Universal Credit welfare reform slammed by MPs

Pound notes

The government has been heavily criticised for the implementation of its flagship reform to welfare benefits - the universal credit. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), led by Margaret Hodge MP, called the roll-out of the credit "universally poor" and has likely wasted almost half a billion pounds.

The universal credit is a new welfare policy that streamlines the existing benefits system into a single income-replacement credit. It is designed to replace income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA), income support, the working tax credit, child tax credit and housing benefit.

"Universal Credit is the DWP's single biggest programme and enjoys cross-party support, yet its implementation has been extraordinarily poor," Hodge said in a statement today.

"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. £425 million has been spent so far on the programme. It is likely that much of this, including at least £140 million worth of IT assets, will now have to be written off."

The PAC slammed the management of the programme for being "alarmingly weak" and said the Department for Work and Pensions had, from the outset, failed to grasp the nature and enormity of the task and had also failed to monitor and challenge progress regularly.

"Pressure to deliver a programme of this magnitude within such an ambitious timescale created a fortress culture where only good news was reported and problems were denied," Hodge continued. "Because they had no overall view of what was going on and no system to monitor progress, the Department's Universal Credit team became isolated and defensive."

Weak and inefficient

Criticism from the PAC comes soon after the National Audit Office said management of the programme had been weak and inefficient.

The government claims it is on track to meet its target of full roll-out of universal credit by 2017, but the PAC said the current programme will fail to hit one of its earliest targets of enrolling 184,000 claimants by April 2014.

"The Department will have to speed up the later stages of the programme if it is to meet the 2017 completion date but that will pose new risks," Hodge said.

The PAC warned the DWP not to throw good money after bad by introducing any short-term fixes.

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