Responding to a new report from the National Audit Office on the progress of the Government’s flagship welfare reform programme, SMF Research Director Nigel Keohane said:
This report is damning. But, given the social costs of getting the implementation of Universal Credit wrong, the Government is right to delay its national roll-out and refine the details of the scheme.
Unfortunately the pilots that are underway are only testing the scheme on a fraction of the simplest benefits claims. What’s more, the pilots have not been assessing some of the most important aspects of Universal Credit, such as reliance on the automated real-time information system or the move to monthly benefits payments and the centralised exceptions policy that will accompany it. This raises real questions about what the Government can realistically learn from the pilots.
The delay to the scheme must be therefore used as an opportunity to address major policy questions that cannot be solved within the current limited pilot schemes. These include addressing the likelihood that families will fall into debt due to the move to monthly payments in arrears and the impact of the change to housing benefit payments.
The NAO have shown that IT is causing a major headache for the Government under this scheme. But, if the delay is used as a chance to address its future problems, the computer saying ‘no’ could be a blessing in disguise.
- The Social Market Foundation’s Sink or Swim research found that many low-income families would struggle to adapt their personal budgeting techniques to the Universal Credit, even if the IT systems work