UK

Government Bows To Pressure Over 'Secret' Universal Credit Reports

Victory for Labour amid mounting criticism of flagship reform.

05/12/2017 15:28 GMT | Updated 05/12/2017 19:46 GMT
Parliament
Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke has agreed to provide a committee of MPs 'secret' reports into Universal Credit 

David Gauke has accepted a Labour motion to provide reports into the rollout of Universal Credit to the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee.

In a victory for Jeremy Corbyn’s party, the Work and Pensions Secretary told MPs on Tuesday that he will honour an opposition request for the unpublished files to be passed to the committee on an “exceptional” basis.

Yet despite the Information Commissioner ruling the documents should be fully published, the government still won’t release them to the public.

And with the Government insisting some key elements are kept confidential, questions have been raised over how the influential select committee can use the information it gains through reading the files.

PA Archive/PA Images
Labour's Debbie Abraham's spearheaded the opposition motion in a bid to force the government's hand over unpublished Universal Credit assessments

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) drafted five “Project Assessment Reviews” between 2012 and 2015 to alert civil servants and ministers to potential pitfalls of the Tories’ flagship welfare reform programme. 

As part of its bid to pause the nationwide roll-out of Universal Credit, Labour used the same ancient Parliamentary procedure that it deployed to force the publication of confidential Brexit impact assessments last month.

HuffPost UK revealed on Monday how Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams drafted the motion in a bid to force the government’s hand over the reports.

Universal Credit has been beset by controversies and accusations it leads to increased poverty and homelessness.

Abrahams said: “Following Labour pressure, the Government has finally backed down and made a clear commitment to hand over the Universal Credit reports.

“This should give greater insight into the scale of their implementation and design failures during the mismanagement of the programme and must be published unredacted and unedited.

“It is time we knew the true extent of the Government’s failures with Universal Credit in order to fix the multitude of problems.”

Gauke’s acceptance of the motion before a vote could take place avoided a potential Commons defeat.

But he defended the way the new benefit was helping many get into work and also blasted Labour for “scaremongering”, saying Universal Credit “improves lives”.

Gauke said: ”...the irresponsible scaremongering of the opposition is causing unnecessary anxiety for people who are getting support from the system.”

Labour’s formal motion stated:

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the five Project Assessment Reviews carried out into Universal Credit between 2012 and 2015 by the Government’s Major Projects Authority now known as the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and any subsequent Project Assessment Reviews carried out into Universal Credit by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority between 1 January 2016 and 30 November 2017 that have been provided to Her Majesty’s Ministers at the Department of Work and Pensions, be provided by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to the Work and Pensions Committee.

The Information Commissioners Office has previously ruled that the DWP should publish the files concerned in full, a decision the government has said it will challenge.

Gauke insisted that it had been the practice of all governments, including the last Labour administration, not to release such reports.

DWP sources added that the appeal against the Information Commissioner ruling followed the agreed process of the Freedom of Information Act.

“We have nothing to hide and in fact the most recent project assessment was very clear that we were right to expand the roll-out,” one Government insider said.

HuffPost revealed this weekend how terminally ill Universal Credit claimants are routinely assigned “work coaches”, prompting condemnation from charities.

And we reported last month how self-employed Universal Credit claimants have been told by officials they’d be “better off jobless”.

With reporting from Paul Waugh.