The DWP and NAO offer two very different takes on the first 100 days of the new Universal Credit welfare benefit program. The RLA wants members and landlords to consider the differences:
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is heralding overcoming early difficulties in Universal Credit as evidence of the program’s success. Howard Shiplee, Director General of Universal Credit wrote: “We can’t underestimate the scale of the challenge. This is a fundamental transformation of the welfare system. It involved rebuilding and merging programmes currently run out of DWP, HMRC and local authorities across the country”
The outward facing optimism of the DWP is in stark contrast to the criticisms that the National Audit Office (NAO) has responded with, citing examples of poor management and delays to national roll-out as evidence the reform is overly-ambitious: “In early 2013, the Department was forced to stop work on its plans for national roll-out and reassess its options for the future. The programme still has potential to create significant benefits for society, but the Department must scale back its delivery ambition and set out realistic plans.”
Perhaps most importantly, the NAO focuses its criticisms of expenditure on IT systems that the DWP sees as an integral aspect of reform but not the entire point:
…too many people think Universal Credit is just about IT. That’s a big mistake. This is about changing the way we do business – and changing people’s behaviour by ensuring there is always an incentive to work.
– Howard Shiplee, Director General of Universal Credit
70 per cent of the £425 million spent to date has been on IT systems. The Department, however, has already written off £34 million of its new IT systems and does not yet know if they will support national roll-out. The existing systems offer limited functionality.
– NAO report excerpt
The DWP want claimants to register, search for jobs, and claim benefits online with services aimed at helping people get ready for “…the increasingly digital world of work.”
It stands to reason that the DWP would defend their flagship program for welfare reform, but if the NAO is accurate in their assessment greater transparency would not go amiss for the people this system is ultimately going to affect, i.e. tenants and landlords.
What do you think?