Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare masterplan Universal Credit was originally due to apply to all new claimants of out of work benefits from this October but with the project now regarded as doomed in Whitehall, the government has made a dramatic (and under-reported) retreat. It announced today that UC would be introduced in just six “hub jobcentres” – Hammersmith, Rugby, Inverness, Harrogate, Bath and Shotton, alongside the existing four “pathfinders”.
This means that a project that has so far cost £420m will now apply to just ten job centres, less than 1.5 per cent of the total. In addition, the only group of claimants included will be single people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. As Glenda Jackson noted at today’s 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?”
Duncan Smith told the 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.