The universal credit programme, which seeks to simplify welfare benefits, is in danger of failing. This admission emerged when the government published details of performance for its most expensive projects. Despite repeated denials by the Department for Work and Pensions, the signs of deep trouble have been apparent for many months. There have been repeated personnel changes at the top and the timing in the project plan has been has been tailored to reflect progress made as initial targets were abandoned.
The government performance report has classified the universal credit as programme as ‘amber-red’ which is described as projects in danger of failing. It is understood that Whitehall departments resisted publication of the assessments and most now dispute the assessments. The DWP said: “This rating reflects where the project was eight months ago, rather than where it is now. Since this September 2012 assessment, the universal credit pathfinder has been successfully launched and David Pitchford – the government’s leading expert in major projects- has put in place a strengthened plan and leadership team. We are on course to begin national roll-out of universal credit in October 2013.
The original project plan provided for pathfinder trial to be run in four locations, but this was reduced to one location when the trial started last month.
Delivery of the technology is only one of the major anxieties with the programme. A Parliamentary Committee in April 2013 expressed concerns about the delay in developing anti fraud measures. There is also concern about how benefit claimants will cope with the requirement that all applications must be on-line.
Universal credit will simplify the benefits system, improve work incentives and reduce fraud and error. It will replace income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Income Support; Child Tax Credits; Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.