The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is in hot water again. This time from the committee of MPs which attempts to hold it to account. The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee blasted the government’s response to its concerns about childcare costs for parents on Universal Credit.
The committee described the response as the “most skimpy and disappointing response we have ever received” and “disrespectful”.
Punishing working parents
Under Universal Credit, working parents are reimbursed childcare costs in arrears. That means those who need childcare in order to work are forced to pay out large sums of money up front. The committee had said that this system was a “barrier” to work.
I recognise that this can cause financial difficulty, with some claimants struggling to pay upfront or report their costs on time.
But one of the solutions proposed by the DWP – the Flexible Support Fund – was in fact, not new. The fund is supposed to help people with the “costs of getting into work” by providing them with funds upfront. But the committee said it was:
described by one witness as the “biggest secret in the Jobcentre”.
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The committee further stated that:
Gingerbread, a charity supporting single parents, told us that it was “very common” for claimants to receive little or no information about the Flexible Support Fund from their Work Coach.
The committee recommended that the DWP publish a “quarterly statistical update on the use of the Flexible Support Fund”. But the government declined because it didn’t want “to introduce unnecessary administration on operational staff which may deter the use of this fund”. However, the committee noted:
The Department did not explain what additional administrative burden would be created, nor how it had determined that this could deter Work Coaches from using the Fund.
The conclusion from the select committee was damning. It cited the DWP secretary’s acknowledgment that there are “structural flaws” in Universal Credit that cause “serious problems”. It continued:
This makes the Government’s curt and dismissive response to our recommendations all the more disappointing. Witnesses—including parents, charities and support organisations—gave up their time to contribute to our inquiry. They deserve much better treatment than this.
It also set out recommendations for the government, including publishing details of the Flexible Support Fund. It asked the government how it plans to “address the serious difficulties that both parents and childcare providers are experiencing with the current system”.
The DWP responded to the committee’s claims in the Mirror:
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.
It is good that the select committee is attempting to hold the DWP to account. Unfortunately, none of its recommendations go far enough. Universal Credit is a broken system punishing the most vulnerable people in society. No amount of tinkering around the edges will fix this. It needs to be scrapped before it ruins even more lives.
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