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February 7, 2014 / politicsbitesize

Universal Credit: An Update

IDSIn late 2012, Politics:bitesize reported on the unveiling of Universal Credit by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith.  His new scheme was to roll out across the UK by October 2013 and was heralded as a simpler way to administer welfare payments.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions the new and improved scheme would roll a myriad of benefits payments into one manageable monthly amount.  Unfortunately for Iain Duncan Smith, the roll out of the scheme has been anything but manageable! It has come to light that his master plan to reform welfare payments has ground to a halt due to ineffectual supervision and a colossal overspend on IT.

A damning report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in November 2013 highlighted concerns that of the £425m spent so far on the new IT system, at least £140m may have to be written-off due to ‘alarmingly weak’ management.  Margaret Hodge, Labour chair of the PAC, commented that ‘the failure to develop a comprehensive plan has led to extensive delay and the waste of a yet to be determined amount of public money’.

The precise loss to the UK taxpayer on this initiative is dependent on how much of the existing IT software can be retained once it has been merged with the new IT system.  To date £40m has been written off and the DWP has had to admit that Universal Credit has fallen behind schedule and will not be completed by the proposed 2017 date.

Despite claiming in September 2013 that his reform of welfare was, ‘not an IT disaster [and] will be delivered in time and on budget’, Iain Duncan Smith had to admit this week that his plan was failing. He confirmed that the DWP, ‘is having to entirely rework the IT system at substantial cost because the original IT failed to meet the needs of claimants’.

So far very few households have been affected by this change but it would be a wise move for Iain Duncan Smith to fix it before millions of working people face losing their benefits.

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