Philip accuses opposition politicians of "selective memories" during an urgent question on Employment Support Allowance underpayments

AN MP has urged the minister charged with resolving the underpayment of Employment Support Allowance to stay focussed on the job in hand and not be distracted by opposition politicians with selective memories.

Shipley MP Philip Davies said it was important people who were owed the backdated payments were paid but accused Labour of having a short term memory when it came to benefit payment problems given they introduced tax credits which saw millions of people both overpaid and underpaid.

Speaking in the Commons during a statement on underpayments of ESA, he said Disability Minister Sarah Newton was doing a “great job dealing with an issue which predates her time as minister by an awful long time”.

Mr Davies added: “She should be commended for the work she is doing in trying to put this matter right - in stark contrast to the party opposite. People will recall the scandal of tax credits where half of people were paid incorrectly, some were underpaid, some overpaid, millions of people paid the wrong amount and still in many cases people owe those debts today. Can I commend the work she is doing and not allow herself to be side tracked by the party opposite who sound all indignant when it suits them but when they were in office and introduced tax credits made a complete mess of it and never actually fully cleared up the mess they made.”

This week the Department for Work and Pensions said 180,000 people were due arrear payments totalling £980,000. The cost of paying them at a higher rate after their claims have been corrected is estimated to add another £700m over the next seven years.

The mistake was thought to mainly cover the period between 2011 and 2014 and is expected to be paid by the end of 2020.

Mrs Newton said: “I am absolutely determined that we are going to do everything we can to actually make sure people get the underpayment they deserve. He (Philip) makes a very good point about the absolute devastation that tax credits have caused to so many people’s lives and he is quite right to remind us of that.

“I want to point out that when people were transferred from Incapacity Benefit to ESA no one had a loss of income, what we are talking about here is money they might have been eligible for at the time which they did not get out at the time but everybody transferred across on the benefit which they had.”