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Mike Wood: I am particularly pleased to see the Minister for financial inclusion, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Guy Opperman, in the Chamber. He joined me in my constituency over the summer to meet a range of agencies involved in the day-to-day work with people claiming universal credit, which was rolled out there in the middle of last year. What was particularly striking was the evangelism of the jobcentre staff, particularly the work coaches, and the transformation in morale in the jobcentres. That is because the staff, particularly the work coaches, are now finding that they can make a real positive difference to people’s lives by getting them into work.
I do not have time to give the House many case studies, but one involves a gentleman who had returned to this country after working abroad. At his first appointment with the jobcentre, staff identified the fact that his mental health was an issue and that his debt worries were leading to him no longer opening his post. As well as offering work coaching, they were able to ensure that he saw his GP to get his mental health issues addressed, and that he got debt advice and used strategies to deal with those problems. As a result of all that—although not as a result of his first interview—he is now in full-time employment. He has a new confidence and is working in the constituency of my hon. Friend Julian Knight, the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary.
We will all have seen the problems with some of the implementation and execution of universal credit, and it is good to see that that has, to an extent, been addressed since the roll-out began. I hope that the Government will use the time through to the roll-out to look at how universal credit can be improved further. To scrap it now would be a gross betrayal of those whose lives have been turned around.
I thank the Minister for visiting my constituency and meeting with local advocacy organisations, representative groups and local charities, who deal with people claiming universal credit on a daily basis. What lessons and messages did he receive from those organisations in Dudley, where the roll-out was completed over a year ago, about how the system has changed and improved with the tweaks that have been made?
Guy Opperman (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)
The reality of the situation is that, as the roll-out takes place across the country, there are good examples, as was seen when I visited Brierley Hill in my hon. Friend’s constituency, of excellent integration—