The Secretary of State’S Handling of Universal Credit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:32 pm on 11th July 2018.

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Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 1:32 pm, 11th July 2018

My right hon. Friend raises such an important point. I was as shocked as he was to hear the Secretary of State say that it was when she had left the Chamber that she realised her mistake. She should have replied that afternoon. He is quite right on that point.

The Secretary of State adopted the same approach at Work and Pensions questions, as has been noted, leading the head of the National Audit Office, Sir Amyas Morse, to take the extraordinary step of writing an open letter to her, taking issue with a number of claims that she had made in response to the report. The three key claims that he took issue with were, first, that the NAO report said that the roll-out of universal credit should be speeded up; secondly, that the report

“didn’t take account of changes made by the government in the Budget”; and, thirdly, that universal credit is working.

Let us just think about the significance of this. The National Audit Office is an independent body that scrutinises public spending before Parliament. It is responsible for auditing central Government Departments. Its reports matter. I shall take each claim in turn.

On 21 June, the Secretary of State stated on several occasions that the report had said that the Government should speed up the roll-out of universal credit. She repeated that claim at Work and Pensions oral questions on 2 July, when questioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn and me. Of course, the NAO report does not say anywhere that the roll-out should be speeded up. In fact, it says very clearly that the Government should

“ensure the programme does not expand before business-as-usual operations can cope with higher claimant volumes.”