Universal Credit may be a waste of money, say auditors

New report says the ailing scheme is dependent on assumptions.

New report says the ailing scheme is dependent on assumptions 

The Public and Commercial Services union has warned that auditors are unable to say whether the government’s flagship universal credit scheme will be worth the expense.

A report published today by the National Audit Office blames delays and uncertainty for jeopardising the value of the scheme.

It concludes that it is still “at too early a stage to determine if the [Department for Work and Pensions] will achieve value for money in its implementation of universal credit”.

The universal credit scheme, which merges six benefits into a single payment, was designed to reduce fraud and encourage people to work.

The Conservatives said that it could ultimately boost the economy by £7 billion.

But it has been beset by problems, and the timetable for full implementation of the scheme has been extended by two years. It was already ‘reset’ in early 2013 because of problems and high costs.

The unions report also says that any benefits of the welfare scheme are reliant on assumptions, making the final outcome difficult to measure.

Auditors say that the DWP still has not laid out detailed plans for universal credit systems and process, and has only worked out its staffing requirements up to February 2015.

Recruitment problems have already delayed plans, and the report says that the FWP has cut its planned training budget by 68 per cent, which the NAO says is a risk to the quality of the service.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

“Universal credit has been marred by controversy, delays and high costs because ministers have tried to rely on it as a central plank of their ideological cuts to social security.

“It’s clear that the DWP is still a long way off being able to prove this scheme can be a success and that it will have the right staffing and resources to provide a proper service to people who are looking for work or need support.”

Yesterday Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith defended the scheme, telling the BBC that “the most important thing is there are no plans to spend any more money than we originally set out.”

Today the shadow Work and Pensions secretary Rachel Reeves gave a speech on Tory welfare waste, where she promised top ‘redesign’ the scheme.

Reeves said that the NAO report had confirmed her “worst fears about whether this government has a viable plan to deliver this major reform within a reasonable timescale, and without racking up massive extra risks and costs to claimants and taxpayers.”

In her speech, Reeves accused the Tories of spending £5 billion over their budget on tax credits and leaving 900,000 people waiting for sickness and disability benefits.

She pledged better deals for older workers who get made redundant, and the introduction of a Basic Skills Test to allow early intervention for people with deficient maths, English or IT skills, helping them get back to work sooner.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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