Labour and Conservative MPs have secured an emergency debate on the new universal credit welfare system, as ministers face continued calls to reduce the six-week waiting time for claimants to receive their first payment.
The three-hour debate was granted by the Speaker, John Bercow, and will take place on Tuesday after a Labour motion calling for the rollout to be paused was passed last week because the Conservatives were whipped to abstain.
Since then, there have been reports that No 10 was looking at reducing the waiting time from six weeks to a month, although the Department for Work and Pensions insisted no changes were imminent.
Bercow said he was satisfied the matter should be discussed in parliament again, with Peter Bone, a Conservative MP, joining opposition MPs in standing in support of Labour’s application.
Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said the non-binding vote last week, by 299 votes to zero, was a “serious rebuke” to the government’s flagship welfare reform.
Theresa May is under increasing pressure to change the system as dozens of Conservative MPs are unhappy with the length of the waiting time. Some of the Tory rebels are expected to meet David Gauke, the work and pensions secretary, this week and have high expectations that there will be some softening of the policy at, or before, the budget.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary, joined those suggesting there should be a reduction in the waiting time on Monday, saying it was “not wholly necessary”.
“The idea of the extra days was not something which I or my colleagues came up with,” he said. “It was a Treasury matter at the time and I think it’s certainly worth them reviewing that to see whether or not they can get rid of the waiting days.”
A government spokesman said: “The government remains determined to ensure that people joining universal credit don’t face hardship which is why we recently announced significant improvements to the system of advance payments that people can get as soon as they get into the system.
“As repeated this week, we will continue to monitor and take any actions if necessary. But no decisions or announcements on any further actions are imminent.”
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