Universal Credit

Part of Estimates 2014-15 — Department for Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 6:46 pm on 7th July 2014.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 6:46 pm, 7th July 2014

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. No, I was not in the House at that time. We recognise that we did not get everything right either—I am sure there will be an intervention about that—but this Government and this Secretary of State are now in power. It is their programme that we are scrutinising and it is a categorical failure. It is a mess. I have spoken about the waste of money. The Major Projects Authority said that there have been so many changes to universal credit that it cannot be seen as the same project: it must be seen as a new project.

As I said last week, and as was mentioned also by the Chair of the Select Committee, we started off with four pathfinders, including one in my constituency, Oldham. Those were announced in 2011 and were meant to be followed by a national roll-out in October 2013. On the day that the Secretary of State was supposed to provide evidence to the Select Committee, we learned that there was not to be a roll-out. Again, he was very indignant that we were questioning him about that. It was appalling arrogance.

As we have heard, there are supposed to be 7.7 million people on universal credit when it is fully implemented. Currently about 6,000 people are on it. The Secretary of State thought it was highly amusing when I asked him last week how long it would take at the present rate for 1 million people to be on UC. It is a matter of simple maths. Perhaps he, like the Chancellor, has problems with that. The answer is 2091. The Secretary of State did not like answering that.

Last September the National Audit Office reported IT problems that the Government had known about for 18 months but had failed to tell us about. That is deceptive and dishonourable. Some £40 million spent on software has had to be written off and a further £91 million written down. Good money is being poured after bad as the Government continue to spend £37 million to £38 million on the old IT system, while at the same time spending extensive sums on an end-state solution or, as it is now called, enhanced digital—whatever.

In addition to saying that it was now treating universal credit as a new project, the MPA, together with the NAO, reported its concerns on significant issues of governance, transparency, financial controls over supplier spending, and ineffective departmental oversight. It could not get worse. How is the Secretary of State still in his job? In any other profession, he would have gone. Why is he still there?

We supported and still support the principles of a simplified benefits system and one that makes work pay, but whether that will happen is questionable. There is real concern that the aim of making work pay will not be achieved. Recent evidence has shown that by 2018 cuts to the basic and work allowances will mean that universal credit is £685 a year less generous for a lone parent with two children, saving the Government £1.7 billion a year. There are also concerns that UC will weaken the incentive for second earners in couples to work. One in five children in poverty now lives with a single-earner couple. Ensuring that more second earners, principally women, are able to take up employment will be critical to reducing child poverty rates. Finally, the decision to leave council tax support out of universal credit means that the aim of simplicity is being undermined, with many claimants facing two rates of benefit withdrawal when they move into work or when their income increases.

The introduction of universal credit has been a car crash—a demonstration of how not to implement policy and of how the policy intention of making work pay is failing. This Government and this Secretary of State are failing to reform our welfare system. Of course, we need to make sure that welfare spending is not profligate, but in reforming our welfare system so that it is fit for the 21st century, we must remember why we developed our model of social welfare, retaining its principles of inclusion, support and security for all, protecting any one of us should we fall on hard times or become sick or disabled. It is a hand-up, not a hand-out.