Charities working with Universal Credit (UC) claimants must reportedly sign a contract that protects the reputation of Esther McVey, Work and Pensions Secretary.
According to The Times, at least 22 organizations have been required to sign gag clauses as part of their involvement in programs that help unemployed individuals find work. These organizations cover contracts worth £1.8 billion.
Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions have denied that the clauses are being used as a type of reputation management service, but rather, are just a part of “standard procedure.” But a spokesman has confirmed that the contracts included language that ensures both parties understand how to “protect their best interests.”
According to The Times report, those signing contracts must agree to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of Esther McVey. They may not do anything that may “attract adverse publicity” to her, damage the public’s image of her, or hurt her reputation.
A spokesperson for the DWP said the purpose of such clauses is to “safeguard any commercial sensitive information for both government and the organization involved.”
The disclosure of the clause comes after McVey confirmed that some people would be worse off as a result of UC and that the government had to make some “tough decisions.”
Sir John Major, former prime minister, has called for a reconsideration of the planned roll-out of UC to the more-than 2 million claimants of benefits.
UC will reportedly cut benefits for some families by £200 a month.
More than 1 million new claimants are signed up for the first phase of the benefit. Starting in July 2019, 3.95 million existing claimants will move over, but the laws that will transfer them have yet to be approved by the House of Commons.
Recommendations were sent to the government by the Social Security Advisory Committee watchdog. McVey is preparing law regulations before Parliament, but those regulations will need to be debated in the House of Lords and the House of Commons. There’s a chance that it could be blocked by MPs.
Some members of government are calling for £2billion to be added to the benefit. There are rumors that Chancellor Philip Hammond may top-up UC in the Budget just to quell fears.
There is growing dissent about UC, which is far less generous than the benefits it will be replacing. The process may be further complicated by the Democratic Unionist party. The party’s 10 MPs typically vote to support the government, but they are at a standoff with Theresa May over Brexit.