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The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) have delivered a damning blow to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The independent body who scrutinise government spending have said the full roll-out of Universal Credit is now likely to take until 2026. This comes as the government has been forced to relax benefit restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Universal Credit, a benefit designed to replace six “in-work” benefits, started to be roll-out in 2013 following the passing of the Welfare Reform Act 2012. Since then the benefit has been hot with delays, controversy and deaths.
Following today’s Budget, The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) have now said there are going to be further delays.
In their “Economic and Fiscal Outlook” report released yesterday, they have a dedicated section related to the roll-out of Universal Credit. They begin by saying;
“Ever since our December 2014 EFO, we have assumed that the roll-out of UC will take longer than DWP’s own plans assume. In that time, we have always assumed a six-month delay, although its precise terms have changed as the roll-out itself has evolved.”
This is well known, just last month the DWP announced that the planned full roll-out had been pushed back six months to the latter part of 2024. However, the OBR has now looked at everything from the past seven years and decided that 2024 is not even remotely possible. They go on to say;
“In February 2020, DWP Ministers announced that a slower pace of natural migrations to UC meant that 900,000 more cases would need to be migrated by DWP and so the roll-out would take nine months longer than previously assumed – ending in September 2024 rather than December 2023. In terms of our own assumptions, that means shifting from a June 2024 end-point to September 2026”
This is a hammer blow to the government and the DWP who have been adamant that the delay would be no more than six months. With the government losing streams of court cases related to Universal Credit, bad publicity growing month on month, it’s not surprising some people are wondering if the benefit will ever fully be implemented.
The OBR point out that the DWP’s ” test and learn” approach is to blame for the delay.
“It has always been difficult to forecast the UC rollout given the ‘test and learn’ approach being taken, which is naturally more prone to delay than acceleration”
For the past seven years the DWP have been testing an unproven benefit on some of the most vulnerable in UK society. Mistake after mistake has led to delays and court costs, yet still the DWP and ministers dig in.
Unless the government can accept that it has made mistakes, instead of deflecting the blame, claimants will be left in no-mans land. With COVID-19 incoming en-mass, Universal Credit is going to be pushed to it’s limit with an influx of claims by people affected by self isolation and infection.