McVey agrees to release Universal Credit reviews containing bullying claims

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has agreed to publish a series of reviews of Universal Credit after acknowledging there was “no point” in keeping them under wraps.

The project assessment reviews for the flagship welfare reform reveal claims of bullying, harassment and discrimination, as well as concerns that changes could stop Universal Credit from achieving its aims.

The internal Whitehall reviews, carried out between May 2012 and October 2015, have finally been obtained by the Huffington Post through a Freedom of Information request.

Ministers initially refused to release the documents but were then forced to give them to the Work and Pensions select committee after a motion was passed in the Commons.

The committee has since released its own report having analysed the documents, concluding the Government had failed to make a full business case for the roll out of Universal Credit and expressing concerns that the programme’s biggest challenges were yet to come.

Chairman Frank Field also said ministers had produced “no evidence” to support claims that Universal Credit would make work pay for all types of claimants.

Ms McVey (pictured), in a written statement to Parliament, said: “Given the select committee has seen the reports subject to the Freedom of Information challenge, and commented upon them publicly, I can see no point in continuing to argue that case.

“Accordingly, my officials will be writing to the Information Commissioner and to the First Tier Tribunal to advise them of my decision to release copies of the requested project assessment review reports to the requestor.”

The documents, published in full by the Huffington Post, raise repeated concerns over IT systems, project planning, staff morale and costs.

One report, from March 2014, said considerable work was needed “even to prove viability and affordability of the new approach” to Universal Credit.

It added that a staff survey had uncovered claims of bullying, harassment and discrimination, as well as a lack of direction and plans leading to leadership issues.

The latest review, from October 2015, said there was “some concern” that the autumn statement in 2015 “would increase the risk to meeting key milestones between now and 2020, as well as impact on realisation of benefits” if the plan was changed.

In that year’s autumn statement in November, then chancellor George Osborne retreated on cuts to tax credits, but pressed ahead with welfare savings through Universal Credit.

The report also warns that billions of pounds could be wiped off the benefits generated by Universal Credit if the project suffers further delays.

“Come 2018, the Universal Credit programme is in a very different place since those reports were written,” said Ms McVey.

“Universal Credit is in every Jobcentre and we are rolling it out safely and securely to all categories of claimant.

“We are focusing on the continued safe delivery of Universal Credit, so people continue to be helped to improve their lives.”

Ms McVey also told Parliament these were “exceptional” circumstances and that such reviews will continue to be treated as confidential.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “Under pressure from Labour and campaigners, Esther McVey has finally been forced to release these papers, which reveal the failure of the Tories’ Universal Credit programme.

“It’s unacceptable that the Government has wasted public money on legal costs in trying to prevent the papers from being released.

“The Government has not provided any evidence to back up their repeated assertion that Universal Credit will help people into work, a key principle of the programme. It is time for the Government to finally publish their so-called business case for Universal Credit.”

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