Twelve Conservatives signed a private letter to Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke (pictured) calling for a slowdown in the roll-out of Universal Credit
Ministers faced a row over the government’s flagship welfare reforms last night as they were criticised by a dozen Tory MPs.
Ahead of the party’s conference next week, twelve Conservatives signed a private letter to Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke calling for a slowdown in the roll-out of Universal Credit.
The MPs led by Heidi Allen are opposed to an acceleration in the number of job centres moving over to the new system each month from around five to 50 by the end of the year.
Universal Credit was a flagship welfare reform proposed under former prime Minister David Cameron and ex-work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
It combines six different benefits into a single payment and was supposed to encourage people back into work.
One of those who has signed the letter to Mr Gauke is understood to be Andrew Selous, one of Mr Duncan Smith’s former Parliamentary aides, according to the Telegraph.
The benefit overhaul has been planned by the Conservatives since the 2010 general election but has already been beset by delays and Cabinet rows over its funding.
The row is potentially embarrassing for Theresa May, who has already had to abandon other major reforms after losing her majority at the General Election.
However, it is unlikely to lead to a Commons rebellion as the legislation needed for Universal Credit has already been passed by Parliament.
There are currently 590,000 people on Universal Credit in England and Wales, with around 50,000 new claims each month.
Ministers are planning to move around 12million people across to the new scheme over the next five years.
The MPs are concerned that claimants lose out when they switch from their existing system because as they can face a six week delay before for they get their first payment. However, ministers have put in place a system to mitigate this with advances available to help bridge the gap.
Frank Field, the Labour chairman of the House of Commons’ Work and Pensions committee, said the problems affected millions of claimants and urged a ‘Christmas truce’ in the scheme’s expansion.
Mr Field said that ‘serious’ Tory MPs had signed the letter, telling the Telegraph: ‘The new secretary of state knows that the dribbling out Universal Credit has been beset by problems’.
The row is potentially embarrassing for Theresa May, who has already had to abandon other major reforms
Citizens Advice, which helps people navigate the benefits system, has warned the acceleration of the plan is a ‘disaster waiting to happen’.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: ‘The vast majority of claimants are comfortable managing their money, and for anyone who needs extra help, we have budgeting advice and benefit advances.
‘Continuing to roll-out Universal Credit in a safe and controlled way will mean many more will benefit from moving into employment.
‘Universal Credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives and raise their incomes.
‘It does that by providing additional, tailored support not available under the old benefit system, including more help for those in work so they can eventually stop claiming benefits altogether, and under Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the previous system.’