Labour is wooing potential rebel Conservative MPs in a bid to force a Government defeat in the Commons on a motion to pause the roll out of universal credit.
Theresa May has been forced to meet the rebel leaders in 10 Downing Street in a bid to head off a revolt which could lead to a damaging defeat for the Government.
Before the Commons debate, the Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke faces an uncomfortable grilling by a committee of MPs chaired by the former Labour welfare minister Frank Field.
Labour and the Conservative rebels claim universal credit is pushing people further into debt, rent arrears and even evictions and that one in four claimants are having to wait over six weeks to receive any funds.
“The Government has so far not listened to MPs’ concerns about the mounting issues with their flagship social security programme,” said the shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abraham.
“We must stand together to make our voices heard.
“I urge Conservative MPs to vote with their conscience and support our motion to pause the roll out of Universal Credit.”
But Mr Gauke, writing in The Sun newspaper, appears defiant and is so far resisting pressure to make further concessions to help people having to wait six weeks for their first payment.
“We understand that for some people, that’s a big change to how they manage their household budgets and their rent,” he writes. “That’s why we have extensive personalised support for people who need extra help.
“No one in need should be left without money while they wait for their first payment.”
Ahead of Mr Gauke’s appearance before the Work and Pensions Select Commmittee, Mr Field has hit out at his answers to a series of questions the committee asked him about universal credit.
“I am pleased, finally, to receive an answer to some of our questions,” said Mr Field. “I am alarmed, however, by the response.
“The department has no idea about the operation of its flagship policy. For example, they do not know how many people are waiting eight, 10, 12 weeks for payment, or why.
“They don’t and can’t know if it’s going right or wrong. It beggars belief that they decided to press ahead on this collision course totally in the dark.”
When it comes to the Commons debate later, Labour MPs fear the Government may repeat its tactics in two votes on Labour motions last month, on public sector pay and tuition fees, when it ordered its MPs not to vote.
The move prompted a huge row and the granting of an emergency debate by the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, amid allegations that the Government’s actions were an affront to democracy.
Speaking during the emergency debate, the Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said: “We will look, case by case, at Opposition motions and make decisions accordingly.”