According to the Daily Telegraph, Iain Duncan-Smith is intending to accelerate the rollout of Universal Credit to thwart Rachel Reeves and her intention to pause its implementation.
This is odd, because Ms Reeves said that in June, after the Major Projects Authority and the Public Accounts Committee has noted their concerns with the project. They were probably right to, if the concern was simply over the cost of the project and the likelihood of the IT infrastructure working. However, it isn't clear to me whether or not a pause would lead to scrapping the project or not.
|Universal Credit, not necessarily coming to a town near you soon...|
Universal Credit, in conceptual terms, seems like a bit of a no-brainer. Bringing together the application processes of a number of benefits and rolling them into one would reduce the cost of bureaucracy and, perhaps ironically, making it more likely that some vulnerable people would receive benefits to which they were entitled but had not actually claimed, put off by the hassle of form filling and assessment. And, in theory, there is nothing that should prevent the creation of an IT system that would support it.
In practice, however, government is bad at big IT projects, poor on procurement, prone to mid-project interference and weak on deciding what it actually wants in the first place.
And so it has come to pass with Universal Credit. Ironically, one of the underpinning changes, the introduction by HM Revenue & Customs of Real Time Information for PAYE, seems to have gone quite smoothly, exposing the uncomfortable fact that any system requiring the analysis and processing of data is only as good as the data fed in. And some employers, it turns out, aren't very good at that.
Nonetheless, the Universal Credit programme has been delayed significantly, leading to a perceived loss of confidence that it will work.
But what is one to do? Scrapping the project takes you back to the drawing board, whereby you still need to find ways of cutting the cost of social security. And, if cutting the cost of administration is made more difficult, that means an increased likelihood that benefits themselves will need to be cut - not an attractive option for politicians who claim to want to protect the poor and the vulnerable.
So, Ms Reeves faces a dilemma. Does she continue to harbour public doubts about the viability of Universal Credit, does she openly support the concept, or does she oppose both process and concept? And time is ticking...