Jobcentre Plus sign.

Frank Field, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, has written to David Gauke, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, criticising his refusal to pause the roll-out of the flagship universal credit system.

Mr Gauke told the Conservative Party conference that there would be no delay in accelerating the roll-out of the new benefit, which wraps six social security benefits and tax credits including housing benefit into one single monthly payment, despite growing concerns over delays in payments and the risk of pushing more families into debt and closer to homelessness.

Starting today (October 4th) the roll-out of universal credit will be accelerated from five to fifty areas per month. As a percentage of the total expected caseload on Universal Credit, the number of households claiming Universal Credit is expected to increase from 8% in September to 13% in March 2018.

Claimants of benefits and tax credits being replaced by universal credit are expected to be migrated to the new system from early 2019, with completion expected no later than 2022-23.

Commenting on Mr Gauke’s announcement and the letter, Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “That the Government is pressing ahead with the accelerated rollout of a flawed Universal Credit brings depressing news for poorer families who will be affected, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

“We have written to the Secretary of State today to press him on the details of the new guidance on advance payments announced in his conference speech. What had rather the air of hasty afterthought seems to be being held out as a structural reform that will save the Universal Credit rollout, which it is not.

“The Government’s move is against the consensus for a pause that has emerged across parties and nations, fuelled by the unanimous and damning evidence we have collected from councils, housing associations, landlords and claimants across the UK.

“Offering advance payments up front is, of course, a welcome and overdue development. But short term discretionary loans can only be a sticking plaster on a policy that has many fundamental flaws, flaws that go far beyond the statutory full 6 week delay in receiving the first payment.

“The hundreds of thousands of families who will suffer as the Government presses ahead against the weight of evidence and consensus deserve more than a sticking plaster.

“It is not too late to pause it now and stop these problems snowballing to a near inevitable Christmas crisis and beyond. Far better to return to the rollout once the adjustments Government is already planning in recognition of these problems are in place, and shown to be working.

“Evidence based policy making should also be evidence based policy implementation.”