May faces revolt over Universal Credit after MPs prepare to vote on reducing wait times

Sunday Telegraph - 12 Nov 2017

THERESA MAY is facing a second revolt over the roll-out of one of the Government's key welfare reforms after ordering her MPs to abstain on an earlier vote.

The Sunday Telegraph understands that more than a dozen Tory MPs are intending to back a cross-party motion this week demanding that ministers reduce the waiting period for Universal Credit. The Democratic Unionist Party, whose MPs are propping up Mrs May's Government, is also believed to be considering supporting the motion. The vote is likely to cause embarrassment to the Prime Minister as she is attempting to reassert authority over her party after losing two Cabinet ministers in the space of a week.

It comes after this newspaper reported that the Government is already preparing to use the Budget to announce a reduction to the current six-week wait. However, publicly, ministers have defended the policy and simply said they would "take action if necessary" to make improvements.

The motion is intended to lay down a formal marker that the Commons insists on changes to the roll-out. MPs, including some declaring support for the overall Universal Credit scheme, have warned that the delay is pushing poor tenants into rent arrears and turning many to food banks.

It was put forward by Frank Field, the Labour chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, in order to draw support from the Conservative MPs campaigning for a reduction to the six-week wait.

Mr Field hopes that it will result in a similar defeat suffered by George Osborne in 2015 when the then Chancellor was forced to rethink his cuts to tax credits after a Labour motion was carried in the House of Lords.

When the Labour front bench held a similar debate last month only one Tory MP, Sarah Wollaston, rebelled against an order by Mrs May to abstain.

However more than a dozen Conservatives have already backed Mr Field's motion. The text of which notes a report by Mr Field's cross-party committee that criticises the roll-out and "calls on the Government to reduce the standard initial wait for a first Universal Credit payment to one month." Last month The Sunday Telegraph disclosed that the Government had already resolved to reduce the waiting period by seven days.

Officials were working on further reductions, and Philip Hammond is understood to be preparing to announce a revised wait of around four weeks in the Budget.

Edward Malnick, Sunday Telegraph