NEWS
20/12/2017 14:20 GMT | Updated 20/12/2017 16:18 GMT

Work And Pensions Secretary David Gauke And Labour MP Embroiled In Universal Credit Twitter Spat

Twist and turns amid row on social media.

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David Gauke faces a backlash after tweets defending Universal Credit

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke faces a backlash after issuing a strongly-worded rebuttal to a report of hardship on crisis-hit Universal Credit.

Gauke defended the benefits reform on Twitter by responding to a claim from Labour MP Frank Field that a young mother would not receive any money before Christmas under the scheme.

Last Friday, Field wrote: “A mum with two young children has this week received a DWP letter. Her Income Support has stopped and she has to apply for Universal Credit.

“She has been in tears all afternoon. She will not receive any money, not even an advance, until after Xmas - ‘I literally have nothing.’”

In a tweet four days later, Gauke insisted on Tuesday night: “Wrong. In reality, she first submitted claim for UC last Thursday, received £688 in an advance payment on Monday.” 

It is unclear how Gauke obtained the claimant’s personal information, though a senior civil servant had used Twitter to appeal to Field for more information.

Neil Couling, the Universal Credit programme director, asked the MP to message him directly.

But in a further twist on Wednesday, Field claimed Gauke was wrong himself and that the claimant in question had not, in fact, received £688 in an advance payment this week.

“It’s great that you’ve found and helped someone in such desperate need. But the mum to whom I referred still hasn’t had an appointment,” he wrote.

“The public has ensured she has money for food and heating today. She’s still seeking help from DWP and I hope you’ll ensure this happens.” 

Yet Gauke hit back less than an hour later, saying: “We asked for details on Friday & again on Monday. The food bank [you] visited gave us details. If you’ve someone else, please can we have info?”

Field then tweeted: “Our poor mum has since been rescued by local DWP staff who, like the wise men in the Xmas story, sought her out to ensure she was seen at the front of the queue for crisis help. Well done local staff, but how many more to go?”

It is understood the young mother received an advanced payment this week.

Advanced payments act as loans which are repayable over six months via deductions from Universal Credit allowances. The repayment period will soon be extended to 12 months.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been approached for comment.

Flagship reform

Universal Credit is a flagship reform introduced under the Coalition government and is intended to bring together six benefits into one single monthly payment.

But problems with the system’s design and its roll out have been blamed for an increase in homelessness, and rocketing use of food banks and loan sharks.

HuffPost revealed last month that terminally ill Universal Credit claimants are assigned “work coaches” under the system.

And the government was previously forced to admit people did, in fact, need to call a costly helpline to administer their claims, before it scrapped the charges altogether.

UPDATE: This article was updated at 4.18pm on Wednesday 20 December to add further tweets from both David Gauke and Frank Field. The headline was also changed to reflect these new tweets.