Under the cover of George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, Iain Duncan Smith has announced yet another retreat on Universal Credit. As recently as September, the Work and Pensions Secretary insisted that all benefit claimants would be transferred to the new system by 2017, but today he finally admitted that this deadline would be missed. At least 700,000 people receiving Employment and Support Allowance will not be moved until after this date.
For those familiar with the chaotic implementation of Universal Credit, this will come as no surprise. As I noted on Tuesday, DWP figures show that just 2,150 were claiming the payment at the end of September, 997,850 short of the original April 2014 target of one million (since downgraded to 184,000, a target that will also not be met).
By trying to bury more bad news today, Duncan Smith has guaranteed terrible write-ups from the press (who, as Helen says, will feel it’s “a point of professional pride” to cover the story extensively) and has provided Labour with an attack line on what could be a difficult day for the opposition. Here’s Rachel Reeves’s response: “Iain Duncan Smith has today admitted what everyone has known for months – that Universal Credit is massively behind schedule. But just a couple of weeks ago he was telling Parliament the Government would ‘roll out Universal Credit on the plan and programme already set out’.
“It’s clear that David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have completely failed to get to grips with their flagship welfare reform and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money have been written off as a result. Families facing a cost-of-living crisis deserve better than this.”