This week’s NAO report provided the details of what everyone knows – Universal Credit is failing and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) doesn’t listen to people who disagree with them. The real question was how the DWP would respond. Would they acknowledge problems, and work with others in fixing them or would they say everyone else is wrong and all is well? Tragically but predictably they have gone into fortress mentality, denying there are problems and making questionable claims in retaliation.
The defence put up today was all too familiar.
- This is old news the problems are in the past: In 2013 the program failed so badly that it was essentially restarted. When the Major Projects Authority announced this “reset” the DWP’s response was that the problems were in the past and all was now well.
This game has been played repeatedly over the years – a Universal Credit (UC) disaster is revealed, DWP says it is inaccurate and old news. In a programme that is 6 years behind schedule and still receiving devastating criticism from independent experts just how credible can this defence be?
In interviews this morning the Employment Minister Alok Sharma indicated that the NAO was using old data and had not taken into account recent changes. For the record the NAO used the latest data made available by the DWP and it did evaluate all recently announced changes other than those announced on the day that the DWP agreed the report with the NAO (7th June).
- Universal Credit gets people into work quicker: Neither the NAO or the Office of Budget responsibility believe this claim is reliable. The NAO say that the claim is unverifiable and hence unaccountable, because of the severe delays in rolling out UC. The DWP also admit to this but the minister sadly obfuscated when challenged on the issue. I have written about this claim before and the 8 month (and counting) fight to get the DWP to evidence it.
The familiar line is that “People claiming Universal Credit are significantly more likely to move into work than those on Jobseeker’s Allowance.” The problem is that both the “people” and the “Universal Credit” in the trial are very different from the people who will be on UC in future and the UC system as it is today
The trial group was mainly young, single and healthy renters. Their benefits were more generous than today and they had one work coach to around 50 claimants. At roll out the target is one work coach to 373 claimants.
What the research actually tells us is that if you pour resources onto the easiest to help group you get some improvements. Not a surprise but not a vindication of UC. Moreover, results for families who are harder to help were due in 2016. These results are nowhere to be found.
- Universal Credit delivers £34bn (or £8bn a year) for an investment of £2bn. I have written on the elusive quality of the £34bn number before – but even taken at face value it relies on improved employment, which is unlikely and unprovable, and a high tech fraud detections system that does not yet exist (5 years after it should have).
I do not know why the DWP continues to act as if it is in denial, but its response today fails to recognise that UC is in trouble. Those who need help from UC must deal with a very harsh reality of delays, debt and rent arrears.
The truth of claimants’ lives is being ignored and the results are terrible. Isaiah 59 v14 seems appropriate.
“Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
for truth stumbles in the public square,
and uprightness cannot enter.”