Veteran MP accuses ministers of treating universal credit claimants and Commons committee 'like dirt'

The Independent - 11 Apr 2019

Ministers have been accused of dismissing the experiences of people struggling under universal credit and treating witnesses and MPs raising concerns about the issue “like dirt”.

In a highly unusual move, the Work and Pensions select committee claimed it was “not clear” the government had even read the group’s recent report on the new benefits system.
Independent MP Frank Field, who chairs the committee, said the government's initial response to the warnings about childcare as a barrier to work under universal credit detailed in the report was “skimpy and disappointing”.
The committee's original report, published in December 2018, found that, far from helping parents get into or back into work after having a child, the way the “support” is constructed under universal credit actually acts as a barrier to work.

A number of witnesses gave evidence to the original inquiry, including several single parents who putting “considerable time and effort” into giving evidence and coming up with constructive ways to improve Universal Credit childcare support.

But the MPs said the government’s response, published last month, gave the impression that it was “simply dismissing the very serious problems (under universal credit) that are plaguing parents who are trying to get into work”. 

They said it was particularly disappointing given that work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has acknowledged the serious problems that structural flaws in the new system are causing for parents who rely on childcare support to be able to work.

Independent MP Frank Field, chair of the committee, said the group was “frankly sick of these disrespectful government responses that treat us like dirt and fail to engage with our robust, evidence-based conclusions”. 

He added: “It’s not clear they’ve even read this one. Worse, in responding this way, government dismisses the experience and evidence of the individuals and organisations that have taken the time, and made the effort, and are working with us to try to fix the unholy mess that is universal credit. 

“This response in particular is simply not acceptable, and that is why we are taking the unusual step of issuing this report, demanding that they go back, look at what we and our witnesses have said, and come up with a second, decent response. This will not do."

A DWP spokesperson said: “These claims are disappointing - we take the committee’s input very seriously, have provided detailed responses to all of their recommendations and have already accepted some. We will now carefully consider their additional points.   

“Universal credit is supporting 1.8 million people and can pay up to 85 per cent of people’s childcare costs, which is more generous than the old benefit system.”

May Bulman, The Independent