Tory rebel MPs who raised fears Universal Credit roll-out could plunge working families into poverty are hoping the government will reveal some concessions in next month’s budget.
Just one Conservative MP voted with opposition parties on Wednesday evening on a motion tabled by Labour calling for a pause of the benefits overhaul, while issues with delays to first payments were ironed out.
Sarah Wollaston said she would not abstain along with her Tory colleagues unless ministers could give assurances they would tackle the issue of thousands of claimants being left with no money while they waited for their initial payment, pushing them into debt and rent arrears.
She told the Commons: “Why are we undermining a policy with potential to change lives for the better by not addressing a fundamental flaw at its heart? We have heard many compelling cases today and we cannot ignore them.”
The Labour motion was passed with the support of 299 MPs, with none voting against it, in what Jeremy Corbyn’s party described as “a major defeat for the government”.
Sources close to about two dozen Tory members who had threatened to vote with Labour said they were hopeful some concessions on the policy - including cutting the six-week waiting period for initial payments to four weeks - would be announced in next month’s budget.
One told HuffPost UK: “The difficulty with politics, as we all know, is that the government won’t have wanted to make any announcements on concessions on the same day as an Opposition Day debate.
“Many people have suggested ways to deal with the six-week delay and we are hopeful that issue will be dealt with - although it will require some Treasury decisions - and that announcements will possibly be made in the budget.
“Otherwise, all people are going to hear about is terrible stories of people being pushed into poverty over Christmas.”
Work and pensions secretary David Gauke announced on Wednesday that the Universal Credit telephone advice service - which currently costs up to 55p per minute - would become a freephone number, along with other benefits helplines.
“They were wise to make an immediate concession on that, because it was clearly ridiculous,” one insider said.
As the vote took place on Wednesday, Commons Speaker John Bercow was scathing about the government’s conduct.
He said: “It would be respectful to the House if a minister sooner rather than later were to come to the House, to give an indication of the government’s thinking.
“This institution is bigger than any one party and frankly it is bigger than any one government. This place and what we do here matters.”