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Theresa May urged to halt Universal Credit roll-out

Families could be left homeless and destitute if Theresa May insists on pressing ahead with Universal Credit, a former top adviser has warned.

Dame Louise Casey urged the prime minister to pause the roll-out of the new benefit system so it can be fixed.

She told BBC Radio 4’s PM the consequences for families “close to the edge” could be “dire”.

Twelve Conservative MPs have written to work and pensions secretary David Gauke to call for the same thing.

The government says the system, which merges six existing benefits into one, offers extra support and that budgeting and financial help was available.

‘Work should pay’

But Dame Louise, who has advised four prime ministers on social policy over the past 18 years, including Mrs May, said it had to be paused to get “the implementation completely right”.

“I completely agree that we all should be wedded to the principle, and therefore the overall policy, that work should pay,” she told PM.

But she added: “If it means that we are looking at more and more people that are ending up homeless, or ending up having their kids taken away, or ending up in more dire circumstances, that cannot be the intention.

“It can’t be and it won’t be the intention of Theresa May or [first secretary of state] Damian Green or any of those people. I just don’t believe that they would want that to happen.”

She suggested ministers were blindly “pressing on” with the policy because they did not want to be accused of doing a U-turn. But she said: “It’s like jumping over a cliff – once you have jumped, people end up at the bottom and we don’t want that to happen.”

‘Poll tax’

Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions show that around one in four new Universal Credit claimants waited longer than six weeks to be paid.

That could make a big difference to families who were “close to the edge,” Dame Casey said. They “will end up in dire circumstances, more dire than I think we have seen in this country for years”.

The BBC understands Tory MPs, led by Heidi Allen, have written to minister David Gauke to demand a pause to the national roll-out of Universal Credit, which Labour claims could become Theresa May’s “poll tax”.

Dame Louise first came to prominence as Tony Blair’s “anti-social behaviour tsar” and also led a programme for David Cameron to tackle “troubled families”. She has now left the government to work for an international homelessness charity.

She told the BBC she was concerned that a report she published last year on integration had been placed in a box marked “too difficult”.

Prevent strategy

The government has yet to issue a formal response to the review, which accuses public bodies of ignoring or condoning divisive or harmful religious practices for fear of being called racist.

It also suggests immigrants could take “an oath of integration with British values and society” and calls for more money for English lessons.

Dame Louise also suggested in her BBC interview that ministers had undermined their own anti-extremism strategy, Prevent, by not defending it strongly enough when it was attacked by critics.

She said Prevent needed “a big revamp” but added “we have not been robust enough – the government was not robust enough – in both its defence of it and its delivery”.

(Source BBC NEWS)