Iain Duncan Smith announced yet another slowdown of the rollout of universal credit to the Conservative conference yesterday, but managed to make it sound like a success by omitting just two vital words from his speech. Whether he actually lied or was just deeply misleading is for the reader to decide.
In a speech that verged at times on the messianic, but failed to refer at any point to massive waiting times for PIP and ESA medicals, Iain Duncan Smith announced that the roll out of universal credit was to be accelerated.
He told conference that:
“Universal Credit has now rolled out in the North West of England – to couples, shortly to families, to more than 1 in 8 jobcentres by Christmas – safely and securely as we always said.
“But, Conference, today I can announce more.
“I can announce that we are going to accelerate the delivery of Universal Credit…
“… from the New Year, bringing forward the national roll-out through 2015/16 to every community across Great Britain.”
The only problem with this was the two vital words missing from IDS’ speech, but present in the DWP press release – the roll out will only be for ‘single jobseekers’.
In other words:
- not for couples;
- not for families;
- not for people in work;
- not for people too sick and disabled to work.
In fact, only for the smallest and simplest group of universal credit claimants for whom no complex software is required at all. This is not a rollout or universal credit at all, it is the rollout of ‘universal credit lite’ to a fraction of the 8 million people who are supposed to be going to be moved onto it.
IDS went on to say:
“Secure national delivery… yet at the same time, delivering life change at a local level:
“strengthening community partnerships, helping vulnerable households…
“… getting people into a job quicker and staying in work longer…
“… not just helping the economy but reducing child poverty as well.
“Bringing up to £35 billion in economic benefits to Britain over the next decade…
“… making a lasting difference to people’s lives…
“… now and for generations to come.
“Friends – Universal Credit is going nationwide – we are going to finish what we started.”
In truth, the national rollout will not affect ‘vulnerable households’ because it’s only for single claimants.
It also won’t reduce ‘child poverty’ because it’s only for single claimants.
And ‘universal credit’ isn’t going nationwide, only a small fraction of it is.
So, was this a straightforward lie or just weasel words? We leave you, the reader, to make up your own mind.
But here’s one final piece of evidence.
In his ministerial statement on 5 December 2013 – which has mysteriously disappeared from the parliament website - IDS announced the revised timetable for the rollout of universal credit, which was itself a massive slowdown from the original plan. The document is deliberately vague about the timetable, but it does state:
“Meanwhile, we will expand our current pathfinder service and develop functionality so that from next summer we progressively start to take claims for universal credit from couples and, in the autumn, from families. Once safely tested in the 10 live universal credit areas, we will also expand the roll-out to cover more of the north-west of England. This will enable us to learn from the live running of universal credit at scale and for more claimant types, including the more vulnerable and complex.
“These steps continue our progressive approach—test, learn, implement—as we deliver this flagship programme.
“Our current planning assumption is that the universal credit service will be fully available in each part of Great Britain during 2016, having closed down new claims to the legacy benefits it replaced; with the majority of the remaining legacy case load moving to universal credit during 2016 and 2017.”
So, the most recent plan was to run full versions of universal credit – including for ‘the more vulnerable and more complex’ claimants - in the north west of England and then expand out across the country.
Now, it seems, only the simplest of claims will have been rolled out across the country by April 2016. There is then absolutely no possibility whatsoever of a ‘test, learn, implement’ rollout of the massively more complex full universal credit across the whole country by the end of 2016.
So what IDS was announcing sounds very much to us like another setback for the rollout of universal credit. The reality is that there is absolutely no evidence that IDS, Freud and their wealthy friends are ‘going to finish what we started’ in 2017, or indeed at any time in the next decade.