Theresa May faces universal credit rebellion

Theresa May is facing a rebellion by dozens of her MPs today over her Government’s controversial Universal Credit plans. 

Ministers have insisted the flagship reform – which merges six payments into one and is designed to ensure work always pays – will go ahead as planned.

But critics say the new system is in ‘disarray’ and that delays in payments are pushing vulnerable people into debt.

Labour is seeking to exploit Tory divisions over Universal Credit (UC) by holding a vote in the House of Commons today demanding the roll-out is paused.

Up to 25 Tory backbechers are said to be considering joining Labour in the division lobbies to demand a pause to the benefit rollout.

The Prime Minister scrambled to avoid a rebellion at the eleventh hour by holding talks with likely Tory rebels at Downing Street.

Theresa May, pictured in Downing Street with her chief of staff Gavin Barwell yesterday is facing a rebellion over the rollout of Universal Credit by up to 25 of her backbenchers

Mrs May met with Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Johnny Mercer at No10 last night ahead of today’s vote.  

Labour is holding an Opposition Day Motion vote calling for the rollout to be paused in a vote that would not be binding on the government but would pile pressure on ministers to act.

The PM has a nominal majority of just 13 – meaning that if just seven MPs rebel against the whips then she will suffer a humiliating defeat. 

But it is unclear if the Tories will even vote on the motion today as the party has not bothered voting on Opposition Day motions since the Jun 8 snap election.  

A dozen Tory MPs sent a letter to Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke urging him to pause the overhaul ahead of the Conservative Party conference earlier this month.

But he has insisted the roll-out of UC will continue, with the system tweaked so that claimants are offered advance payments upfront.

Mr Gauke was accused by the Work and Pensions Select Committee chairman Frank Field of overseeing a department that has ‘no idea’ about the operation of the policy.  

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: ‘The Government has so far not listened to MPs’ concerns about the mounting issues with their flagship social security programme. We must stand together to make our voices heard.

‘I urge Conservative MPs to vote with their conscience and support our motion to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit.

‘The social security system is meant to protect people from debt and arrears, not exacerbate their situation.

‘We must pause and fix Universal Credit now, before millions are made worse off.’

Tory MPs Heidi Allen (pictured left) and Sarah Wollaston (pictured right) are among the Tory MPs who could rebel against the Government in today’s vote on Universal Credit 

Universal Credit combines a number of benefits such as housing benefit and tax credits into a single payment.

From October the pace of its roll-out was set to be ramped up, with 50 job centres moving to the service every month.

Government figures showed 23 per cent of new claimants do not receive their first full payment within six weeks, which has been linked to rent arrears and other debts for claimants.

Mr Gauke will be grilled by MPs at a session of the Work and Pensions Select Committee ahead of the Commons vote.

Ahead of the session, Mr Gauke wrote to Mr Field and insisted there had been a ‘sustained level of improvement’ in the timeliness of payments of the benefit, and stressed that ‘those who need it are not left without support’.

Bu Mr Field said the Department for Work and Pensions ‘has no idea about the operation of its flagship policy’.

‘For example, they do not know how many people are waiting eight, 10, 12 weeks for payment, or why.

‘They don’t and can’t know if it’s going right or wrong. It beggars belief that they decided to press ahead on this collision course totally in the dark.’