The Major Projects Authority has serious doubts about the prospects for Iain Duncan Smith’s pet project, the Universal Credit (UC for short). Intended to simplify the welfare system by replacing a whole raft of existing benefits, UC is in trouble. Big trouble. The MAP has rated it amber/red which, according to Cabinet means that
“successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure that these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible“.
Grim reading there for IDS and the Department for Work & Pensions, but a DWP spin doctor was presented to put a gloss on the report thus:
“This rating dates back to September, more than 7 months ago”
The implication is that while things were bad last September the project is on target again now, but hold on a minute. In September 2012 we were told that everything was just fine. Was someone telling fibs? IDS told Parliament at that time that he had nothing to hide and that:
“We will deliver UC on time and on budget as it is right now.”
It’s worth remembering at this point that UC claimants who provide false information will face not only having their benefit recovered but also a fine. A good job that these new rules don’t apply to Government officials, ministers and DWP civil servants because when the Independent claimed again last November that UC was behind schedule and over-budget a spokesperson again gave a defiant message:
“UC is on time and on budget. It will be delivered in a controlled way, starting in April 2013 in Manchester and Cheshire, to ensure it is fully tested before being rolled out nationally from October 2013”.
To that end, in February when the Indy ran another similar story it was announced that the MPA’s own executive director David Pitchford had been appointed to ensure smooth delivery. By now a doubt or two had indeed begun to creep in, as an unnamed minister admitted:
“We were assured that this could be done within the timescale but it would be fair to say that there have been issues with delivery”.
That’s February 2013, not September 2012 since when the glitches are supposed to have been mended. With three months to go before the beginning of new claims in Cheshire and Manchester things were not looking very promising, and so it proved. When UC was finally introduced on 29 April it was for new claimants in Ashton under Lyne only, but did not include anyone who is disabled, a carer, one of a couple, has children or is homeless or in temporary accommodation. In other words, instead of the full test that was promised, only a tiny handful of claimants in one smallish Tameside town have been introduced to UC so far.
Pity the poor folk of Ashton who have been so chosen. UC is designed to make savings in the welfare budget and among its quirks are the facts that it will be paid monthly rather than fortnightly making it more difficult for claimants to budget, it will in an estimated 80% of cases* be paid to men rather than women, thereby reversing a long process whereby steps have been taken to switch payment from wallet to purse.
Startlingly, the intention to make UC claimable online rather than by phone or claim form is also going to make life especially difficult for people without access to the internet. It is thought that there are 8.5 million citizens in Britain who have never used the internet at all and a further 14.5 million who have virtually no IT skills.**
If UC never makes it beyond Ashton little of this will matter, but the DWP continues to protest that everything is on target. David Pitchford has now been replaced by Howard Shiplee, described by yet another spokesperson as the “man who built the Olympic Park”.
What, all by himself? That must be news to Mr Shiplee himself I should have thought.
· * Source: Women’s Resource & Development Agency
· ** Source: Citizens Advice BureauxTags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Felix McHugh