DWP reprimanded over 'dismissive' response to Universal Credit childcare concerns

MPs issue strongest criticism of department yet over "skimpy and disappointing" response to report

Parents giving evidence to the committee's Universal Credit inquiry. Photo: PA

The Department for Work and Pensions has 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.

Parliament's 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.

Universal Credit recipients can claim up to 85% of their childcare fees from the government, but only after they have paid the cost up front.



The cross-party committee urged the government in December to redesign the welfare system – 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.

The government response, published today, rebuffed this and several other of the MPs’ recommendations, including to consider regional variations to the cap on childcare reimbursements and to publish a quarterly statistical update on the use of the Flexible Support Fund, a discretionary pot used to give extra support to unemployed people facing financial hardship.

In a full follow-up report accompanying the "curt and dismissive response", the committee accused DWP of disrespecting welfare claimants who gave evidence to the inquiry. "They deserve much better treatment than this," it said.

It urged the department to revisit its response to the December report, and provide instead an alternative “which matches the consideration the committee employed in an attempt to help parents to move into work”.

Committee chair 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."

This is the latest of several run-ins the department has had with the committee, which has been extremely critical of how the welfare reform is being implemented.

Field, an indepenent MP, 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."

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 amid cross-party warnings that it is pushing those on the scheme into hardship.

Rudd said she recognised the payment of childcare costs in arrears “can cause financial difficulty, with some claimants struggling to pay upfront or report their costs on time”.

The committee used today’s report to urge 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 DWP 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."

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