Government hampering scrutiny of universal credit, say MPs

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has today accused the government of “hampering” its inquiry into Universal Credit.

Just as soon as Maria Miller has resigned, another group of MPs are accusing a different government department of failing to show it respect.

In a damaging critique of Iain Duncan-Smith’s flagship Universal Credit project, the Work and Pensions Select Committee has today accused the government of “hampering” its inquiry into Universal Credit by “not providing accurate, timely and detailed information”.

The report notes that in September the National Audit Office had raised serious concerns about the ICT systems underpinning the Universal Credit. However the Select Committee has pointed out that ministers have known about such problems for the last 18 months but failed to inform parliament.

Noting that “it is regrettable that £40 million has been wasted on IT software for UC that now has no use”, the committee concludes:

“It is concerning that it took so long for the government to acknowledge openly that there were problems with Universal Credit IT.”

Upping the ante in its critique of the government, the committee continues:

“The government has hampered the committee’s scrutiny of UC implementation by not providing accurate, timely and detailed information. It is not acceptable for the government only to provide information about major policy changes when forced to do so by the imminent prospect of being held to account in a public evidence session. DWP should set out how it will improve the frankness, accuracy and timeliness of the information it provides to the committee on UC implementation.”

Noting that just 4,280 people were claiming Universal Credit at the end of last year out of 1.22 million jobseeker’s allowance claimants, the Committee chair Dame Anne Begg has accused the government of operating at snail’s pace. She expanded:

“Whilst it is right to ensure that the system works properly before extending it, there is a difference between cautious progress and a snail’s pace. Given the excruciatingly slow pace of roll-out to date, it is hard to see how the most recent implementation timetable can be met.”

Calling on the government to “get a grip” of this “crisis-hit policy”, shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves has responded to the report by declaring:

“The Work and Pensions select committee is right to raise serious concerns about Universal Credit which has suffered endless delays and waste. Ministers promised one million people would be on the scheme by April 2014 but the latest figures show under 4000 are. £131 million has been wasted already and on this programme which is so far costing an astonishing £161,905 per person. David Cameron must urgently get a grip of this crisis-hit policy before any more taxpayers money is wasted.”

Unsurprisingly, a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sought to put the government own unique spin on the situation, explaining:

“Universal Credit and its IT systems are very clearly working well, with claimants receiving the new benefit and moving into work.

“We deliberately started in a slow, controlled and safe way, which the committee itself has long recommended, so we can expand Universal Credit securely to more people.

“Universal Credit is on track and we will start expanding it to other Jobcentres from this summer.”

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