Labour bid to save universal credit reforms ‘sinking ship’

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Labour wants to work with the Government to turn around the universal credit reforms and “hopes” to run at the next general election pledging to keep the new system.

In a speech in North London, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne levelled personal attacks at Iain Duncan Smith, claiming there “seems to be something very wrong in the mind” of the the Work and Pensions Secretary because of his failure to deliver reforms.

He said he would be writing to Mr Duncan Smith urging him to convene cross party talks with civil servants to save the flagship universal credit reforms from becoming a “sinking ship”.

Universal credit is intended to roll six current benefits – including jobseeker’s allowance, working tax credits and housing benefit – into a single monthly payment.

It is currently being piloted.

Asked if he did want to save the policy, Mr Byrne said: “I hope so, I sincerely hope so, but right now we have had so much dissembling we don’t know what is going on.

“Last year Mr Duncan Smith said there would be a million people on universal credit.

“I think it was also said new applications for benefits by this October would be for universal credit. Both of those targets have disappeared but no new targets have come back into their place.

“Who on earth knows what’s going on?

“If we’re going to get things straight, the first step is to put the cards on the table, tell us what is going wrong and perhaps we can work together.”

Despite his personal attacks, Mr Byrne insisted he was not questioning Mr Duncan Smith’s “sanity” and felt the former Conservative leader was a “good man” who had pushed the Conservatives towards genuine discussion about poverty – but that the reform plans had failed.

Comment: Page 12.