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DWP accused of 'black propaganda' in universal credit debate

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DWP accused of 'black propaganda' in universal credit debate

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Housing, Universal Credit

DWP accused of 'black propaganda' in universal credit debate DWP accused of 'black propaganda' in universal credit debate

Glenda Jackson has attacked the Department of Work and Pensions for embarking on a programme of "black propaganda" in a deliberate attempt to undermine the UK's benefits system.

During a universal credit debate in the House of Commons, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn accused Iain Duncan Smith's department of a "bunker mentality" adding that "simple humility is not part and parcel of its make-up".

Jackson was responding to the news that civil service chief Sir Bob Kerslake had informed the Public Accounts Committee that the business case for universal credit had still not been signed off by the Treasury, despite an assurance from DWP minister Esther McVey that it had.

Glenda Jackson said: "I would hope every member of this House, would be shocked to realise that the DWP is still not giving the right answers — it is ludicrous to expect the right answer to come from the Department of Work and Pensions, as simple humility is not part and parcel of its make-up.

"The committees and government departments that scrutinise where public money goes are being pushed to one side. I have already referred to the bunker mentality of the DWP, and the example that my right hon. Friend gives me is just par for the course; it happens constantly.

"Arguments are not even being put up. We are all being told, 'Oh no, it’s none of your business; it’s our business'. There is a pattern, which I find very disturbing. I have already touched on the issue of disregarding any serious questioning on costs. Ever since this major benefit change came into being, the Department has employed what I would call a programme of black propaganda, and every single one of the red tops has taken it up with glee and run with it.

"That black propaganda told the people of this country — I am paraphrasing; the DWP would never be this cogent — that everyone who was claiming benefits was doing so because they were too lazy to work. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have already touched on the agonies that are being endured by people with serious mental and physical disabilities, and the pattern is ongoing.

"A report from the Office for National Statistics last week scrutinised the level of complaints made against all the government departments about the misuse of statistics, and guess which one came top of the list! It was the Department for Work and Pensions. Throughout the time I have been a member of the select committee, we have raised again and again the issue of the misuse of stats and the misuse of the English language to proselytise this black propaganda and to confuse and distort what should be central to the committee’s concerns—namely, the well-being of the people who require benefits, not because they are lazy or workshy, or even because there are no jobs, but because they should be supported by the people of this country, as they always have been.

"After the last debate on this issue, I was touched to receive a response from the people of this country. If there is a silver lining to the black cloud that is the DWP, it is that the majority of people in this country still believe that the welfare state should do what it was meant to do, which is to support people who, through no fault of their own, cannot maintain themselves without the support of the rest of us. That support is alive and well out there in the country. The one place where it is certainly dead is within the Department for Work and Pensions."

Anne Marie Morris, Conservative MP for Newton Abbott and a meber of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, responded: "The devil is in the detail, and it is very difficult — when talking about, say, technology — to communicate with people and tell them exactly what is being done. I would love to say that technology was simple, but it is not.

"Let us remind ourselves of the objectives of the change, to which both sides of the House agreed. The objectives were simplification, reducing costs and smoothing the transition from benefit to work.

"Let us look at where we are going. When we get this sorted out, three million households will be better off by £177 a month. We will have a system that provides better child care support, with an extra £200 million for child care helping 100,000 extra families working fewer than 16 hours a week.

"We will also have an extra £400 million to increase child care support to 85% of all working families. Let us look to the longer-term future: in 10 years’ time, UK plc will benefit by £35 billion. That will be a worthwhile and significant achievement. The path must continue to be trodden and the committee must continue to fight the fight to keep the Department for Work and Pensions honest in all that it says, and to strive to get the best possible results. This must be a partnership, however.

"Progress to date has included the launching of pathfinders, and we also have additional schemes such as the long-term schemes in our jobcentres. After the initial launch in the north-west, we now have universal credit rolling out in 14 jobcentres.

"By the end of this year, it will be in place in 90 of them. That will mean that universal credit will have been rolled out to one in eight jobcentres. That is not an insignificant achievement in that period of time, given the complexity involved. We already have 6,500 people on universal credit. I appreciate the chairman’s view that that is a small number, but it is a start and a move in the right direction.

"A point that has not been raised is that this is not just about nuts and bolts, IT systems and budgets. It is about a fundamental culture change, and as we know, changing a culture is one of the most difficult things to do in any organisation, never mind in the country as a whole."

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