Tory DWP veteran Iain Duncan Smith says Universal Credit needs more money

More money must be poured into Universal Credit, the benefit's Tory architect demanded tonight.

Iain Duncan Smith warned "there's still some more to go" as he called for cash on the eve of Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Budget.

Ex-Tory leader Sir Iain also renewed calls for the five-week wait for payment to be cut to four and demanded claimants are saved from billions of pounds in debt repayments.

Sir Iain resigned in protest at Tory welfare cuts in 2016 – after proudly presiding over them for six years as Work and Pensions Secretary.

Although he resigned over disability benefit, he has since also slammed ex-Chancellor George Osborne for making huge cuts before UC was set up.

Despite the government making a string of U-turns to make UC more generous – with run-on housing payments, longer debt repayment periods and a shorter wait for payment – Sir Iain said last night(TUE) it has still not gone far enough.

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Defending his system overall, he told the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee: "There is no question in my mind that Universal Credit is better than the benefits that went before."

And he condemned political rivals for "using the most vulnerable" to "stir up an argument".

But he added: "I resigned over the fact that the government withdrew money at the time we were trying to roll it out, which was a big mistake.

"Now the government has sought to put most of that money back – there’s still some more to go."

Last year the government admitted 570,000 people on UC were having old Tax Credit debts deducted from their benefit payment.

The overpayments were racked up – sometimes through no fault of their own – before claimants were moved from a HM Revenue and Customs system to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

At the time the average debt was £1,560 (or a £610 median) with struggling families losing up to 40% of their UC each month.

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Sir Iain said: "The number one thing I would do is get rid of the debt that is coming across unnecessarily from Tax Credit.

“I did ask the DWP the other day what is the number one thing that you’re concerned about. The number one thing is HMRC have been unable to get this debt back."

Sir Iain said he opposed piling the debt onto UC claimants at the time, but "I had to cave in on that eventually because I was under pressure across the board."

He added: "HMRC should retain that debt, decide that they’re going to do with it.”

Sir Iain also called for the Universal Support system to be restored alongside UC, and shorten the wait for people's first payment from five weeks to four.

He said: "I would like to get back to the full four weeks of assessment period, not go to the five weeks they’re at at the moment. I was certainly opposed to six weeks. I think that is necessary.”

Sir Iain was backed up by his former advisor Baroness Philippa Stroud. She told peers: "We wanted Universal Credit to be the big social justice reform of its generation. Without the support it’s just a benefit system. We wanted it to be more than just a benefit system.”

She added: "These reforms were happening in the heart of an age of austerity. They were happening under serious budget constraints and therefore that part of it was never really developed out and created.”

The DWP declined to comment.

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