Iain Duncan Smith's universal credit roll-out has come under repeated fire. Photo: Getty
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DWP accused of hiding universal credit failings: why is IDS still in a job?

Iain Duncan Smith is under further scrutiny as the public accounts committee accuses his department of obscuring problems with the universal credit scheme.

During the most recent Downing Street reshuffle, commentators and politicians alike were rather surprised at the beleaguered Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, retaining his position. Not only is it well known around Westminster that the Chancellor George Osborne has clashed with the minister, but it was also widely thought that the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions’ proposed scheme to shake up the welfare system, universal credit, would do for Duncan Smith.

And it seems problems with the scheme and its delivery are never-ending. Only today, parliament’s public spending watchdog, the public accounts committee, has accused ministers at the department of hiding the extent of universal credit’s problems.

The committee of MPs, chaired by Margaret Hodge, has claimed that a new category devised by the department for the scheme of “resetting” projects may have been a way to shield the scheme’s problems from scrutiny. A new rating called “reset” was introduced and applied solely to a report in 2013/14 about the scheme, and appears to have been created especially for the new programme, according to the committee.

According to the Guardian, Hodge said: “We are particularly concerned that the decision to award a 'reset' rating to the universal credit project may have been an attempt to keep information secret and prevent scrutiny.”

In response to the committee’s concerns, the chief executive of the Major Projects Authority – which is responsible for assessing the scheme’s delivery – John Manzoni said: “I would say we do not invent new categories lightly or willy-nilly. In fact, this one of course had significant ministerial discussion and in fact was ultimately a ministerial and a government agreement to say, ‘That is what we are going to call it’.”

It’s the suggestion that DWP ministers decided that this new category would be applied to rate the scheme that has put Duncan Smith in the firing line that is so problematic. It is the set-piece of his radical welfare reform programme, merging multiple benefits into one single monthly household payment to the claimant. However, since the department began working on it three years ago, it has been subject to repeated scrutiny due to its repeated delays, spiralling cost, and massive waste from the cost of IT problems.

I expect Duncan Smith still has his job because he is still working on rolling out the scheme – once it’s done, and the unpopularity of his department is compounded, he will become expendable to David Cameron, as happened with former health secretary Andrew Lansley and his department's controversial NHS reforms. There’s no reason to burden a fresh cabinet minister with a bad reputation for the ongoing mess of their predecessor.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Nobody's bargaining chips: How EU citizens are fighting back against Theresa May

Immigration could spike after Brexit, the Home Affairs select committee warned. 

In early July, EU citizens living in Scotland received some post from the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The letters stated: “The immediate status of EU nationals living in Scotland has not changed and you retain all the same rights to live and to work here. I believe those rights for the longer term should be guaranteed immediately.”

The letters were appreciated. One Polish woman living on a remote Scottish island posted on social media: “Scottish Government got me all emotional yesterday.”

In reality, though, Sturgeon does not have the power to let EU citizens stay. That rests with the UK Government. The new prime minister, Theresa May, stood out during the Tory leadership contest for her refusal to guarantee the rights of EU citizens. Instead, she told Robert Peston: “As part of the [Brexit] negotiation we will need to look at this question of people who are here in the UK from the EU.”

As Home secretary in an EU member state, May took a hard line on immigration.  As PM in Brexit Britain, she has more powers than ever. 

In theory, this kind of posturing could work. A steely May can use the spectre of mass deportations to force a hostile Spain and France to guarantee the rights of British expat retirees. Perhaps she can also batter in the now-locked door to the single market. 

But the attempt to use EU citizens as bargaining chips may backfire. The Home Affairs select committee warned that continued policy vagueness could lead to a surge in immigration – the last thing May wants. EU citizens, after all, are aware of how British immigration policy works and understand that it's easier to turn someone back at the border than deport them when they've set up roots.

The report noted: “Past experience has shown that previous attempts to tighten immigration rules have led to a spike in immigration prior to the rules coming into force.”

It recommended that if the Government wants to avoid a surge in applications, it must choose an effective cut-off date for the old rules, whether that is 23 June, the date Article 50 is triggered, or the date the UK finally leaves the EU.

Meanwhile, EU citizens, many of whom have spent decades in the UK, are pursuing tactics of their own. UK immigration forms are busy with chatter of UK-based EU citizens urging one another to "get your DCPR" - document certifying permanent residence - and other paperwork to protect their status. More than 1,000 have joined a Facebook group to discuss the impact of the referendum, with hot topics including dual nationality and petitions for a faster naturalisation process. British citizens with foreign spouses are trying to make the most of the "Surinder Singh" loophole, which allows foreign spouses to bypass usual immigration procedures if their British partner is based in another EU country. 

Jakub, a classical musician originally from Poland, is already thinking of how he can stay in the UK, where there are job opportunities for musicians. 

But he worries that although he has spent half a decade in the UK, a brief spell two years ago back in Poland may jeopardise his situation.“I feel a new fear,” he said. “I am not sure what will happen next.”