POLITICS

Government Accused Of Hiding Universal Credit Statistics From MPs

Commons committee demands answers from David Gauke.

16/10/2017 16:15 BST | Updated 16/10/2017 16:16 BST
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Secretary of State for Work and Pensions David Gauke addresses the Conservative Party Conference at the Manchester Central Convention Complex in Manchester.

The government has been slammed by a powerful committee of MPs for failing to hand over statistics related to the rollout of Universal Credit.

Work and pensions secretary David Gauke is due to appear before the Commons work and pensions committee on Wednesday morning to defend the benefits shake-up.

But Frank Field, the Labour chairman of the committee, accused Gauke on Monday of withholding crucial details about how many people are being left for weeks without any money to live on.

“For claimants not to receive money from Universal Credit is usually a disaster. For the secretary of state not to answer letters shows either a huge discourtesy to Parliament or a sign that the government knows the game is nearly up in trying to present this mega-reform as a success,” he said.

“I don’t know if the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is deliberately concealing information about Universal Credit or is simply incompetent. Either way, it is not good enough. This has obvious echoes in the far greater failure of not paying hungry claimants on time.”

He added: “The overwhelming picture we are getting is that Universal Credit as currently configured is very bad news. We have heard nothing, to the contrary or otherwise, from those running it.”

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Commons work and pensions committee chairman Frank Field

The committee has accused the DWP of failing to respond in time to its call for written evidence or to four separate letters asking for statistics on how Universal Credit is progressing.

The MPs added that while the department had failed to reply, 103 organisations and individuals managed to send written evidence to the committee by last Friday’s deadline.

Universal Credit, the brainchild of former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith, combines six of the main welfare benefits into a single payment.

It has been slowly rolled out across the country and is expected to be fully in place by 2022. Once complete, more than seven million households will receive it.

The government has been under pressure from Labour as well as backbench Tory MPs to pause the rollout amid concerns a six week wait for benefit payments is leaving people unable to pay bills or buy food.

Gauke has pledged to increase awareness among claimants that they can receive advance payments of money.

Jeremy Corbyn last week urged Theresa May to “show some humanity” and remove the charges for the Universal Credit helpline.

The DWP has been contacted for a response to the accusations made by the committee.