Charities working with Universal Credit claimants have been “banned” from criticising Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, the Times claims.
According to the newspaper, at least 22 organisations – covering contracts worth £1.8 billion – have been required to sign clauses pledging not to damage the reputation of Work and Pensions Secretary and to instead “pay the utmost regard to [her] standing and reputation”.
They must “not do anything which may attract adverse publicity” to her, damage her reputation, or harm the public’s confidence in her, the paper said.
Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) denied they were “gagging clauses” intended to prevent criticism of ministers or their policies, insisting they were just “standard procedure”.
However a spokesperson confirmed that the contracts did include references to ensure both parties “understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests”.
A DWP spokesperson said: “It’s completely untrue to suggest that organisations are banned from criticising Universal Credit.
“As with all arrangements like this, they include a reference which enables both parties to understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests.
“This is in place to safeguard any commercial sensitive information for both government and the organisation involved.”
The news comes one day after HuffPost UK reported 580,000 benefits claimants could lose out on payments in the next phase of the Universal Credit rollout.
The figures led to urgent demands for the government to halt Universal Credit, which has been besieged by criticism from both the Labour Party and disability and welfare charities.
So far this week, Universal Credit has also been criticised by Iain Duncan Smith, who said the benefits reform needs an additional £2bn to operate as planned, and former prime minister Sir John Major.
“If you have people who face that degree of loss, that is not something the majority of the British population would think of as fair, and if people think you have removed yourself from fairness then you are in deep political trouble,” he said.