McVey denies culture of ‘indifference’ at DWP and admits Universal Credit change needed

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has acknowledged further change is needed to the system of Universal Credit (UC) amid fresh warnings it is causing “unacceptable” hardship to claimants.

Ms McVey (pictured) denied presiding over a culture of “indifference” after a committee of MPs accused her department of turning a “deaf ear” to concerns about the impact of the benefit changes.

However, with UC – which merges six benefits into one – due to be rolled out across the country over the next five years, she accepted the system needed improvement.

“Where we have to make the system work better, that is exactly what we will do,” she told ITV News.

“Where we need extra support for people, we will adapt and change.”

Her comments came after the Commons Public Accounts Committee warned a “fortress mentality” at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) meant it was failing claimants struggling to adapt to the new system.

The committee’s report adds to the pressure on Chancellor Philip Hammond to come up with additional support for UC when he delivers his Budget statement in the Commons on Monday.

It follows widespread criticism – including from a number of Conservative MPs – that delays in payments in areas where UC is operating are plunging many low income households further into financial difficulty.

Asked if she was presiding over a culture of indifference, Ms McVey said: “It isn’t indifference, it really is about supporting work, getting 1,000 people into work every day.

“Since I’ve been in the department since January, I’ve gone out and spoken to claimants, spoken to different poverty groups and we have already done significant changes.

“So it’s important we listen and then adapt and change which is what Universal Credit is about.”

In its report, the Public Accounts Committee said that a “department in denial” was unable to learn from mistakes and that the culture in the DWP needed to change.

“The introduction of Universal Credit is causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help,” it said.

“The department’s systemic culture of denial and defensiveness in the face of any adverse evidence presented by others is a significant risk to the programme.

“Unless the department learns to listen, it will not be able to adapt the programme to make it a success.”

Some 8.5 million people are expected to be receiving UC by 2023 but the committee said there was a “real risk that we will see claimants facing hardship on a much larger scale”.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Cowan / PA Wire.