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130905universalcredit

It seems there has been an argument between Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP and Francis Maude’s Cabinet Office, and now the much-troubled Universal Credit project has no IT experts working on it.

Good. It’s a terrible idea, designed to remove money from the people who need it most.

The project aims to update benefit claimants’ entitlements in ‘real time’, ensuring that they only ever receive what government regulations say they should. Sadly, there is no commitment to update the entitlement amounts in ‘real time’, so people will always be getting less than they need, as inflation boosts prices beyond their range.

Minutes of a Universal Credit ‘board meeting’, leaked to The Guardian, show that IT experts from the Cabinet Office are pulling out of the project and the DWP must now search for somebody else with the skills needed to take on the work.

This means more delays and an even greater cost. This is unlikely to bother Iain Duncan Smith, who sees the project as his legacy to the nation and will pay any amount to see it through – in sharp contrast to his attitude towards the benefit claimants for whose livelihoods his department is responsible.

It seems the argument arose because of Mr… Smith’s vanity – he insisted on a “twin-track” approach to the project, keeping current work going in order to make it possible for claimants to use Universal Credit before the 2015 election while also funnelling money and time into a purely web-based system that will not require Job Centre staff to fill in claimants’ details. One may presume that he will happily sack the excess Job Centre staff after that system is complete.

Those on the current version will be tranferred onto the digital system when it is ready, we are told.

A separately-leaked document made it clear that the withdrawal of the Cabinet Office expertise is one of the most serious problems facing the project because the DWP will now have to try to find people with the necessary skills in the market, and may not be able to afford the cost.

It is interesting that this document is a risk assessment. Does anybody remember the furore over the NHS risk assessment, when the Health and Social Care Act was working its way through Parliament like an unhappy bowel movement? Even though these documents are almost always publicly available, that one was jealously guarded by Andrew Lansley and still has not seen the light of day.

Of course the different government departments are claiming that nothing is wrong and all is going according to plan, and this might be true – if we’re discussing the kind of plan that changes with the wind.

Meanwhile, Universal Credit is increasingly becoming a symbol of the government creating it – not only is it monstrously expensive but it also doesn’t work.

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