South Shields MP calls for rethink on Universal Credit roll-out

Work and Pensions secretary David Gauke addresses the Work and Pensions Committee at the House of Commons in London.
Work and Pensions secretary David Gauke addresses the Work and Pensions Committee at the House of Commons in London.

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has urged the government to halt the roll-out of the controversial new benefit Universal Credit.

Labour this week won a House of Commons vote calling for a pause in the introduction of the flagship benefit reform by 299-0 after Prime Minister Theresa May ordered her MPs to abstain.

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck

But she made it clear there would be no delay in rollout the changes to the national benefits system.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said the Tories could not “suddenly say we didn’t lose” after Labour’s 299-0 victory just because they did not take part.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “From the outset Universal Credit has been an absolute disaster, plunging people into poverty, debt and at risk of homelessness.

“I am disgusted that this week the Tories chose to ignore the will of the House of Commons after I and Labour colleagues overwhelmingly voted to pause and fix the roll-out of Universal Credit.

It is clear we have a Government that is content to heap further misery on people. I want to assure the people of Shields that I will continue to do all I can to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit here.

Emma Lewell-Buck

“It is clear we have a Government that is content to heap further misery on people. I want to assure the people of Shields that I will continue to do all I can to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit here.”

The result is a fresh sign of the minority Government’s vulnerability to protests from a relatively small number of MPs and its tactics caused disquiet among so-called “constitutional Tories”.

Several Tory MPs used the opposition day debate to highlight UC’s problems such as claimants having to wait six weeks for payments, which has been linked to rent arrears and other debts.

But only the respected Commons Health Committee chairwoman Sarah Wollaston voted with Labour after warning ministers they need to address the “fundamental flaw” of the six-week wait.

Heidi Allen, who was among a group of potential rebels invited to Downing Street for talks with the Prime Minister on Tuesday, suggested introducing fortnightly payments and sending housing payments straight to landlords.

Mrs May clashed with Jeremy Corbyn over the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions.

The Labour leader called for a delay to the roll-out of UC telling the PM: “The fundamental problems of Universal Credit remain. The six-week wait, rising indebtedness, rent arrears and evictions.”

But Mrs May replied: “It is a simpler system. It is a system that encourages people to get into the workplace. It is a system that is working because more people are getting into work.”