On 4th February 2020 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Baroness Stedman-Scott, repeated a Government statement made in the House of Commons on the extension to the universal credit implementation date. The Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, can we honour the DWP staff for allowing the BBC in? Many of us look forward to seeing what comes out. They have been very brave; many departments do not do that. I understand that the Minister does listen but some of these things have now been going on since the system’s very inception. Yes, many people at food banks and people who talk locally say that the work coaches are doing a wonderful job. That is great, but it is the most vulnerable who are suffering. Could we please listen to their voice and make some changes very rapidly?
Baroness Stedman-Scott: I can give a commitment that we are listening to the most vulnerable. We will make changes as soon as we can, once they have been agreed. There is nothing in it to delay things or to make life worse for people. I certainly do not want to be a Minister who is known for that.
On food banks, I have no doubt, and the previous Secretary of State confirmed it, that usage of food banks was up due in part to universal credit. I do not run away from that point. Last Thursday I sat down in a food bank in Hastings called The Pantry. I will arrange it for any noble Lord who wishes to go there, because it is a most dignified example of a food bank. I asked them: “Why do people use it?” Relationships break down, or people’s priority is to fund their addiction. When their money comes through from universal credit, they are at the cashpoint at 1 am or 2 am to get the next fix or the next drink. One person left a job on a Friday, went to a new job on Monday and by Monday evening it was all over. He found himself in a very difficult position. All credit to the food banks for what they do, but please, do not lay the increase completely at the door of universal credit.