Universal Credit may never deliver value for money

The roll-out of universal credit has been heavily criticised in a scathing report from the National Audit Office

The Department has now got a better grip of the programme in many areas. In July 2016, it announced it would roll out the service more slowly, completing the full service rollout across the country by September 2018, and full transition of all existing benefit recipients by March 2022.

The National Audit Office, an independent body who check up on how government policies are doing, released a report today that sounded pretty sceptical about it all.

"The [DWP] has pushed ahead with Universal Credit in the face of a number of problems, but has shown a lack of regard in failing to understand the hardship faced by some claimants", said chief auditor Amyas Morse.

And that, arguably, is why the government is where it is today with Universal Credit - pushing on with a project the National Audit Office describes as "not value for money now and ... its future value for money is unproven".

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MPs responded with anger to the report's findings, including Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions select committee.

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The report also says that the DWP's resistance to making changes 'gives the unhelpful impression of a Department that is unsympathetic to claimants'.

"Despite repeated government claims that the reform will put 200,000 more people into work", he adds, "the NAO said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to admit it won't ever be able to determine whether this pledge has been achieved". "Because ministers were taught to be in denial earlier in the programme, it has advanced to a stage where there is now a mega cost to scrap it and a mega cost to taxpayers to continue with it". Either way, too many claimants are being screwed down into destitution while the DWP insists that all is okay. But in a sort of Alice in Wonderland way, Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of Universal Credit, would constantly be popping up saying, "We're on track and we're on time...it'll make work pay", all the while, the evidence piling up that none of these things were happening, certainly not in the way being promised. Sadly, this report will make little difference if the senior officers running universal credit remain firmly entrenched in La La Land.

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The roll out of the programme was supposed to be completed in October 2017, but a number of problems have meant that eight years later only around 10% of the final expected caseload are now claiming UC. We recognise both its determination and commitment, and that there is really no practical choice but to keep on keeping on with the rollout. In reality, almost 60 per cent of new claimants (around 56,000 a month) receive a Universal Credit advance to help them manage before receiving their first payment. Maybe a change of mind-set will follow the publication of the claimant survey on June 8.

Universal Credit replaces housing benefit, child tax credit, income support, working tax credit, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance and income-related employment and support allowance - creating one payment.

"It is probably the worst situation we have ever been in".

"Universal Credit is good value for money and is forecast to realise a return on investment of £34bn over 10 years against a cost of £2bn, with 200,000 more people in work".

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A DWP spokesman said: "Previous administrations poured billions into an outdated system with a complex myriad of benefits, which locked some people into cycles of welfare dependency". However, in a recent survey by the Department, four in ten of claimants who were surveyed stated that they were experiencing financial difficulties.

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