Universal Credit: The real flaw in IDS’s benefits reform is the timetable

Implementation was always going to be slow and tricky

Share

Given the travails that have dogged the Government’s welfare reforms, it is little surprise that patience is wearing thin. According to Iain Duncan Smith’s original plan, one million benefits claimants would be switched to his Universal Credit system by this April, all 12 million by 2017. Instead, only a smattering of small pilots are in place so far, and the Work and Pensions Secretary has himself acknowledged that the completion deadline will not be met.

The central problem is a technology project that – thanks to what the National Audit Office has identified as “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance” – has signally failed to deliver. Some £40m of investment has already been written off. Indeed, the IT is so unfit for purpose that it will be used only for the pilots; a second computer system is being developed in parallel, to cope with the national roll-out. The delays in that roll-out reflect Mr Duncan Smith’s – correct – assessment that missed deadlines are preferable to glitches that either leave claimants out of pocket or enable mass fraud. Such are the mountains still to climb, however, that questions are being asked as to whether the scheme should go ahead at all.

Despite everything, the answer must be yes. The existing system’s thickets of credits, entitlements and disbursements are both difficult for claimants to navigate and costly for the state to administer. Universal Credit, which rolls six benefits into one and is vastly more responsive to claimants’ changing circumstances, would be a real step forward. Contrary to critics’ claims, the aim is not to save money but to ensure that working – even for just an hour – always pays.

The risk of a policy white elephant is, in fact, the lesser danger here. More of a concern is that much-needed reforms will fall victim, yet again, to politicians’ tendency to over-promise, particularly as regards timescales. Universal Credit is a major shake-up of one of the most complex and sensitive areas of the state; implementation was always going to be slow and tricky.

Thus far, the whispers against Universal Credit remain just that. Officially, all three main parties remain committed (with caveats) to the plan. They must hold their nerve a while yet.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary