A series of government reports into the rollout of crisis-hit Universal Credit “barely mentions claimants”, MPs have revealed.
Whitehall assessments of the flagship benefit reform don’t include details of the impact on many of those enrolled, analysis by a House of Commons committee found.
The unpublished files, which date between 2012 and 2017, also show how promised savings from the £2bn programme are yet to materialise.
And the reports reveal how Universal Credit came close to “complete failure” in 2013, but has since recovered.
Labour MP Frank Field, who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee which analysed the reports, said: “In the eighth year of the programme, the department itself has yet to produce the full business case for its own mega reform.”
Top secret “Project Assessment Reviews” dated between 2012 and 2015 were handed to the committee alongside other more recent reports after a humiliating climbdown by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Ministers made the “exceptional” move to hand over the files late last year after a bruising Commons backlash.
But in a damning assessment, MPs said on Thursday:
- There remains “no evidence” that Universal Credit “makes work pay” for all types of claimants;
- There’s “considerable uncertainty” about the reform’s costs and benefits;
- And constant delays to the rollout appear to cancel out savings Universal Credit was meant to provide.
Field added: “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 [it].
“They have produced no evidence to back up the key, central economic assumption of the biggest reform to our welfare system in 50 years.
“The reviews, which barely mention claimants, are also shot through with management gobbledegook.”
MPs blast Whitehall ‘gobbledegook’
MPs have criticised the use of “cryptic and cliched” project management speak in the top secret Universal Credit files.
Examples of the so-called “gobbledegook” included:
- Describing meetings as “stand-ups”, “priority stand-ups”, a “scrum of scrums” and even a “Show and Tell”;
- Referring to elements of Universal Credit as “stories”, “epic level stories” and “story groups”;
- Explaining one team had “not fully matured its ability to accurately size incoming stories”;
- And describing the successful completion of a task as “ensuring the safe landing of delivery”.
The committee of MPs said the files were “no loss to the canon of published prose”.
With the latest full assessment review dated 2015, the committee has called for greater transparency in future.
Universal Credit replaces six benefits with one single monthly payment and will gradually roll out to all those on welfare by 2022.
Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey defended Universal Credit in the Commons last week, saying: “Universal Credit has had a positive impact since its start, as shown through published research and analysis.
“Independent research shows us that people are spending more time looking for work, applying for more jobs and even doing jobs they would not have considered doing before.”
‘Not fit for purpose’
Responding to the committee’s findings, Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “After years of Tory Universal Credit chaos, this report proves once again that Universal Credit is not fit for purpose.
“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 mention claimants.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said: “The Work and Pensions Select Committee has commended the department for running the Universal Credit programme ‘more professionally and efficiently with a collective sense of purpose’.
“The committee acknowledges that the historic issues raised in this report have now been addressed and ‘substantial achievements’ have been delivered since 2013.
“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.”
Meanwhile the battle for the reports to be fully published continues, with a tribunal set to decide whether the public should be able to access the files or not.
The government has argued that the internal documents were only ever meant to be seen by ministers and releasing them publicly could mean future reports are less useful.
HuffPost UK revealed last year how self-employed Universal Credit claimants have been told by officials they’d be “better off jobless”.
And we reported how terminally ill Universal Credit claimants are routinely assigned “work coaches”, prompting condemnation from charities.
Ministers announced on Wednesday that the government will change the threshold at which households with Universal Credit claims will receive free school meals.
Labour said the plan could mean more than one million children go without a hot meal at school.