‘Secret’ reports into the rollout of Universal Credit have been published in full following a humiliating climbdown by the Department of Work and Pensions.
HuffPost UK has obtained previously restricted “Project Assessment Reviews”, which are internal government documents designed to detail problems and challenges with new policies.
Universal Credit has been plagued by problems, including a perilous six week wait for payments, which has since been reduced to five weeks, and a reported surge in the use of loan sharks and food banks.
Read the reviews in full, below.
Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey on Thursday confirmed her department would comply with a freedom of information request to publish the files, as well as pass them onto the House of Commons Library.
The government had 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.
And ministers pursued their case at a legal tribunal in an effort to suppress the files.
In December, the government was forced to hand the documents over to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee.
And in a damning assessment, the committee said there remained “no evidence” that Universal Credit “makes work pay” for all types of claimants.
They also found the files suggested that constant delays to the rollout appear to cancel out savings Universal Credit was meant to provide.
What do the reports say?
The reports have been written with a Whitehall audience in mind - and they make confusing reading for those outside of the civil service.
All of the reports cite difficulties with IT and computer systems as a reason for delays in the rollout of Universal Credit.
The most recent report, released in 2015, states that morale within the team in charge of Universal Credit is low and that there are problems with governance.
And under “concerns”, the 2015 report states: “We have not found a single coherent integrated plan”.
Chair of the committee, Frank Field, observed in February: “The reviews, which barely mention claimants, are also shot through with management gobbledegook.”
But in a statement to the Commons on Thursday, McVey said: “Come 2018, the Universal Credit Programme is in a very different place since those reports were written.
“Universal Credit is in every Jobcentre and we are rolling it out safely and securely to all categories of claimant. We are focussing on the continued safe delivery of Universal Credit, so people continue to be helped to improve their lives.”
In response to the publication of the reviews, the DWP pointed out a number of changes to Universal Credit have been made in recent months.
It said the service’s phone line was now free of charge for all callers and that direct payments to landlords have been introduced for claimants who are struggling to keep up.
In addition, a previous six week wait for payments has been reduced to five.
Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “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.
“It is time for the Government to finally publish their so-called business case for Universal Credit.”
Universal Credit replaces six benefits with one single monthly payment and will gradually roll out to all those on welfare by 2022.
HuffPost 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.