Alistair Darling: I was warned that Universal Credit would be unworkable

Darling reveals that while serving as Work and Pensions Secretary, he was told that the programme would be "very difficult" to implement and would cost more than it saved.

The most notable intervention during Iain Duncan Smith's emergency statement on Universal Credit (the subject of an excoriating report today by the National Audit Office) came from Alistair Darling. 

Darling, who is always listened to respectfully by Conservative MPs, told the House that while serving as Work and Pensions Secretary he was warned by officials that a Universal Credit-style system would be all but impossible to implement and would likely end up costing more than it saved. He said:

I was advised then that it was technically very difficult, if not impossible, to implement at anything like an acceptable cost, and whatever the cost I was quoted it was likely to end up costing an awful lot more.

Darling rightly pointed out the absurdity of Duncan Smith claiming that Universal Credit, which aims to replace six of the main means-tested benefits and tax credits with a single payment, was "on time and on budget" - the NAO report reveals that £34m of IT programmes have been written off and the programme, which was originally due to apply to all new claimants of out of work benefits from this October, will now apply to just ten job centres - and asked Duncan Smith what advice he had received about it. He dismissively replied that he had been told it could be delivered and complained that Labour had just "carped". 

In reality, as the NAO report reveals, the DWP is considering delaying the full introduction of the programme until after October 2017 since the current timetable means there will be "less time to deal with any problems identified during migration".

But while Darling's revelations are damaging for Duncan Smith, they also pose questions for Labour. At the moment the party still supports Universal Credit in principle and has called for cross-party talks with civil servants to save the programme. But if the problems with the system prove as intractable as many fear, Labour may eventually conclude that it is, as Darling's officials warned, simply unworkable. 

Former Chancellor Alistair Darling said he was warned that Universal Credit would be "very difficult, if not impossible" to introduce at an acceptable cost. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The 5 things the Tories aren't telling you about their manifesto

Turns out the NHS is something you really have to pay for after all. 

When Theresa May launched the Conservative 2017 manifesto, she borrowed the most popular policies from across the political spectrum. Some anti-immigrant rhetoric? Some strong action on rip-off energy firms? The message is clear - you can have it all if you vote Tory.

But can you? The respected thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has now been through the manifesto with a fine tooth comb, and it turns out there are some things the Tory manifesto just doesn't mention...

1. How budgeting works

They say: "a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade"

What they don't say: The Conservatives don't talk very much about new taxes or spending commitments in the manifesto. But the IFS argues that balancing the budget "would likely require more spending cuts or tax rises even beyond the end of the next parliament."

2. How this isn't the end of austerity

They say: "We will always be guided by what matters to the ordinary, working families of this nation."

What they don't say: The manifesto does not backtrack on existing planned cuts to working-age welfare benefits. According to the IFS, these cuts will "reduce the incomes of the lowest income working age households significantly – and by more than the cuts seen since 2010".

3. Why some policies don't make a difference

They say: "The Triple Lock has worked: it is now time to set pensions on an even course."

What they don't say: The argument behind scrapping the "triple lock" on pensions is that it provides an unneccessarily generous subsidy to pensioners (including superbly wealthy ones) at the expense of the taxpayer.

However, the IFS found that the Conservatives' proposed solution - a "double lock" which rises with earnings or inflation - will cost the taxpayer just as much over the coming Parliament. After all, Brexit has caused a drop in the value of sterling, which is now causing price inflation...

4. That healthcare can't be done cheap

They say: "The next Conservative government will give the NHS the resources it needs."

What they don't say: The £8bn more promised for the NHS over the next five years is a continuation of underinvestment in the NHS. The IFS says: "Conservative plans for NHS spending look very tight indeed and may well be undeliverable."

5. Cutting immigration costs us

They say: "We will therefore establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs." 

What they don't say: The Office for Budget Responsibility has already calculated that lower immigration as a result of the Brexit vote could reduce tax revenues by £6bn a year in four years' time. The IFS calculates that getting net immigration down to the tens of thousands, as the Tories pledge, could double that loss.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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