DWP accused of treating Universal Credit inquiry 'like dirt' as MPs demand childcare answers
Ministers have been accused of treating welfare claimants who gave evidence about Universal Credit "like dirt" and ignoring a string of warnings about the impact of the controversial welfare shake-up on working parents.
The cross-party Work and Pensions Committee said the Government had given a "skimpy and disappointing" response to a report published more than four months ago which warned that flaws in the benefits overhaul were leaving families struggling to cover childcare costs.
Claimants are currently able to claw back up to 85% of their childcare fees from the Government.
But the committee urged the Government back in December to redesign Universal Credit - which rolls six existing benefits into one - so that childcare costs are paid to providers directly, in a bid to stop claimants struggling with "unaffordable" payments.
Taking aim at the Government in a follow-up report, the cross-party committee said ministers had given a "curt and dismissive response" to those findings.
And they accused the Department for Work and Pensions of disrespecting welfare claimants who gave evidence to the inquiry, saying: "They deserve much better treatment than this."
Committee chairman Frank Field said: "We on the Committee are frankly sick of these disrespectful Government responses that treat us like dirt and fail to engage with our robust, evidence-based conclusions.
"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."
He added: "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."
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd used a speech in January to signal what she called a "fresh approach" to Universal Credit, which has been hit by delays and cross-party warnings that it is pushing those on the scheme into hardship.
"Although UC’s provision of funding up to 85% of a claimant’s childcare costs is higher than its predecessor, this is paid in arrears only once actual costs are known," she said.
"So I recognise that this can cause financial difficulty, with some claimants struggling to pay upfront or report their costs on time."
But the committee used its new report to urge Ms Rudd to build on those words by explaining "the absence of plans to introduce direct payments" and spell out how her department "intends to address the serious difficulties that both parents and childcare providers are experiencing with the current system".
A Department for Work and Pensions 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."