This article titled “PM will not reduce six-week wait for universal credit despite MPs’ warnings” was written by Anushka Asthana and Patrick Butler, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th October 2017 19.27 UTC
Theresa May will not reduce the six-week delay faced by many universal credit claimants despite being warned by Conservative MPs that the policy is hurting vulnerable families, sources have told the Guardian.
The prime minister’s decision not to budge on the issue, after a private discussion with Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Johnny Mercer, could lead to confrontation as Labour urged Tories to support its motion to pause the rollout of the benefit.
The shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said she wanted Conservative MPs to “vote with their conscience”, arguing that the system was supposed to “protect people from debt and arrears, not exacerbate their situation”.
In the opposition day debate on Wednesday, the Labour frontbencher will reveal new figures, shared exclusively with the Guardian, that suggest universal credit cuts could push one million more children into poverty by 2020.
The figure is included in a report by the Child Action Poverty Group, to be published in the next few weeks, which also warns that 300,000 of those affected will be under the age of five.
Labour will also claim that benefit recipients calling a DWP helpline, at a cost of up to 55p a minute, could be doling out more than £50m annually, after government figures showed they received 31.8m calls from mobiles last year.
Abrahams will warn that the benefit is failing in its core aim of making work pay, will question the status of the rollout, claim people are being forced into rent arrears and to food banks, and raise the question of the six-week delay.
However, the Guardian understands that the work and pensions secretary, David Gauke, will argue that the government believes advance payments for claimants, available within five days, is enough to solve any problems around the long wait.
Sources said ministers were “relaxed” about the vote in the House of Commons, which could be won by Labour with the support of Tory rebels, and potentially the DUP – which has voted with the opposition on this issue previously.
May’s government has tried to downplay the significance of opposition day debates, with MPs sometimes told there is no need to vote.
However, any rebellion by Tories on an issue relating to the way the government treats poorer families would prove embarrassing for May.
Raising the issue at PMQs last week, Allen thanked the secretary of state for advertising the advanced payments but said she and Tory colleagues believed that the number of people requiring the money showed the “inbuilt six week wait just doesn’t work”.
She said to the prime minister: “Would she consider meeting with me so I can explain to her why if we reduce that six week wait we can do a better job for those just about managing families.”
It comes as a senior official admitted to the Guardian that the reason claimants had to wait even longer than a month for their first payment was because of an administration system that saved the government around £140m. They suggested that if ministers had that money to spend, they would not plough it back into reducing the six weeks, because they believed the advance payments were robust enough.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Universal credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives by providing additional tailored support to move into work and stop claiming benefits altogether. And it’s working.
“With universal credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.”
They argued that no one had to wait six weeks, and they had updated their guidance on advanced payments, which could be available on the same day in emergencies.
“Budgeting support is available for anyone who needs it, but the vast majority of claimants tell us they are comfortable managing their money.”
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