David Gauke has defended the introduction of government’s Universal Credit benefit shake-up, despite backbench Conservative demands that it be paused.
Speaking at a fringe event hosted by HuffPost UK at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Sunday afternoon, the work and pensions secretary said hinted the rollout of the programme would continue at the current rate. “Nobody is talking about a reckless or risky approach,” he said.
In an attempt to reassure Tory critics, Gauke suggested he would take measures to make sure claimants knew they could receive an advance on Universal Credit rather than having to wait six weeks.
“The reality with advance payments is if you want one you can get it practically straight away,” he said.
Gauke added: “I wasn’t involved in the creation of Universal Credit other than a specific and peripheral way. I am not someone whose political reputation is tied up with Universal Credit,” he said.
“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.”
Universal Credit, the brainchild of Iain Duncan Smith, combines six of the main welfare benefits into a single payment.
Critics and others have warned a six-week wait for payments is leaving people unable to eat or pay their bills.
A dozen Tory MPs have signed a letter to Gauke which called for the implementation of Universal Credit to be paused.
But Gauke said people were already able to get advance payments if they wanted.
“In the most extreme cases if someone says ‘I’m literally down to my last few pounds’ it is possible to do a same day bank transfer.
“I don’t want anybody who is in need to have to wait six weeks, or sometimes more, to get any kind of payment.”
Gauke said the department needed to “get that message across” to benefit recipients that they are already allowed to get money immediately if they needed it.
Universal Credit 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 the new benefit.
Gauke said: “We are 8% of the way through under the scheduled plans, by January we will be 10% of the way though.”
He is due to address Conservative Party members from the conference stage tomorrow.
Theresa May this morning insisted the benefit changes would be made despite opposition. “We need to roll out Universal Credit,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show. “What we also need to do is to ensure that we are addressing the specific issues that are being raised by people.”
The Citizens Advice charity has warned the rollout of Universal Credit was leaving people trapped in a “spiral of debt”.
Dame Louise Casey, the former government troubled families expert, warned last week the country was “fraying at the edges” and that the benefit changes were harming the working poor.