Universal credit chaos: Labour demands apology from Iain Duncan Smith over 'cover-up'

The Work and Pensions Secretary addressed the Commons after claims he misled Parliament over failures in the Government's flagship benefits reform programme

Political Editor

Iain Duncan Smith is under mounting pressure over the chaos in introducing his £2.4bn shake-up of the benefits system after being accused of not telling Parliament about the problems.

Labour seized on a damning report by the Government’s auditors as evidence of a “cover-up” over the delays in phasing in the flagship universal credit scheme. The Opposition demanded an apology and suggested the Work and Pensions Secretary should “consider his conscience” because misleading Parliament is traditionally a resignation issue.

Mr Duncan Smith insisted that he did not mislead MPs. He believed when he made his progress report in March that universal credit would be delivered “on time, in budget” in 2017, and his view had not changed. 

He was summoned to the Commons today to answer an urgent question on the highly critical National Audit Office report, which said the integration of several means-tested benefits was beset by “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance” and that £34m had been wasted.

Mr Duncan Smith blamed his civil servants for not giving him a full picture of the teething troubles.  “At the end of the day, you are only as good as the information given to you,” he said.  He admitted he had “lost faith” in his department’s civil servants, which was why he changed the programme. He insisted he took full responsibility for the programme but did not apologise for the problems so far. 

Liam Byrne, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, demanded to know why the minister did not tell MPs in March that the reform timetable was being changed even though it was “inconceivable” he did not know.  He told the minister: “You have let this House form a view of universal credit which the nation’s auditor says is wrong.”

Mr Byrne said: “Universal credit is a Titanic-sized disaster which [Mr Duncan Smith] has tried to hide with cover-up after cover-up.”  He added: “The most charitable explanation for this is he’s lost control of the programme and he’s lost control of the department and he must now correct the record, he must now apologise to the House and he must now convene cross-party talks to get this project back on track. The quiet man must not become the cover-up man.”

Barry Gardiner, a Labour MP, asked the minister: “Why did you not give a more candid account to Parliament in March?”

Mr Duncan Smith dismissed Mr Byrne’s attack as “suitably pathetic.” He said the full timetable would be set out this autumn, and insisted repeatedly the project would be delivered “on time and in budget”.  Everyone now on jobseeker’s allowance and tax credits would be receiving universal credit by the 2015 election, he added.

He told Mr Byrne: “When I got concerned about the delivery schedule I made changes and I intervened. I have brought the right people in to do this and I stand by that. I will not take lessons from you and your party. The reality is ... that we check these programmes while they are progressing and if there are changes that need to be made, we make them…. something [Labour] never did in the whole of their time in government.”

Downing Street insisted the Prime Minister had full confidence that universal credit would be introduced on schedule.  But a Labour source said last night: “David Cameron must now be wondering if Iain Duncan Smith is up to the job. It’s an open secret across Whitehall that his department is in chaos and costing the taxpayer millions of pounds.”

Rob O'Neill, assistant general secretary of the FDA union  representing senior officials, said Mr Duncan Smith’s remarks “ represent a growing blame culture in government where ministers blame civil servants but fail to take any responsibility when things go wrong or overrun. Ministers can do this because they know that civil servants are unable to publicly answer back.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas
film
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Content Manager

£26000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Content Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will b...

Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee