N. Ireland Politics

DUP to abstain in universal credit vote in Commons

Cash in a wallet Image copyright PA
Image caption Universal credit will see several benefits rolled into a single payment

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs have said they will abstain on any House of Commons vote to pause the roll-out of a new benefits system.

Universal credit is due to replace six working-age benefits, rolling them into a single payment.

But the government has faced criticism from MPs, including some in the Conservative Party, who believe delays in payments could harm families.

The DUP said it also has concerns, but will not vote against the government.

Speaking during a Westminster debate on the issue, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said the DUP would "not be used for headline-grabbing defeats of government flagship policies".

His comments come after it was announced that the helpline for universal credit claimants was to become a freephone number.

It had emerged that some callers were being charged as much as 55p a minute to use the dedicated number.

'Keep pushing government'

The Labour Party and some Conservative backbenchers are calling for the full roll-out of the policy to be put on hold.

Image caption The DUP will keep pushing the government for changes to universal credit, said Sammy Wilson

There are concerns that some claimants have had to wait more than six weeks to receive their first full universal credit payment.

MPs have been debating the issue in the House of Commons throughout Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Wilson said he agreed with the idea of rolling benefits into one payment, but could not support the system as it stands.

"We intend to abstain on the vote tonight, [and] keep on pushing the government for some changes," he said.

"We've seen one of the changes today on... the cost of telephone calls.

"We have seen the minister [Works and Pensions Secretary David Gauke] talk about [how] he's not going to rush the roll-out on this and we've also seen the concessions."

The new, single benefit has been designed to simply the benefits system and is gradually coming into effect across the country.

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