Public Services > Central Government

Universal Credit is back on the agenda at the Tory party conference

David Bicknell Published 30 September 2017

Despite concerns about the social impact of an acceleration in UC’s rollout in October, work and pensions secretary David Gauke is unlikely to agree to any 'pause'

 

Seven years ago at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, the then Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan Smith launched Universal Credit, in what has turned out to be a controversial overhaul of the benefits system.

A couple of days later in his round-up leader’s speech to the conference, David Cameron said Duncan Smith had “found a way” to end “that system” where “low paid single mothers were going out to work and losing 96p for every extra pound they earned.”

Cameron said, “We’re on your side; we’ll help you work; we will bring that injustice to an end.”

Seven years later, fast-forward to the Tory Party Conference again, this time in Manchester, and Universal Credit will again be on the agenda, as it usually is every year. This time, it will be David Gauke, the current Work and Pensions Secretary who will be in the spotlight when he is expected to respond to the latest call for the rollout of Universal Credit to be slowed down.

This time though the call has not come solely from Labour. Twelve Tory MPs, including a former aide to Duncan Smith, Andrew Selous, have written to Gauke, arguing for the rollout to be paused over fears about the impact on claimants .

It follows a call in July from Citizens Advice which said Universal Credit should he halted “until significant problems with it are fixed.” It said in a report, ‘Delivering on Universal Credit’ that the requirement to wait six weeks for any payment means people face serious financial insecurity, with many being forced into debt.

It said it had identified a number of administrative challenges, including problems with the online system and long waits to get help over the phone.

The IT problems around Universal Credit over the last few years have been well documented.  But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has tried to get round problems by instituting what appears to be a glacially slow rollout of Universal Credit, implementing around five new areas each month. In October, however, the rollout is expected to speed up to over 50 new areas each month.

Gauke will speak at the conference on Monday, and he is expected to press ahead with the rollout. One source told The Guardian, “In July, we rolled out to 29 jobcentres and thing are progressing apace.  There is no legislation or parliamentary component to the policy, so it is not under threat. Twelve people signing a letter is not a revolt.”

In a recent statement, a DWP spokesman said, “These claims are based on flawed and outdated research. Universal Credit is an effective and more efficient system than the old one. People are moving into work faster and staying in work longer and, once it is fully rolled out, UC will boost employment by around 250,000.

“Around 80% of UC payments are made on time, and where they are not it is usually because a claimant commitment has not been signed; or a verification issue over information.

“The majority of people are confident about managing their money, however advance payments are available for those who need extra help.”

DWP has indicated that 99% of applications for the Universal Credit Full Service are now made online and people who are unable to claim online and need to use the telephone service can request a call back to avoid call charges.

In his conference speech, Gauke is unlikely to slow down or halt the rollout, but given that some MPs, including both Tory names and not just Labour ones, have been complaining, expect some emollient words - but probably not much more.

There is also an inquiry into Universal Credit's rollout which has been launched by the parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee. It has a deadline for written submissions of Friday October 13.

 








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