Theresa May is facing fresh pressure over Universal Credit after Labour unveiled plans to force ministers to publish secret reports on detailing the controversial policy’s impact on the poorest.
In an Opposition Day motion on Tuesday, Jeremy Corbyn’s party will seek to stage a binding Commons vote to release the documents which the Government refuses to publish.
The Department for Work and Pensions drafted five “Project Assessment Reviews” between 2012 and 2015 to alert civil servants and ministers to potential pitfalls of the Tories’ flagship welfare reform programme.
But despite rulings by the Information Commissioner that the documents’ publication is in the public interest, the Government has still not released them.
As part of its bid to pause the nationwide roll-out of Universal Credit, Labour will use the same ancient Parliamentary procedure that it deployed to force the publication of confidential Brexit impact assessments last month.
If passed by MPs, the ‘Humble Address’ device will require ministers to release the DWP papers to Parliament. Unlike traditional Opposition Day debates, the procedure means that the vote will be binding.
The Project Assessment Reviews were described by the Information Commissioner as providing “a much greater insight than any information already available about the Universal Credit Programme.”
Labour believes the papers may contain further information justifying the party’s call on the Government to pause and fix the policy.
Universal Credit replaces six benefits and is aimed at streamlining the welfare system, but has been heavily criticised for the six-week wait it imposes on claimants.
The Peabody Trust estimates that nationally more than 60,000 households, including more than 40,000 children, will make new universal credit claims in the six weeks before Christmas, and so will not receive any income in the run-up to the festive season.
Jeremy Corbyn revealed last month that one landlord had drafted plans to evict hundreds of tenants who move onto the new benefit, amid fears that the benefit will leave them unable to pay their rent.
In last month’s Budget, Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke secured a reduction in the wait time to five weeks, though it later emerged that the change would not come into force until February.
Plans to pay housing benefit as a ‘bridge’ for some claimants won’t be introduced until the spring.
The Opposition Day motion could force the hand of a clutch of Tory rebel MPs who have been pressing ministers to change tack on Universal Credit.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams, said: “These reports could further expose the implementation flaws, design failures and the impacts of major cuts to Universal Credit, which is pushing people into poverty, debt and arrears.
“Labour has long called for a pause and fix of this programme, but the Chancellor failed to act in the Budget, meaning thousands of families will face a miserable Christmas.
“The Government should have abided by the Information Commissioner and released five of these reports into the public domain. Having already ignored Parliament’s unanimous approval of Labour’s motion to pause Universal Credit, the Government is now once again riding roughshod over the democratic process.”
Labour’s formal motion states:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the five Project Assessment Reviews carried out into Universal Credit between 2012 and 2015 by the Government’s Major Projects Authority now known as the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and any subsequent Project Assessment Reviews carried out into Universal Credit by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority between 1 January 2016 and 30 November 2017 that have been provided to Her Majesty’s Ministers at the Department of Work and Pensions, be provided by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to the Work and Pensions Committee.
The Department for Work and Pensions said it would make its position on the motion clear on Tuesday.