You know a Tory policy is in serious trouble when the Daily Telegraph starts publishing articles criticising it.
Today, Universal Credit is on the Telegraph‘s naughty step – not for the first time! – with current ‘director general’ Howard Shiplee (my word, they love making up impressive names for themselves, don’t they?) admitting it has been “plagued by problems”, as the newspaper’s headline puts it.
- Technical problems in the merging of benefit office, HMRC and council IT systems
- Bureaucratic problems
- Scheduling problems as the scheme’s timetable has slipped further and further back
- Personnel problems, with Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Failure Smith claiming official let him down, forcing him to employ private sector experts to get the scheme back on track (but it still isn’t)
- Poor project management, including poor management of suppliers
- Lack of transparency, with too much attention focused on what was working and not enough on what wasn’t
The plan was to roll out Universal Credit for all new claimants from October onwards, but this has been scaled back to just six Job Centres. It began in a single Job Centre in April, where calculations have been worked out on paper.
Ministers say the final deadline, to introduce the system for all claimants by 2017, will be met – but it seems increasingly likely that – if Labour wins the 2015 election – the whole plan will be consigned to the political scrapyard where, in this writer’s opinion, it belongs.
But Mr Shiplee said he was working on introducing the “cultural” elements of the proposed scheme while awaiting the development of a new IT system, and you need to know what that means.
It means spreading the culture of dishonesty, that has been bred and nurtured in the DWP’s handling of ESA, to the five other benefits that are to be merged into UC.
They are: Income Support, income-based Jobseekers Allowance, tax credits (child and working), housing benefit and budgeting loans.
“This is about changing the way we do business – and changing people’s behaviour by ensuring there is always an incentive to be in work,” said Shiplee. Meaning: We will lie when assessing your claims; we will intentionally mishandle your claim to make it appear that you do not deserve benefit and we will maladminister any appeals; if you do receive benefit, we will harass you to take part in our silly made-up programmes when you could be doing better things; if we find a way to cut you off, or you give up in despair, we will claim that as a positive benefit outcome; and if you suffer hardship, destitution or health problems up to and including death as a result, we will not record them because we can claim it is nothing to do with us.
That is my experience of the DWP, based on Mrs Mike’s experience with ESA.
You’ll be aware that she currently has an appeal against being put into the work-related activity group, based on medical evidence and the expert opinion of a work programme provider. The current word from the DWP is that she must undergo another work capability assessment.
The reason given is that she has claimed her health has deteriorated since her original assessment in 2012 but this is nonsense.
Her appeal was made against the original decision – based on that 2012 assessment. Another WCA won’t have any bearing on that.
Instead, the matter should have gone to a tribunal, as the DWP’s own decision maker failed to make a decision when the case was considered, in April.
That hearing could have taken place by now; instead the DWP has sat on its thumbs and done nothing, waiting for the time-limited claim to come to an end in order to claim – yes – a ‘positive benefit outcome’.
There was no communication with the claimant and therefore there was no way for Mrs Mike to know what was happening until she discovered her benefit had been stopped, a couple of weeks ago.
Now imagine that situation magnified to include not only every ESA claimant, but the many millions of UK citizens who claim all the other main benefits. What do you think will happen when this “cultural” change is applied to them?
Do you claim any benefits? Do you know somebody who does?
If so, you’d better do something about it, before it’s too late.