Theresa May has been urged by one of her own Tory MPs to confront the “unpalatable truth” that Universal Credit is “dragging” benefit claimants down, rather than holding them up.
Heidi Allen told the prime minister to follow in the footsteps of work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, who this week admitted the embattled welfare reform had driven more people to foodbanks.
She used Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday to urge the PM to cancel the five-week wait for first payments and lift the freeze on benefits increases each year.
Responding, May said the government “will continue to look at Universal Credit”.
Allen said: “It takes courage and leadership to admit difficult things, because that’s how we start to recognise the need for change.
“So I’d like to thank the secretary of state for work and pensions for acknowledging there has been a link between accessing Universal Credit and foodbank usage.
“But it isn’t the case that there has been a link – there is a link.”
Allen, a member of the work and pensions select committee, went on: “Will the prime minister please urgently review the five week wait and the benefit freeze – both must go.
“Because the unpalatable truth is that our welfare safety net is no longer holding up those most vulnerable in society, it’s tangling around their feet and dragging them under the water.”
May replied: “She will know we have taken a number of measures as we have been rolling this out slowly and carefully, we have taken a number of measures to address issues that have arisen.
“Shortly after I became prime minister, we cut the taper rate so people could keep more of the money that they earned.
“Subsequently of course we have ensured we have scrapped the seven-day waiting, we have introduced the two-week overlap in relation to those in receipt of housing benefit, and of course we have also ensured that 100% of a full monthly payment is available to people at the start for those for whom that is necessary.”
The PM added: “But Universal Credit is a system that encourages people into work and makes sure that work pays, compared to a legacy system from a Labour Party that left 1.4m people for a decade trapped on benefits.”