The Government looks set to press ahead with the controversial roll-out of its flagship welfare reform despite growing concerns about vulnerable claimants being left without money for as long as six weeks while their applications are processed.
The former head of the Government’s troubled families team, Dame Louise Casey, has said the extension of Universal Credit should be put on hold because of the delayed payments issue, while 12 Conservative MPs have written to Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke urging him to pause the roll-out.
Mr Gauke, who has been reviewing the implementation of Universal Credit with Prime Minister Theresa May, is expected to announce some tweaks to the system in his keynote speech to the Conservative conference in Manchester on Monday, but is thought unlikely to unveil fundamental reforms to the benefit, which replaces a range of existing welfare payments.
Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke is expected to announce some changes to the plan (PA)
Speaking to a meeting hosted by the Huffington Post on the fringe of the conference, he stressed the importance of ensuring that claimants were aware of the cash advances which are available upfront for those who fear they will find it difficult to make ends meet while their applications are processed.
Already, more than 50% of claimants were receiving advances, he said.
“We need to make sure that people are properly aware of advances,” he said. “We don’t want people saying, ‘I can’t get access to any money, what am I going to do?’.”
Mr Gauke said he would be ready to tear up the system first devised by predecessor Iain Duncan Smith if he felt it was a “mistake”, but did not believe this to be the case.
Did you know #UniversalCredit replaces Tax Credits? https://t.co/UF1eyH578a pic.twitter.com/grzHGkPiwv
— DWP (@DWP) April 6, 2017
He rejected the judgement of former Treasury mandarin Lord Macpherson that UC was “an accident waiting to happen”.
“I wasn’t involved in the creation of Universal Credit and I am not someone whose political reputation is tied up with Universal Creidt,” Mr Gauke said. “If I looked at it and thought this is a mistake, I would be attempting to do something to stop it. But I don’t.”
The Work and Pensions Secretary said that the roll-out of UC, which is due to be complete for new claimants across the country by the autumn of 2018, would not be carried out in a “reckless or risky” way.
Rather than launching the system in a “big bang”, ministers were introducing it gradually and amending details as they learnt from experience, he said.
#UniversalCredit gives you the flexibility to take up part-time or short term roles and still be better off in work https://t.co/xKW5IwicFQ pic.twitter.com/CGu1mUvzA9
— DWP (@DWP) April 16, 2017
He denied that UC was designed purely to save money, insisting it was intended to support people in finding work and taking on more hours, as well as encouraging changes to behaviour so that single parents feel able to work for more than 16 hours a week.
Mrs May accepted that there had been “issues and problems” with UC, but insisted that it was “the right thing to do”.
The Prime Minister told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “This is an important change to the benefit system, so I think it is important that we do roll it out, but we are looking at the specific issues being raised by people about that implementation.
“I have accepted that there have been issues and problems with the roll-out and it is something David Gauke and I are looking at.”
May prepared 4 more ppl 2 get into debt & risk being made homeless rather than #PAUSEUniversalcredit roll out. BTW it does NOT make work pay
— Debbie Abrahams (@Debbie_abrahams) October 1, 2017
Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “More empty words will do nothing for those being pushed into poverty by the Government’s flagship social security programme.
“The six-week wait for payment of Universal Credit is a punitive policy introduced by this government, it can be changed.
“We are yet to see anything that amounts to action to support the 13 million people living in poverty in the UK.”