Universal Credit claimants must not face hunger, destitution or homelessness over Christmas as a result of delays in the benefit being paid, senior MPs have told David Gauke.
The Work and Pensions Secretary faced a grilling over Universal Credit in the Commons, including from some Tory backbenchers.
Mr Gauke reiterated his plans to push ahead with a major expansion of the flagship welfare reform.
He said Universal Credit was helping people back into work and no-one should go six weeks without money, which has been linked to rent arrears and other debts for claimants.
Mr Gauke told last week’s Tory conference he would tweak the system to ensure claimants get advance payments quicker, amid criticism people are waiting six weeks for any money and getting into debt.
The Secretary of State is unable to guarantee to Parliament that Universal Credit will leave none of our constituents hungry over Christmas— Frank Field (@frankfieldteam) October 9, 2017
Labour’s Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, had asked Mr Gauke: “Can he give the House a guarantee that none of our constituents will be faced by hunger, near destitution, for the lack of money over the Christmas period, please?”
Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams added: “Given that housing associations are saying that over 80% of rent arrears are down to UC, and the Mayor of Greater Manchester is predicting rough sleeping will double as a result of the UC rollout, how many more families does the minister estimate will be made homeless this winter as a result of this Government’s refusal to pause UC rollout?”
Conservative ex-prime minister John Major has joined calls to pause the wider rollout of Universal Credit.
Mr Gauke said the wider rollout was proceeding “gradually and sensibly”.
Expansion over the coming months, with Universal Credit to be introduced to 50 new Jobcentres every month, will increase the proportion of people claiming from 8% to 10% of those who will eventually claim it, he added.
“What we’re doing is making clear that people can receive an advance of their first month’s payment. That is then deducted over the next six monthly periods.”
The number of Tory MPs prepared to rebel over the issue has grown to around 25, according to the Telegraph. Monday’s Work and Pensions questions session saw mild dissent from Tory MPs over technical issues.
Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire), said to be leading the rebellion, said: “What support is in place for people who are waiting three, four, five, six, seven weeks?”
Backbencher Luke Graham (Ochil and South Pershire) said: “Can he confirm that Jobcentres in Scotland will proactively offer the advances in support where needed?”
Neil Gray, the SNP’s social justice spokesman, said: “Isn’t the Secretary of State’s apparent climbdown on crisis loans and advance payments an admission that Universal Credit is failing?”
Universal Credit combines benefits such as housing benefit and tax credits into a single payment.
From October the pace of rollout will be ramped up, with 50 Jobcentres moving to the service every month.
DWP figures last week showed 76% of new claimants received full payment on time in the latest week for which figures were available, up from 65% at the start of the year. Some 15% of new claimants did not receive any money on time.
Changes will ensure those who want an advance payment will receive it within five working days, and those in the most immediate need will receive it the same day.