Plans to move millions of benefit claimants over to the Government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme could be voted down in Parliament, unless the Government can demonstrate enough protections have been put in place to prevent vulnerable people from falling further into poverty and debt, a senior MP has warned.
Frank Field MP, who chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, has expressed anger that MPs on the influential group-party group have not been permitted to scrutinise the new legislation, which will see around three million households gradually transferred from legacy benefits to Universal Credit – so-called “managed migration”.
Mr Field, who sits as an independent MP after resigning the Labour Party whip, has written to Employment Minister Alok Sharma warning the draft regulations risk “plunging vulnerable people deeper into poverty”, whilst adding there has been “no opportunity at all for anyone to scrutinise the version of the regulations that the [Work and Pensions] Department now plans to lay”.
In the letter, Mr Field writes: “Given the strength of the concern about the draft regulations published in June, which many experts believed risked plunging vulnerable people deeper into poverty, we can only hope that the revised version has changed beyond recognition.
“But we do not yet know what changes the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has recommended to the Government, nor whether you have accepted any or all of its recommendations.
“I hope you would agree that it is reasonable for the Committee to seek an opportunity to assess the SSAC’s report and the Government’s response to it, as well as the new regulations, before this very important matter comes before the House.
“If the Government has accepted the SSAC’s advice, and has fully addressed the very serious concerns expressed to the SSAC during its consultation, then our scrutiny could be very quick and need not cause any significant delay.”
In response, Alok Sharma writes: “While I appreciate the Committee’s request, I do not think it would be appropriate to diverge from the standard process for the scrutiny of draft regulations and delay their introduction.”
Alok Smarma adds: “It is right that we take the time to fully consider SSAC’s recommendations and our response to them.”
Commenting, Mr Field said: “Having got it so disastrously wrong with its first attempt, you’d think that the government would want to make sure its plans to move vulnerable people on to universal credit stand up to scrutiny.
“Instead, it is choosing to push these regulations through Parliament with no chance for MPs to make amendments.
“That hardly inspires confidence that it has really made the changes needed to ensure that its actions won’t simply plunge people deeper into poverty.
“If its new plans don’t have enough safeguards to protect the vulnerable, then MPs will be left with no option but to vote them down.”
It has been reported that roll-out of Universal Credit has been delayed once again. The process will now begin in July 2019 and is not expected to be fully completed until 2023, unless there are further problems or delays.
The new benefit has faced strong criticism and condemnation from MPs on both sides of the political divide, including some Tory MPs.