Category Archives: In Parliament

My Budget Wishlist

Today I anticipate we will hear that the UK has done a lot better economically than many expected in the 18 months after the EU Referendum, but that there are still huge challenges ahead.

What would make a difference to our city of Gloucester?

I hope that the Chancellor will:

 
  • Continue to reduce our budget deficit but using some of our growth to invest in infrastructure
  • Announce lifting the salaries of certain front line public servants, and judiciously giving more investment in some public sector organisations
  • Pay those on Universal Credit slightly faster when they first come in
  • Do much more to build more homes that can be both bought and rented
  • Invest more in education and particularly skills in technology
  • Go further on new innovative industrial strategies, giving capital allowances for businesses
  • Help the young on transport and education
  • And help our environment by penalising unnecessary packaging and reducing plastics that damage the world
 
If we get most of this, and perhaps more, then I’ll be delighted.
 
Let’s see…

Universal Credit: The Six Week Wait

The new Work & Pensions Select Committee report on Universal Credit (UC), which I attach to this, highlights both a potential improvement to UC and why such reports are more important in a hung Parliament.

First the report itself. Since UC attempts to mirror the world of work, payments are not fortnightly (as some legacy benefits have been), but monthly. But in practice, not least the application processing time, the agreed DWP first payment is after six weeks – so a longer wait than monthly payments.

The Select Committee recommends that payments be made monthly, and so is different from those sometimes made by critics of UC – make payments fortnightly, to mirror some of the benefits system – and more logical.

The government’s view is that it will continue to make changes where and when they’re needed, but has been quiet so far on this.

As I’ve written before the real issues for those in low paid employment are debt, resilience and cash flow. If someone comes onto the UC system with masses of debt and rent arrears then there is going to be trouble ahead.

So speeding up the first payment, on top of the now better advertised ‘advance’ system could make a real difference to some.

The DWP has promised to continue to monitor carefully the underlying problems of the hardest pressed UC claimants, and look at making changes in response to evidence. That is the benefit of a slow roll out that takes the number of claimants (of the assumed future total) from 8% to 10% by the end of January 2018.

This proposal might make a significant difference and I hope DWP will study its potential impact on vulnerable claimants over the next few weeks and months: and implement the recommendation if it would enhance UC’s success.

When a Parliament is effectively hung, party political impasse is common. The mathematics of a vote inevitably means not all Opposition Votes are voted on. The process of Parliament gets shoutier.

So one way through this is through the work of Select Committees – whose reports are the result of cross party work and at their best road tested in advance.

This was true of the report I co-chaired in the summer on Supported Housing, on which a government announcement will be made next week and where I hope most of our recommendations will be adopted: and it might also be true of this report on UC. This is a trend which will grow in this Parliament.

Click to open

Report Summary

In an urgent, unanimous report published on 26 October 2017, the Commons Work and Pensions Committee says Government should aim to cut the baked-in six week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit to a month, as this is a major obstacle blocking the potential success of the policy:

  • In areas where the full service has rolled out, evidence compellingly links it to an increase in acute financial difficulty, with widespread reports of overwhelmed food banks, problem debt and steeply rising rent arrears and homelessness.
  • Most low-income families simply do not have the savings to see them through this extended period without resorting to desperate measures

Advance Payment loans

While increased availability of Advance Payment (AP) loans of up to half the estimated monthly award are welcome, the Committee says they are no solution to a fundamental flaw in the current design:

  • Universal Credit seeks to mirror the world of work, but no one in work waits six weeks for a paycheque.
  • The Committee calls on Government to reduce the standard waiting time for a first Universal Credit payment to one month. This would be entirely consistent with the monthly in arrears philosophy of Universal Credit.

Reduce wait to one month

The arguments for a reduction are compelling:

  • More than half of low and middle income families have no savings, and two thirds have less than a month’s worth
  • Half of people earning £10,000 or less per year are not paid monthly.  Many households simply do not have the resources to get by for six weeks, or in a minority of cases far longer, without resorting to desperate measures
  • The 7 waiting days at the very beginning are purely a money-saving measure. They do not mirror the world of work – as the Centre for Social Justice has pointed out, no one works the first week of a job for free – and unlike the previous, standard benefit waiting days, they also leave claimants without housing costs or child benefit for the period
    Minimising the processing period
  • The Advance Payments put forward by Government to mitigate some of the unwelcome consequences of the current design of Universal Credit, but do nothing to address their underlying foundations
  • Advance Payments are loans, repayable in addition to other deductions such as rent arrears which can be up to 40% of the standard Universal Credit allowance. This will be difficult or impossible for some claimants to afford

PRESS RELEASE: Gloucester MP elected as member of Brexit Select Committee

Richard Graham MP has been elected by Conservative MPs to join the Select Committee for Exiting the European Union. Richard will be one of 21 Members of Parliament on the Select Committee, chaired by Labour’s Hilary Benn, which examines government policy on Brexit and its implementation and departmental administration and spending.

Richard said, “This is the key issue for at least the next 18 months and I’m delighted to have been elected. Brexit is neither the best thing since sliced bread or a great disaster in slow motion. It’s a national decision to be pursued and delivered successfully and I’m looking forward to playing my part in that on the committee. I showed when on the joint Select Committee examining the collapse of Bhs that I look at all issues objectively, and without fear or favour, and I’ll do the same here.”

NOTE TO EDITORS

The full list of Conservatives elected is:

Peter Bone, Chris Chope, Stephen Crabb, Jonathan Djanogly, Richard Graham, Andrea Jenkyns, Jeremy Lefroy, Craig Mackinlay, Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Whittingdale.

Richard recently wrote an article for Conservative Home outlining his views on the media coverage of recent Brexit negotiations, see: https://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2017/09/richard-graham-four-ways-in-which-the-media-distorts-our-eu-negotiations.html

END

Press Release: Gloucester MP calls for better Broadband customer service

Over 10,000 broadband connections in Gloucester are not getting the proposed minimum broadband download speed, according to MP Richard Graham.

Richard has joined over 57 colleagues from across political parties to co-sign the British Infrastructure Group of MPs’ (BIG) latest report, ‘Broadbad 2.0’.

10,269 broadband connections in Gloucester without fast broadband make up at total of as many as 6.7 million broadband connections across the UK that do not receive speeds above the proposed minimum standard.

Richard said, “the problem is we don’t know whether poor broadband speeds are due to homeowners being unable to order a faster service or the nationally mandated faster Internet simply not being available to their property. It’s time we knew, and so this report recommends changes to improve the quality of broadband customer services.”

The recommendations are:

UK Government:

Progress secondary legislation setting out the terms of a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO): The Digital Economy Act 2017 sets out provisions for a USO that defines a minimum broadband download speed of 10 Mb/s. In order to set the terms and scope of this USO, secondary legislation to the Digital Economy Act must be progressed by the government.

Provide statutory footing to the Voluntary Codes of Practice for broadband speeds: Some of the largest UK broadband providers operate according to Voluntary Codes of Practice regulated by Ofcom. The codes of practice entail an agreement on the part of providers to share clear information about their broadband speeds, and provide redress for customers when speeds are poor. However, the voluntary nature of these codes is insufficient in a rapidly developing telecoms sector. BIG therefore calls on the government to provide Ofcom with the mandate to legalise these codes of practice, in order to make broadband providers accountable to the law.

Ofcom:

Lead on the improvement of data collection: Broadband download speed data recorded by Ofcom fails to differentiate between superfast connections that do not reach speeds above the proposed minimum standard of 10 Mb/s, and those connections where customers have actively chosen not to purchase superfast broadband. It is therefore almost impossible to determine the exact number of UK broadband customers that do not receive the speeds that they pay for. BIG calls on Ofcom to lead on the improvement of collecting broadband speed data that distinguishes between the take-up and availability of superfast broadband speeds.

Consider fixed broadband speeds in a new automatic compensation scheme: It is unacceptable that Ofcom has not considered whether broadband customers should be automatically compensated for consistently failing to receive the speeds that they pay for. Broadband speeds are a key indicator for whether customers are receiving a satisfactory service.

Broadband providers:

Take responsibility for making customers aware of their complaints and compensation procedures: BIG calls on broadband providers to take responsibility for communicating future changes to their customer services in a clear and concise manner, in order to improve accountability and transparency in the sector.

NOTE TO EDITORS

For further information about BIG, and to read the report in full, visit www.britishinfrastructuregroup.uk and follow BIG on Twitter at @BIG_MPs

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