The Independent today reveals that Universal Credit is now a year behind schedule, £100 million over budget and that senior figures involved in the new benefit roll out have quit.
A government adviser on information technology is reported to have said: “IDS, like other ministers before him, has been hypnotised by promises of what an online system can deliver. Warnings were given to him more than a year ago. They were ignored.”
Universal Credit is dependent on a colossal database and IT system being created which is far more ambitious than has ever been attempted by any country previously. The new benefit regime will be digital by default, meaning millions of people, many of whom don’t have and can’t afford internet connections at home, will only be able to access benefits from Jobcentres and libraries.
Whilst Iain Duncan Smith has claimed that Universal Credit will simplify the benefits system and ensure that being in work always pays it seems that neither of these objectives are likely to be met. Increasingly there have been warnings that many working people could be worse off under the new regime.
Already the new benefit is mired in complexity, as the reality of throwing away 50 years of steady development in welfare administration is thrown away to be replaced by Iain Duncan Smith’s increasingly crazed schemes.
Iain Duncan Smith and Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Fraud have repeatedly announced policy off the cuff, with little thought as to whether the new systems can be made to work in reality. Bodged proposals to deal with everything from how rent payments to supported housing such as Women’s Refuges will be administered or how free school meals will be managed have been invented on the spur of the moment with barely a thought for the practicalities.
Research which recently suggested that just under half of social housing tenants are expected to fall into budgeting difficulties and be unable to pay rent has even been presented by Lord Fraud as somehow representing good news.
The social costs when the new system is implemented are chilling. Part time workers could be bullied by Jobcentre staff to give up their jobs in favour of temporary full time work. Single parents with young children could be compelled to work from dawn to dusk with reduced childcare support or face sanctions which mean they are unable to feed their kids. Sick or disabled claimants will face unprecedented harassment and brutal benefit sanctions if they are not judged to be trying hard enough to find non-existent jobs. A combination of the new payment system and benefit caps have meant that many private landlords are saying they will no longer let to benefit claimants due to the complexity of the new plans.
Astonishingly Universal Credit won’t even save any money and is likely to cost far more to administrate than the current system.
Today’s revelations reveals that behind the scenes the implementation of Universal Credit is equally shambolic.
Whilst the new benefit system was intended to be rolled out in just next April it now seems that these will just be small pilot projects in Chesire and Manchester. With just six months to go, The Independent claims a complete reorganisation of the complex IT system is now taking place which could add another half a billion to the cost by next Spring.
The Universal Credit programme director Malcolm Whitehouse, and the DWP’s head of IT, Steve Dover, are both reported to have left the DWP last week. Other key staff are also claimed to have left whilst the civil servant in charge is on extended sick leave.
The small pilots which have taken place to test the IT system are reported to have reported errors in dates and payments, with one trial involving just 400 claimants being described as ‘chaotic’.
None of this is likely to stop Iain Duncan Smith whose defiant charge into political oblivion may yet drag half the country with him. It will not just be benefit claimants who suffer as rents go unpaid, debts are defaulted on and household bills are unpaid. With 18 million people likely to be affected by the change to Universal Credit, a bungled roll out could send the economy into meltdown.
And bungling is what Iain Duncan Smith does best as he attempts to steamroll through the welfare reforms he designed on the back of an envelope after watching an episode of Shameless. The end result could be a shambles that dwarfs anything we’ve seen so far from this toff Government.