Government accused of ‘absence of empathy’ over Universal Credit

In questions in the Commons, DWP ministers have been under pressure over the welfare policy in the run-up to Christmas.

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The government has had to answer a series of questions over Universal Credit as the Christmas period approaches.

Opposition MPs spoke about the growing use of foodbanks and the financial problems claimants were facing under the system.

Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, said in a single session “an extraordinary 128 people” were provided food by the local food bank.

She added that the Peabody Trust has estimated 60,000 households will have made a new UC claim before Christmas and therefore won’t get an initial payment until after the festive period.

But DWP secretary of state, David Gauke, disagreed: “We should be clear: if people need cash before Christmas, they are able to get it under the Universal Credit system, which is designed so that they can do that.

“People trying to discourage claimants from taking an advance, which I am afraid is the tone that we hear too often from the Labour party, are causing unnecessary anxiety for claimants.”

Gauke repeatedly said that the advances, or loans, claimants can get should be used where needed.

But it was over sanctions that the DWP faced hard words from Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North.

Minister for employment, Damian Hinds, said: “The department does not forecast numbers of sanctions that will be applied. We do not want sanctions to be incurred, but they do play an important part in reasonable conditionality.”

This riled Pound, who retorted: “Well, what an answer! Never would I accuse the minister of dedolence, but I must say that that sort of Panglossian response shows an absence of empathy or understanding, particularly of the empirical evidence that we have had to date. My constituents see universal credit as a rock rolling down a hill next April.”

The government made a series of changes to Universal Credit in the Budget but critics are still calling for a pause in the system to allow fixes to be made.

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