.
My noble friend Lady Browning speaks from personal experience that has been very difficult for her. I can only say that the door is open to continue the dialogue and that I will make sure that that happens. I will get into hot water if I make any comments on the points she raised about women, but I do think that they have merit.
I am sorry, but as much as I am prepared to answer the questions put by noble Lords, time has eluded me, so I shall now hand over to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock.