Here is something to keep the debate going feel free to watch:
Well folks, it comes as no surprise to learn that the introduction of the Government’s universal credit scheme has suffered from another embarrassing IT setback, after it emerged that claimants in a region piloting the new system had vanished from official statistics on unemployment.
Following disputes with auditors in recent months over computing problems that have cost taxpayers tens of millions of pounds, civil servants in the Department for Work and Pensions have realised that the new system is incompatible with current methods of counting the number of jobless people in the country.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is trying to simplify the benefits system by merging jobseeker’s allowance with other payments, such as housing benefit and child tax credit, into a single payment called universal credit.
But statisticians currently measure the level of unemployment by recording how many people are receiving jobseeker’s allowance – and counting universal credit claimants within the numbers of those seeking work would inflate the figures, because the recipients include people in employment who are receiving what was previously income support or working tax credit.
Iain Duncan Smith is hoping to spread the introduction of universal credit across the North-west during 2014, and across the whole country by 2016. Unless the latest hitch is solved, it would mean that from 2016, there would be no way of telling how many people are in work.
Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions point out that only a tiny difference was made by the problem to January’s published unemployed total of 2.32 million. The most recent figures available are that there were 2,720 people on universal credit by the end of October.
The figure is small because universal credit has so far been introduced only as a pilot scheme in a few jobcentres in the North-west. But opponents of the Government were quick to highlight the potential for chaos in the system unless a solution is found quickly.
“How can we have any confidence in their ability to deliver this flagship project?”
A DWP spokeswoman emphasised that the department had not tried to cover up the problem, and that the missing figures would not alter the general picture that unemployment is falling.
“We have been fully transparent in publishing the number of people claiming universal credit. To ensure consistency the Department released these figures alongside the employment statistics,” she said.
Universal credit is the centrepiece of the Government’s reforms, which are intended to give claimants a financial incentive to take up paid work, though it has several technical problems, which have forced Mr Duncan Smith to abandon his original plan to apply universal credit to every new claimant from April this year.
The charity Gingerbread has written to the Chancellor George Osborne alleging that the rules covering universal credit discriminate against single parents.
Under new rules, parents earning £10,000 a year or more will be able to reclaim 85 per cent of the cost of childcare, while those below the threshold will be entitled to only 70 per cent.
“Extra childcare support for families is very welcome – but government plans will leave the lowest earners behind,” Gingerbread’s chief executive Fiona Weir warned.
A DWP spokesman said: “The reality is that under universal credit parents with low incomes will face much more generous childcare support, with people working fewer than 16 hours becoming eligible for this help for the first time.”
I’m sure that I am like many others are beginning to think that the system is not working and Iain Duncan Smith should take the blame are scrap the over budget of Universal Credit scheme is £225,000 for each person on it, it was claimed.
The project has already cost the taxpayer £612million and has been dogged by delays and IT blunders.
Mr Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, had promised one million people would be receiving their welfare payments under the scheme by April this year.
But figures show only 2,720 claimants have been transferred onto the Universal Credit so far – a cost of £225,000 per person.
The universal credit bundles together the six main benefits – jobseeker’s allowance, income support, employment and support allowance, working tax credit, child tax credit and housing benefit – into a single payment.
In September 2103, Mr Duncan Smith told Parliament it would be delivered “on time and within budget”.
But the roll-out has been delayed three times and is now only available under a small number of pilot schemes.
The Department of Work and Pensions has had to write off £130million in IT costs and it emerged this week that the executive brought in to rescue the project, Howard Shiplee, has been off sick for a month.
It’s no wonder Shadow Welfare Minister Chris Bryant MP said: “Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship policy has been plagued with delay after delay from the outset and millions of pounds have been wasted.
“We were once told Universal Credit would be on time and on budget and that a million people would be on the system by April this year, but this has come to nothing. It is staggering that the Government has spent £225,000 per person on this project.
“With poor initial decisions by Ministers and endless indecision from Downing Street putting the whole scheme in jeopardy, it is increasingly difficult to have any confidence in the Government’s handling of welfare.”
The Department for Work and Pensions has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on software for its flagship welfare project that may not be fit for purpose.
Hundreds of millions has been spent on software to support the government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme, which may not be able to support administering the benefit. Sources close to the DWP’s Universal Credit project, which seeks to streamline and automate benefit payments and tax credits for 12 million people, indicate that upwards of £270m has already been spent in government contracts with IBM, Hewlett Packard and BT. Accenture is understood to have received the lion’s share of the work, winning more than £110m.
However on taking his post a little over three months ago, insiders say that UC’s new project director Howard Shiplee has ordered a complete rethink and ordered a thorough redesign of current software. Senior staff have warned that even after two years systems to prevent fraud and breaches of very sensitive financial data, categorised as “incredibly critical” to the project, are yet to be completed.
Other essential pieces of software including a calculator for staff to advise clients whether millions of their claimants will be financially better off doing more work, have only been ordered from Accenture in the last few weeks. “Without that they can’t calculate when someone does go into work, what their top up should be,” one source said.
By December 2012 total spend on the project, which has been rolled out in a very limited fashion to just a handful of jobcentre offices in the Greater Manchester region, had topped £340m.
Before the publication of a national audit office report, Shiplee said the project had faced a series of problems. Staff have been told to be braced for heavy criticism.
“There is no doubt there have been missteps along the way. But we’ve put that right,”. Admitting that old IT might have to be junked, he said: “We’re planning to take the best of the existing system and make improvements using GDS [government digital service] support.”
As part of his project overhaul, Shiplee wrote to staff in July to tell them that at least a third of his 600 staff would be moved off the project.
“As a result of the new ways of working we are introducing, particularly in the way we design and build processes and systems, I expect a managed reduction in the number of people we will need to deploy in the Universal Credit Programme by around 200-250,” he wrote.
Staff have also warned that £350m in welfare savings will now be lost because the roll out of the pension credit plus programme has been delayed.
The cost saving is understood to have been part of the original business case that the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith used to persuade the Treasury to fund his vision of 21st century welfare provision. Extra costs, internal auditors warned, will also be incurred because of the much reduced timetable for the national rollout.
In one assessment, a member of staff said that overall funding for the flagship project would be “very tight” by the time of the election. One source said the current software was useful for the current pilots but it couldn’t be replicated at scale because “the current model requires lots of man-hours and micro-management of claims.”
“Shiplee’s come in and said ‘look, lets start this with a blank sheet again’ they’re re-designing level zero, level one business processes – they’re doing that all again. After two years we’d already built to level two.”
The DWP said it was misleading to characterise money already spent as having gone to waste. “No one has said we’re starting again … we’re looking at enhancing not replacing [systems],” it said.
It said it did not recognise the £350m figure being lost in savings due to the slower roll out of the programme.
A DWP spokesperson later added: “The early roll-out of Universal Credit is allowing us to develop the new benefit in a safe and controlled way. This is the responsible approach.
“We have a plan in place that is safe and achievable along with the right leadership to ensure Universal Credit is delivered on time by 2017 and within budget.”
The shadow welfare secretary of state said it was time his counterpart reached out for cross party rescue talks. “Iain Duncan Smith has sworn blind to parliament that universal credit is on time and on budget. Now we hear it is actually an IT disaster.
“Duncan Smith has an awful lot of explaining to do and it is time for him to reconsider our offer of cross-party rescue talks. We cannot and must not take risks with billions of pounds of working peoples’ tax credits.”
Well how many times have we all heard the saying “We’re All In It Together”. Er united we stand, to say not in our name”.