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Amber Rudd vows to improve Universal Credit during Commons return

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd. Credit: PA

Amber Rudd acknowledged "there are problems" with Universal Credit and pledged to improve the welfare reform project as she made a combative return to frontline politics.

The new Work and Pensions Secretary also dismissed a UN special report on extreme poverty in the UK, accusing its author of being "extraordinarily political".

UN special rapporteur Philip Alston, who published a preliminary report condemning the Government’s attitude towards poverty after a 12-day tour of the UK, claimed ministers were "in a state of denial" over the extent of poverty in the Britain.

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Ms Rudd, who returned to the Commons as Work and Pensions Secretary after Esther McVey quit in a row over the Brexit deal, told MPs: "Three days in and I know that the Department for Work and Pensions is a force for good, helps people in need, helps people into work, out of poverty, gives support at the end of their lives.

"This is what we want for our families, our friends, our neighbours – this is the country, this is who we are.

"It is good that employment has risen to record levels of 75% as stated just recently.

"But I know there are problems with Universal Credit despite its good intentions. I’ve seen them for myself.

"I will be listening and learning from the expert groups in this area who do so much good work. I know it can be better.

"I will make it my role to ensure that we deliver that through our discussions within the DWP and through discussions with Treasury. We will have a fair, compassionate and efficient benefits system."

Ms Rudd, in her first appearance at the despatch box since she resigned from the Home Office over the Windrush scandal, faced a number of pleas from MPs to halt the rollout of Universal Credit.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood earlier said: "Thus far, the Government has been determined to press ahead with the next phase of the roll-out despite clear warnings from over 80 organisations working with disabled people who’ll be affected.

"Many people could fall out of the social security system altogether and be at risk of destitution.

"So will the new Secretary of State end the Government state of denial and scrap the managed migration regulations and stop the roll-out of Universal Credit?"

Ms Rudd responded: "I have the seen the report, I read it over the weekend and I must say I was disappointed to say the least by the extraordinarily political nature of the language, we on this side of the House will always engage with professionals, with experts with NGOs.

"We are not so proud that we don’t think we can learn as we try to adjust Universal Credit for the benefit of everybody but that sort of language was wholly inappropriate and actually discredited a lot of what he was saying."

SNP work and pension spokesman Neil Gray added: "This new Secretary of State wields significant power, more than any of her five predecessors have done in the last three years by virtue of the fact of the Prime Minister’s precarious position.

"Will she use that power now to listen to those expert charities halt Universal Credit until its fixed?"

Ms Rudd responded: "I wouldn’t want to overstate what the gentleman calls my power but I am certainly going to be listening very carefully.

"Part of the benefit of the Universal Credit roll-out is going to be making sure that we get the expert guidance from the people who have been working in this field for many years and we will certainly be doing that."