Thousands of the UK’s most vulnerable and poorest citizens are being denied the financial support the law says they are entitled to, according to damning figures exposed by the spending watchdog.
The National Audit Office (NAO) says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has underpaid benefits to the tune of £1.7bn over the last year, while official errors have also seen a significant rise in over-payments.
Underpayments now account for £1.7 billion of government welfare expenditure, while over-payments have soared to a record £3.7 billion.
The report exposes the shocking extent of departmental errors, with the chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee describing the current welfare system as “a pinball machine”.
Frank Field, told the Press Association: “It’s like a pinball machine, the payments system – you might get an overpayment, you might get an underpayment.
“Lots of people are not being paid Universal Credit when they should be, causing hardship, and the same department is overpaying others – what is going on?”
It comes as the Work and Pensions Secretary is facing mounting calls to resign, after falsely claiming that an NAO report suggested that the roll-out of Universal Credit should be accelerated.
Data shows that Universal Credit has the highest level of over-payments, at 7.2%, while Personal Independence Payment (a disability benefit) has the greatest amount of underpayments at 3.7%.
The findings rubbish claims that universal credit will “contribute to a significant reduction in overall levels of fraud and error”, with the NAO expressing serious concerns over the DWP’s record of tackling fraud and error in the benefits system.
Esther McVey has been accused of misleading parliament over an NAO report into the roll-out of universal credit.
The embattled work and pensions secretary was forced to explain her misleading comment – some would say lies – but her so-called apology was also questionable and lacked any sense of sincerity.
McVey said: “Whilst speaking in Parliament, in answer to questions on the National Audit Office (NAO) report into Universal Credit, I mistakenly said that the NAO had asked for the rollout of Universal Credit to continue at a faster rate and to be speeded up.
“In fact the NAO did not say that Mr Speaker, and I want to apologise to you and the House for inadvertently misleading you. What I had meant to say was that the NAO had said that there was ‘no practical alternative to continuing with Universal Credit’.
“We adopt a ‘test and learn’ approach to the roll out of Universal Credit, which the NAO says ‘mainly follows good practice’ and therefore the point I was trying to make was that calls from the Party opposite to pause it seemed to fly in the face of those particular conclusions.
“As you know Mr Speaker I asked you yesterday if I could come to the House to correct the record. I believe it is right that as a Minister I should come and correct the record, and I therefore hope you will accept my apology.
“Whilst I am here, Mr Speaker, with regard to the other issues raised in the letter sent today by the NAO. The NAO contacted my office at the end of last week, and we are working on setting up a meeting.
“And with regards to the NAO report not taking into account the impact of the recent changes to Universal Credit, I still maintain this is the case – such as Housing Benefit run on, and 100% advances and the removal of waiting days – the impact of these changes are still being felt and therefore by definition couldn’t have been fully taken into account by the NAO report.”
“I hope that clarifies the position.”
Reacting to the apology by Esther McVey on misleading parliament, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The apology from the minister will do nothing to convince those using Universal Credit or our members who administer it, that the scheme works.
“The concerns our union had about UC were confirmed by the original NAO report.
“The fact that its Auditor General has felt the need to make a public statement that the minister’s claims that Universal Credit is working, are not “proven” is a damning indictment.
“The roll out of Universal Credit is having a shocking impact on claimants as well as staff delivering the programme.
“Our members want to work in a humane social security system which helps claimants get the support they need. All the evidence shows Universal Credit will not achieve that and that’s why the government must cease its roll out.”
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