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The billion pound plus failure of the implementation of Universal Credit is rightly condemned by the National Audit Office in a report published today.
Aimed to save money, get everybody back to work, simplify a complex benefit system and to be easily implemented. Instead it is going to cost more, is years behind schedule, discriminates against disabled and poorly educated people, and the government has plans to force the elderly not entitled to a pension to have to use it when it changes entitlement to pension credit ( see my earlier blog here)
But it is also having appalling consequences for food banks, landlords, council and housing association tenants – as the example in Amber Rudd’s constituency ( details down below show).
In the meantime ministers today were patting themselves on the back today how successful it is while senior civil servants behind it were awarded bonuses worth up to £20,000 each for its botched introduction ( see an earlier blog here and an article in the Sunday Mirror).
The statistics are appalling. According to the NAO :
“In 2017, around one quarter (113,000) of new claims were not paid in full on time. Late payments were delayed on average by four weeks, but from January to October 2017, 40% of those affected by late payments waited in total around 11 weeks or more, and 20% waited almost five months. Despite improvements in payment timeliness, in March 2018 21% of new claimants did not receive their full entitlement on time with 13% receiving no payment on time.
The Department does not anticipate payment timeliness to improve significantly in 2018. On this basis, the NAO estimates that between 270,000 and 338,000 new claimants will not be paid in full at the end of their first assessment period throughout 2018. Those with more complex cases are more likely to be paid late.
The Department expected most claimants would have enough money to cope over the initial waiting period after their claim is submitted (previously six weeks, now five). In reality, nearly 60% of new claimants (around 56,000 a month) receive a Universal Credit advance to help them manage before receiving their first payment.But they have to pay it back which means deducting an average £43 a month from their benefit.
But while the statistics are bad, the examples are worse.
Appendix 5 of the report reveals In Amber Rudd’s Hastings constituency for example, according to the NAO Hastings foodbank has increased its opening hours, needs around two tonnes of stock each week to meet demand, and is considering building more storage space, costing £200,000.”
Hastings Citizens Advice pays staff to deliver Universal Support delivered locally. It therefore needs to pay providers regardless of the number of people
that are referred for support. But its income from the Department is not guaranteed so it can’t plan
Hastings Citizens Advice is considering scaling back on what it does in order to cope with increased demand.
Similarly NHS Hastings and Rother Clinical Commissioning Group funds its local advisory services. But this takes time to identify and secure. This hampers the ability of organisations to employ high-quality advocates because of the uncertainty of future funding.
.Hastings and Rother Credit Union no longer accepts Universal Credit claimant because of the complications in dealing with the new benefit and the long time waiting for people to be paid it.
Other areas have also got problems.Landlords are carrying extra debt – Croydon’s rent
collection rate has fallen from 92% to 58%, and its bad debt provision has doubled to £8 million.
Sedgemoor Council in County Durham reported an increasing unwillingness, even with social landlords, to take on low-income tenants or those claiming Universal Credit.
So the government has piled on misery upon misery for the claimants,. voluntary organisations, food banks, landlords, credit unions, local authorities and health services. Meanwhile ministers on excess of £100,000 a year go home to expensive houses, enjoy fine wines, expensive meals out and luxury holidays while boasting how they are helping the poor. Some sick joke. As Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today:
“The Department has pushed ahead with Universal Credit in the face of a number of problems, but has shown a lack of regard in failing to understand the hardship faced by some claimants.
“The benefits that it set out to achieve through Universal Credit, such as increased employment and lower administration costs, are unlikely to be achieved, yet the Department has little realistic alternative but to continue with the programme and hopefully learn from past mistakes.”