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'Deeply irresponsible' ministers probed over buried Universal Credit report

Frank Field wrote to Tory MPs demanding transparency around the delayed report which showed Universal Credit causing financial trouble in 2017

The chair of the work and pensions committee has confronted senior ministers over a report showing Universal Credit pushed people into financial difficult – which was published 18 months after it was produced.

Frank Field wrote to Chancellor Philip Hammond and Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd demanding more transparency around what he called an “excessively long” delay, referring to the “alarming” findings which were kept under wraps.

Earlier this month, a joint DWP and HMRC report dated November 2017 was quietly published showing that 60 per cent of people transferred from the old benefits system to Universal Credit struggled to pay their bills because of six-week waits for first payments. A quarter of respondents said the move made them fall behind with bills and commitments.

Field asked the ministers to explain what caused the delay and to hand over the details of when ministers in each department first saw the report.

The Labour MP also instructed Hammond and Rudd to tell him what actions the DWP and HMRC took immediately on seeing the report aside from deciding to delay publication.

“The decisions taken to date on Universal Credit and those to be made in the coming weeks and months will affect the lives and incomes of millions of people,” Field wrote.

“Members of Parliament should not be asked to make these pivotal decisions based on partial information. It would be deeply irresponsible for the government not to provide members of both Houses with the best possible information on which to make them.

“It is profoundly regrettable that this seems to have occurred in this case.”

The letter also nods to the coincidence of the 18 month delay “with a period of intense scrutiny of Universal Credit”. The delay spanned the decision to accelerate the full service roll-out “to ongoing scrutiny of DWP’s plans for ‘managed migration’ of claimants of existing benefits to Universal Credit”.

When asked to explain why ministers sat on this information for 18 months, the DWP referred The Big Issue to HMRC for a joint statement.

In the statement, a spokesperson defended the report, saying that it shows “satisfaction levels are high and people are being helped into work quicker”.

They said that improvements had been made, and that “no one has to wait five weeks to be paid” because a first payment advance is available on day one.

Last week, Field accused the DWP of treating the work and pensions committee “like dirt”.

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