Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Labour party will challenge Tory rebels to back its call to pause the rollout of Universal Credit, and defeat the government in a House of Commons vote.

On Tuesday, Theresa May held meetings with Tory backbenchers who are considering rebelling, as the government continues its rollout of the new benefit system, which has so far been blamed for inflicting poverty on a number of claimants, even forcing some on to the streets.

Labour is to call on the government to “pause and fix” the system for six weeks.

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke has insisted the roll-out of UC will continue, with the system tweaked so that claimants are offered advance payments upfront.

But he was accused by the Work and Pensions Select Committee chairman Frank Field of overseeing a department that has “no idea” about the operation of the policy.

After a dozen Tory MPs sent a letter to Mr Gauke urging him to pause the overhaul ahead of the Conservative Party conference earlier this month, Labour will hope to win a symbolic victory in an opposition day vote on Wednesday.

Last month, Labour received backing from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is propping up the minority Government, in opposition day votes on NHS pay and tuition fee increases, which forced the Tories to abstain on the non-binding motions.

The Prime Minister held talks with potential Tory rebels Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Johnny Mercer to listen to their concerns ahead of the vote.

The Government has insisted that it would consult with people to get the roll-out of the benefit right.

But shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “The Government has so far not listened to MPs’ concerns about the mounting issues with their flagship social security programme. We must stand together to make our voices heard.

“I urge Conservative MPs to vote with their conscience and support our motion to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit.

“The social security system is meant to protect people from debt and arrears, not exacerbate their situation.

“We must pause and fix Universal Credit now, before millions are made worse off.”

Universal Credit combines a number of benefits such as housing benefit and tax credits into a single payment.

From October the pace of its roll-out was set to be ramped up, with 50 Jobcentres moving to the service every month.

Government figures showed 23% of new claimants do not receive their first full payment within six weeks, which has been linked to rent arrears and other debts for claimants.

Mr Gauke will be grilled by MPs at a session of the Work and Pensions Select Committee ahead of the Commons vote.

Ahead of the session, Mr Gauke wrote to Mr Field and insisted there had been a “sustained level of improvement” in the timeliness of payments of the benefit, and stressed that “those who need it are not left without support”.

Bu Mr Field said the Department for Work and Pensions “has no idea about the operation of its flagship policy”.

“For example, they do not know how many people are waiting eight, 10, 12 weeks for payment, or why.

“They don’t and can’t know if it’s going right or wrong. It beggars belief that they decided to press ahead on this collision course totally in the dark.”