The controversial rollout of Universal Credit looks set to go ahead despite mounting opposition from the Tory benches, David Gauke has signalled.
The Work and Pensions Secretary hinted that ministers would push on with the flagship welfare reforms, saying he would be “agitating” to stop the rollout if he considered it to be a mistake.
It comes amid growing concern at the overhaul of the benefits system, which will eventually merge six existing benefits into one single monthly payment for all claimants in Britain.
Some 12 Tory MPs, led by backbencher Heidi Allen, wrote to Mr Gauke urging him to halt the rollout over fears that desperate claimants would be waiting up to six weeks for their initial payments when transferring over from the old system.
Dame Louise Casey, the former government social welfare tsar, said aspects of the reform made “her hair stand on end” and compared the move to “jumping off a cliff”.
Speaking at a fringe event on the first day of the Conservative conference, Mr Gauke said: “I wasn’t involved in the creation of Universal Credit other than the specific and peripheral and I am not someone whose political reputation is tied up with Universal Credit.
“If I looked at it and thought this is a mistake, I would be agitating to do something to stop it. But I don’t.
“I do think the potential to get more people in work, progressing in work, to remove some of those barriers and I think that personal support that is provided by work coaches is really, really important and I think we will be seeing evidence of how it transforms lives.
“I think over time it will also have, if you like, a cultural effect, as people who are receiving benefits have more confidence to do extra hours to progress and I think that’s really important.”
Mr Gauke, who is will address the Tory conference on Monday, admitted more needed to be done to ensure people were aware cash advances were available upfront if they were going to struggle to make ends meet.
He said that the roll-out, 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.
Department for Work and Pensions data shows that 42 per cent of families in arrears under Universal Credit said it was due to the waiting time to receive payment, support being delayed or stopped, or administrative errors in the system.