Universal credit project review full of ‘gobbledegook’, says Commons committee

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The universal credit project review is full of “management gobbledegook” with ministers failing to make a full business case for the rollout of the Government’s flagship welfare reform, an influential Commons committee has warned. 

Frank Field, who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee, said the architect of welfare state, William Beveridge, “will be rolling in his grave” at the failure to produce evidence to back up the key economic assumption of universal credit.

He said people are being expected to take it on good faith that the contentious overhaul of the welfare in Britain will deliver.

After examining internal project assessment reviews of the universal credit programme’s finances and delivery by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), the committee expressed concerns about the situation.

While MPs said it was to the department’s credit that it brought universal credit back from the “brink of complete failure” in 2013, they said it continues to face major challenges.

Mr Field said that perhaps the most damning point emerging from the assessment of the Government’s progress on universal credit is that in its eighth year of the programme, the department itself “is yet to produce the full business case for its own mega reform”.

He continued:“The programme managers appear to expect us, the public, and the minister responsible to take it on faith that universal credit will deliver the much improved employment outcomes they claim for the vast range of people – disabled, single parents, carers, the self-employed – who will claim UC.

“At the moment, they are relying on the simplest cases – single, unemployed claimants with no children. They have produced no evidence to back up the key, central economic assumption of the biggest reform to our welfare system in 50 years. William Beveridge will be rolling in his grave. 

“The reviews, which barely mention claimants, are also shot through with management gobbledegook. Were I the minister in charge, I would have either rejected or ignored much of it entirely as totally incomprehensible.

“This major reform would surely have been served better by a much more transparent approach.”

Responding to the comments from the committee, Debbie Abrahams, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said the report proved “once again that universal credit is not fit for purpose”.

She added: “It is completely unacceptable that the Government has not provided any evidence to back up their repeated assertion that universal credit will help people into work, a key principle of the programme. 

“As universal credit is being rolled out, people in and out of work are being pushed into rent arrears, debt and poverty with food bank use rising as a consequence. Yet the Government’s own review barely mentions claimants.”

A DWP spokesman said the department had been commended for improving the universal credit programme and “substantial achievements” had been delivered since 2013. A statement added: “Universal Credit is the biggest modernisation of the welfare system in a generation and continues to be delivered in a safe and secure way.

“The Infrastructure and Projects Authority has independently supported our test and learn approach, the improvements we continue to make and the recent expansion of the programme.

“People on Universal Credit are moving into work faster than those on the old system, staying in work longer and keeping more of their money. And in the Budget we announced a £1.5bn package of additional support for people as they move to the new system.”