Under-fire Universal Credit reform could now be 'on right track', says report


Universal Credit has been "turned around from the brink of disaster" and "may eventually work", according to a new report.

The Government's flagship welfare reform policy which aims to replace a series of individual benefits with a single monthly payment has been widely criticised over its delayed roll out and cost.

But a report from the Institute for Government (IFG) concludes that the programme is now on the right track.

Universal Credit was savaged by the National Audit Office in 2013.

It said the programme had suffered from weak management and poor governance.

IFG senior research fellow Nicholas Timmins argues that it is now heading in the right direction.

"It is far too soon to tell whether Universal Credit will finally do the business," he said.

"There are elements of the policy that are still not entirely clear and others that may well need changing.

"Huge challenges remain - not just taking on new claims but transferring the many millions on existing benefits and tax credits, including some of the most vulnerable on Employment and Support Allowance. Its generosity has repeatedly been cut.

"But the lessons from how it has been turned around from the brink of disaster to something that may eventually work could prove valuable for other government projects.

"And crucially, it now has a timetable that may finally prove realistic."

Thousands of people are now receiving Universal Credit but the transfer of all existing benefits claimants on to the new system is not expected to be completed until 2022 - later than originally planned.

Emma Norris, IFG programme director, said the Universal Credit programme "underlines the importance of thorough planning".

She said: "It also demonstrates the importance of having enough capacity to deliver - when Universal Credit began, the Department for Work and Pensions had 12 other major change programmes on its books and staff numbers were being reduced.

"And finally, it shows the importance of policy, operational and technical people working together from the very start. Policies can't be created in a vacuum."

Minister for welfare reform Lord Freud said: "As this report acknowledges, the old welfare system was failing too many people. That's why we introduced Universal Credit - it's a transformational reform, which is fundamentally changing welfare for the better.

"Universal Credit is helping people across the country to improve their lives and we're determined to ensure this positive momentum continues."