Iain Duncan Smith hiding failings of Universal Credit, say MPs

Tue, 19/08/2014 - 12:36 -- nick

Iain Duncan Smith has been accused of trying to hide his failings - by an influential group of MPs.

Smith publicly 'reset' his £2.4 billion Universal Credit scheme after hundreds of millions of pounds of development spending had to be written off.

But the Public Accounts Committee says this was simply a way of trying to stop scrutiny of its problems and to hide them away.

The Committee looks at public spending and tries to work out if the taxpayer is getting value for money, and 'resetting' - a new term invented by Smith - Universal Credit last year meant issues before this were excluded from examination.

Smith's DWP has struggled to develop the computer system needed to deliver the online-only system, and management and leadership problems have contributed to the fact that, to date, only around 6,000 of the most simple cases are able to use it.

Universal Credit was originally designed to make moving into a job easier and more lucrative, reducing the time it took to go from unemployment benefits to in-work benefits and allowing people to manage their claims online.

But the move from fortnightly to monthly payments means many who receive the money are struggling to budget and have fallen into debt, while some groups - particularly millions of parents - will actually be worse off in work.

Eight million families are supposed to use the scheme, but the Resolution Foundation says that cuts mean a couple with one child will lose £685 each year under UC by 2018.

If both parents work the second earner can lose more than three-quarters of their income, raising the question of whether there is a real incentive for both to work.

And punishments are likely to increase: Universal Credit, in uniting payments for self-employed, working and workless people, brings all into the same punitive sanctions regime.

Those who are not earning above £220 each week could be sanctioned and have their UC payments withdrawn, leading to desperate hardship even for workers.

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said that the scheme's problems needed to be exposed if they were to be improved:

"The Major Projects Authority [which examined UC] should publish more information on each project, including the amount spent to date, even if this means reviewing the government's transparency policy. We are particularly concerned that the decision to award a 'reset' rating to the Universal Credit project may have been an attempt to keep information secret and prevent scrutiny."

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