LIKE so many policies, Universal Credit was driven by the best of intentions – namely a pressing need to simplify Britain’s welfare system and incentivise the long-term jobless to find meaningful employment and be weaned off benefits.
To have done nothing would have been a false economy and former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, appointed Work and Pensions Secretary in 2010, had used his time on the backbenches to set up the Centre for Social Justice so his party was better placed to help the poor.
Yet, as politicians – and claimants – await the scheme’s rollout to cities like Leeds and Sheffield with trepidation, the problems are more practical rather than philosophical.
Like all major reforms, Universal Credit required a major overhaul of the DWP’s IT infrastructure and this Government, like its Labour predecessors, has a poor record when it comes to managingprojects on this scale.
The supposed simplification of benefits also failed to take sufficient account of the fact that each claimant has individual requirements – no two cases are the same – and that recipients have had difficulties contacting staff to rectify miscalculations when they have been made.
Given those concerned are, invariably, families living on the breadline, with no savings or other means to fall back on, the resulting hardship has led to a collective lack of confidence in this policy exacerbated by the fact that Esther McVey is the fourth Work and Pensions Secretary since Mr Duncan Smith resigned two and a half years ago.
Yet, while Ms McVey’s priority is making sure the policy is implemented more humanely at a time when the Government has little political credit in the bank, the challenge facing her many critics is this: what would they actually do and how would they fund their reforms if their intention is to reverse this reform?