Iain Duncan Smith speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Is Cameron now afraid to mention Universal Credit?

The PM's piece on welfare reform makes no reference to Iain Duncan Smith's troubled programme.

Aside from his false claim that the number of workless families doubled under Labour (which I've fisked here), the most notable thing about David Cameron's piece on welfare reform in today's Telegraph is what he doesn't mention: Universal Credit. The programme, which aims to replace six of the main benefits and tax credits with a single payment, has long been touted as the means by which the coalition will transform the benefits system and "make work pay", but Cameron doesn't even reference it in passing in his article. 

Given the chaos surrounding the scheme, that's perhaps not surprising. To date, the DWP has written off £40.1m of assets developed for the programme and expects to write down a further £91m by March 2018, prompting the National Audit Office to warn that it has has "not achieved value for money". 

This waste has come in spite of, not because of, the number of people using the new system. As recently as March 2013, it was forecast that 1.7 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by 2015 but as the OBR table below shows, that figure has now been rounded down to zero. According to the DWP, there were just 3,200 people on the benefit at the end of November, 996,800 short of Duncan Smith's original April 2014 target of one million, with only the simplest cases (such as single people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance) taken on. 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?"

By 2015-16, the OBR expects 400,000 people to be claiming Universal Credit, less than 10 per cent of the original target of 4.5 million. Nearly three million (2.9 million) are forecast to be on the system by 2017 but the OBR warns that "given the delays to date, and the scale of migration required in 2016 and 2017, there is clearly a risk that the eventual profile differs significantly from this new assumption". It notes that the government's new migration timetable "has yet to be subjected to full business case approval". 

So great are the obstacles now faced by Universal Credit that many in Whitehall believe it will be put out of its misery after May 2015. As today's FT reports, officials believe that it "must start delivering results by the next election or risk being drastically scaled back or even abandoned". 

Back in May 2010, many on the right claimed that Universal Credit would become one of the government's success stories and a defining part of Cameron's legacy. But nearly four years later, the PM can't even bring himself to mention it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.