A Tory MP who led a backbench rebellion against Universal Credit has issued a last-ditch party conference plea to the Prime Minister to pause the roll out of the ‘reform’.
Heidi Allen, who sits on the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said offering advance cash payments to UC claimants was like an “Elastoplast being stuck on” and revealed flaws in the design of the system, which will eventually merge six existing benefits into one monthly payment.
Critics of the benefits overhaul warn that desperate claimants could be waiting up to six weeks or longer for their initial payment while transferring over from the old system.
However Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke said he intends to press on with the roll out, ahead of an address to the second day of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Allen told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Getting some money to people of course is welcome but if we are essentially celebrating the fact that advance payments are increasing and will increase, that means that the fundamental design of the system, which is a minimum six weeks to wait, doesn’t work.
“It feels like an Elastoplast being stuck on because six weeks is just too long for the majority of people to wait.”
Allen, who led a group of 12 MPs to urge Gauke to halt the rollout, called for a delay of “months not years” to fix problems with UC and said one in four claimants have already had to wait longer than six weeks in the initial stages.
She appealed to the Prime Minister to stick to the principles she outlined in the first speech of her premiership, saying: “She showed to me a really clear understanding of people who are struggling to make ends meet and she said very clearly, ‘Every decision I make will be for you’ and these are the people we are talking about
“So to me it doesn’t really fit with the belief in that inner moral compass, if you like, that these are the vulnerable people with no recourse to savings that we should be supporting.”
So far the Government has been rolling out the new benefit to new claimants at a rate of five job centres a month, but in July they completed 29.
Behind the scenes in Manchester there are concerns that UC could be a ‘poll tax’ for the current Tory government.
Commenting on Gauke’s suggestion that implementation would go ahead, Allen said: she said: “I hope that the rumours will be wrong. If we are celebrating the fact that advance payments are increasing and will increase, that means that the fundamental design of the system, which as a minimum is six weeks to wait, doesn’t work.
“This is an IT project we can fix: we are talking months to delay it not years and we should take that opportunity.
“Whether six weeks is the correct amount and whether we can expect people who have no recourse to savings, currently one in four claimants still aren’t getting any money within six weeks.
“It is taking them longer and that’s what I’m worried about. So far, full service has been rolled out to 100 jobcentres and that’s taken us 16 months to get there: that’s about half a million people.”
Allen’s plea comes after Dame Louise Casey, a former government official who conducted a year-long study for ministers into community cohesion, likened pressing ahead with the universal credit rollout to “jumping over a cliff”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme on Friday the changes, which involve merging six benefits into a single monthly payment, made her “hair stand on end”.
Casey, a former director of the Labour government’s rough sleepers unit, said the plans, which have already been tried on 530,000 claimants, would “end up making the situation worse for people that are working poor – let alone people that are on benefits”.