POLITICS

Iain Duncan Smith Doesn't Want You To Know How Badly He Is Failing On Universal Credit, Say MPs

09/04/2014 10:59 BST
Oli Scarff via Getty Images
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith delivers his speech to the Conservative party conference in the International Convention Centre on October 8, 2012 in Birmingham, England. The annual, four-day Conservative party conference began yesterday and features speeches from Cabinet ministers and the Mayor of London. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Iain Duncan Smith and his fellow ministers have been accused of obstructing MPs' attempts to scrutinise his flagship Universal Credit welfare scheme by failing to give them "accurate, timely and detailed information".

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee lashed out at ministers as it warned that the Universal Credit, which aims to roll together six benefits, was being brought out at "snail's pace".

Duncan Smith's Universal Credit scheme has been bogged down in IT problems that has forced its introduction across the country to be delayed and resulted in tens of millions of pounds being wasted.

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"It is concerning that it took so long for the government to acknowledge openly that there were problems with Universal Credit IT," the report said.

"The government has hampered the committee's scrutiny of Universal Credit 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."

Dame Anne Begg, the Labour chair of the committee, said that only 4,280 people were claiming Universal Credit at the end of last year out of 1.22 million jobseeker's allowance claimants.

"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," she said.

"Given the excruciatingly slow pace of roll-out to date, it is hard to see how the most recent implementation timetable can be met."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves, said: "The 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 4,00 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."

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "The failure by the DWP to deliver an effective IT system is not just a terrible waste of public money, it is a disgrace that the department that constantly attacks benefit claimants through measures such as the bedroom tax and by portraying them as 'wasters' is, at the same time, squandering hundreds of millions of public money that should be spent on relieving poverty.

"PCS has no confidence that a new IT system will be any more robust than the first one. Only by urgently bringing the system back in house, and reversing the 25,000 DWP job cuts made since 2010 so that our members can manage their day to day workloads as well at UC implementation, will the Government stand any chance of averting a flagship failure."

A DWP spokesperson said: "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."

The DWP spokesperson added: "We have made our plans to roll out Universal Credit very clear with regular updates.

"Furthermore, Universal Credit has come under significant scrutiny by Parliament, the NAO, the Public Accounts Committee and others. We do all we can to help these enquiries."