Friday 12 October 2018 / 10:30 PM Work and Pensions

Labour call for Universal Credit gagging clauses to be removed

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, has written to the Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, to demand the removal of gagging clauses stopping charities from speaking out on Universal Credit, saying: “All civil society organisations… must have the right to speak out about this injustice.”

In the letter she says that the attempt to gag charities could be open to legal challenge and warns that the rollout of Universal Credit could “exacerbate the health problems of some claimants.”

Labour is demanding the Government listens to the overwhelming evidence and stops the rollout of Universal Credit. Labour is committed to a root-and-branch review of the social security system to ensure it lifts people out of poverty and is there for everyone in their time of need.

Full text of the letter:

Dear Secretary of State,

Following an investigation published in this morning’s edition of the Times, I am writing to you about the revelations that charities and other third parties contracted to work with your Department on the roll-out of Universal Credit and related matters have been required to sign contracts including gagging clauses precluding criticism of ministers and your Department or even the failing system in which you and they are operating.

The human suffering already caused by the failed roll out of Universal Credit is unacceptable, and the next phase could bring even more severe problems. Moving nearly three million people from the ‘old-style’ benefits and onto Universal Credit in the way that you are planning is widely predicted to result in large numbers of low-income and vulnerable households temporarily or even permanently losing the majority of their income. This could cause enormous stress and even exacerbate the health problems of some claimants; as you will be aware, a third of the people due to be transferred to Universal Credit in this new phase have been assessed as too ill or disabled to work.

All civil society organisations, whether or not they are contractors of your Department, must have the right to speak out about this injustice. And yes, that must include the right to criticise you and your work. This is not a bureaucratic technicality; it is a fundamental element of democratic accountability.

I appreciate that these contracts may have been negotiated before your appointment as Secretary of State. However, I note that you were also a minister in the Department of Work and Pensions from 2012-2015. Moreover, such attempts at silencing civil society are unacceptable in modern Britain and could be open to legal challenge.

I am asking that you come to the House of Commons to explain the original rationale behind these gagging clauses and to publicly announce that they will be removed by the Government. No third party should be constrained from criticism of the Secretary of State, of Universal Credit, or of any other aspect of your Department’s work or policy.

I look forward to your urgent reply.

Yours sincerely,

Margaret Greenwood MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions