Work and pensions secretary David Gauke has suggested that the universal credit rollout will continue despite warnings from Conservative colleagues that the social security system overhaul should be delayed.
A dozen Tory MPs have raised concerns with Gauke’s department that claimants were being forced to use food banks because of the mandatory six-week wait to receive money.
Speaking at a Conservative conference fringe event, Gauke gave a clear hint there would be no delay in the rollout, planned for next week, suggesting people needed to be more aware that they could claim emergency advance payments instead of waiting for six weeks.
Gauke said almost half of all new claimants were now asking for payments in advance because they were unable to wait six weeks, up from just under 40% in April. “That’s good news,” he said at the HuffPost event.
“I’ll say a little bit more tomorrow in my conference speech but we need to make sure it works, that people are properly aware of it, that we are bringing it to people’s attention in the Jobcentre.”
Gauke said those applying for advance payments could get them “practically straight away.”
Earlier this week, 12 Tory MPs, including the prominent backbencher Heidi Allen, wrote to Gauke calling for the rollout to be paused over fears about the impact on claimants already receiving universal credit in trial areas, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Signatories to the letter included Andrew Selous, a former parliamentary aide to one of Gauke’s predecessors, Iain Duncan Smith. Allen spoke out in the Commons earlier this month to call on the government to “slow down a little bit and get it right” after figures showed that about one in four new claimants waited longer than six weeks to be paid.
Gauke said he had “spoken to a number of colleagues about this” and said he understood why people were worried about the wait, but suggested they had been mollified by the reported uptake in the advance payment system.
Universal credit was introduced in 2013 to simplify the social security system. The number receiving it will rise sharply next month when the rollout is accelerated to 50 new areas before being fully implemented by 2022.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday, Theresa May suggested the rollout could be reviewed, saying she recognised “there have been problems in the way universal credit has been working out for people … That’s something that David Gauke and I are looking at.”
At the fringe event however, Gauke suggested there was no intention to delay the move. “Let’s not get carried away over what is scheduled in the next few months,” he said. “At the moment if you look at the total number of households they are going to move on to universal credit by the end of this process, we are 8% of the way through, by the end of the scheduled plans, by January, we will be 10% of the way through. No one is talking about a reckless or risky approach, it continues to be about testing and improving.”
The former treasury secretary laughed off suggestions he would like a chance to succeed May but said that he would prefer to be chancellor. Gauke said May had shown after the election result “a degree of resilience and I look at her and I don’t know I would have that resilience in those circumstances.” Asked if he had ambitions to be chancellor, he said: “Maybe one day, I would like to do that. I spent seven years in the Treasury, mostly enjoyable years.”
He said he believed May should lead the Conservatives into the next election: “If she can deliver on her domestic agenda, if she can deliver the Brexit she is seeking to deliver, she will have a really excellent record … she would be a very formidable candidate in a general election.”
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