Universal Credit: Government's welfare reform ‘may be scrapped after next election’

IT glitches and low numbers threaten £2bn project

The future of the Government’s major £2bn welfare reform was thrown into fresh doubt on Wednesday night after it emerged that just a handful of claimants have been enrolled into the new system.

The Department for Work and Pensions disclosed that only 3,200 people had been signed up to receive Universal Credit – a fraction of the original target – at a cost of nearly £200,000 per person.

The figure emerged amid claims the next government could be forced to pull the plug on Universal Credit, which has already been seriously delayed following IT problems.

The new credit, which combines six working-age benefits and credits into a single payment, has been championed by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, as a way of ensuring the unemployed always have an incentive to find a job.

Under his original timetable, 1 million people would be receiving the payment by April, rising to 1.7 million a year later.

But the DWP admitted that only 3,200 had been enrolled for Universal Credit by the end of November, nearly all of them as part of a pilot scheme in four job centres in the North-West of England. The vast majority are young single jobseekers, the least complicated category of claimant.

As the Government has spent £612m getting the scheme off the ground, the spending so far equates to £191,250 per head. Government sources insisted David Cameron and senior ministers remained committed to Universal Credit. Labour also said it supported its principle, but believed the Coalition’s roll-out was seriously flawed.

However, Whitehall officials were yesterday reported to fear the whole project could be scrapped after the general election, whichever party is victorious in May 2015. According to the Financial Times, officials believe it “must start delivering results by the next election or risk being drastically scaled back or even abandoned”.

Mr Duncan Smith has faced criticism for spending money on an existing computer programme to support the pilot projects at the same time as developing a digital system sophisticated enough to allow Universal Credit to be rolled out nationally.

The latter will be tested in 100 households in November; if it is judged unable to cope with the pressure of handling up to 12 million claims, the welfare reform could be in jeopardy.

A DWP source said the department had “strong, safe and robust plans” for introducing Universal Credit, adding: “It’s on the ground now, people are claiming it, people are moving into work.”

But Anne Begg, chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, said the “jury is out” over its future. She told The Independent: “The big claim for Universal Credit is that it will always make work pay and it will be simple for people to realise that work pays.

“I’m beginning to think it will be equally complicated under Universal Credit to make those kind of judgements when you start to factor in free school meals, child care and housing costs.”

An independent review into Universal Credit is due to report in April.

Read more:
Universal Credit: The real flaw in IDS’s benefits reform is the timetable
Benefit reforms are hiding the true number of unemployed
Iain Duncan Smith compares being on benefits to slavery and suggests he is acting in tradition of abolitionist  
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform