Three and a half years after Iain Duncan Smith took the reins at the Department for Work and Pensions, how many people are claiming Universal Credit? The answer, as revealed by the DWP today, is just 2,150. That leaves Duncan Smith 997,850 claimants short of meeting his original April 2014 target of one million (since downgraded to 184,000, a target that will also not be met).
Universal Credit which was initially due apply to all new claimants of out of work benefits from October 2013, is currently only available in seven 'pathfinder' sites: Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham, Warrington, Wigan, Hammersmith, Rugby and Inverness (the stats refer to the first four). Shadow work and pensions minister Chris Bryant said: "Today’s figures show there are just 2,000 people receiving Universal Credit despite the Department for Work and Pensions once claiming a million people would be on it by next April. It’s clear to everyone but this out-of-touch Government that Universal Credit is in chaos. It’s time for David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith to come clean and tell us how they’re going to fix this problem. Families facing a cost-of-living crisis deserve better than this." Although, of course, Labour is still committed to Universal Credit in principle.
Ministers are trumpeting the finding that 90% of people claimed their benefits online after earlier warnings that the system would prove too complicated. But it's worth noting that the only group of claimants currently included are single, non-home owning, non-disabled, childless people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance. As Labour MP Glenda Jackson noted at a recent work and pensions select committee hearing, "The people you are actually testing are a small number, the simplest of cases. How an earth are you going to achieve the evidence that you keep telling us you are going to learn from when the cohort is so narrow and so simple?"
It was in September, in an an excoriating report, that the National Audit Office warned that "throughout the programme the Department has lacked a detailed view of how Universal Credit is meant to work", that the 2017 national roll-out date is in serious doubt, that the department "has not achieved value for money", with £34m of IT programmes written off, that the current IT system "lacks the ability to identify potentially fraudulent claims" and that the DWP repeatedly ignored warnings about the viability of the project.
Duncan Smith recenty told the work and pensions select committee that he was merely following advice from MPs "not to go too fast" but as Labour chair Anne Begg replied, "There's rushing it and there's a snail pace". Having once promised a welfare revolution, it is clear that the government's priority is now damage limitation.
Update: Here's a statement I've been sent by the DWP.