Little progress

It’s time for another peek inside the workings of universal credit. IDS look away now.

The work and pensions secretary told us about his latest triumph two weeks ago: the start of the national roll-out heralded a new benefits era; it was £600 million under budget; and it was helping people find work quicker. The commentariat seemed to agree: in his final Telegraph column Peter Obornewas gushing; and in The Guardian Matthew d’Ancona wondered if IDS might even be ‘the man to save the Tories’.

However, as I’ve blogged before, universal credit exists in two states at once: triumph and not-triumph. It didn’t take long for the other state to be highlighted: Nigel Keohane pointed out that only 0.3 per cent of claimants are on universal credit so far plus a host of other practical problems; and a claimant who advertised it told the BBC he now thought it was a nightmare.

And today’s progress update from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee concludes that ‘very little progress has been achieved on the frontline’.

Read the rest of this entry »


Overpaid and overclaimed

Too expensive to repeal the bedroom tax? Look what’s happened to housing benefit overpayments.

A damning report published on Tuesday by the Commons public accounts committee reveals that overpayments cost £1.4 billion in 2013/14, the first year of the under-occupation penalty. That is an increase of £420 million since 2010/11.

Of that £1.4 billion, the DWP estimates that £900 million was claimant error, £340 million claimant fraud and £150 million official error. Overpayments since 2000/01 now total a staggering £12.6 billion – and there seem to be no figures on how much of the money that is overpaid is ever recovered.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


10 things about 2014: part 1

The first of a two-part look back at the issues and people that I’ve been blogging about this year.

1) Groundhog Day on the bedroom tax

The year ended as it began, in a welter of parliamentary accusation and counter-accusation that left tenants in England and Wales still having to pay the under-occupation penalty. A Commons debate in December just before the Christmas recess a classic example: Labour called a vote condemning the bedroom tax that didn’t actually change anything; the Lib Dems voted in favour and produced a weasly justification for the decision; and the Conservatives went from claiming it would save £1 million a day in January to £500 million, £1 billion and even £2 billion by the end of the year.

However, there were at least three occasions during the year when it looked as though significant changes would be achieved.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


Time loop

More than one MP compared Wednesday’s debate on the bedroom tax to Groundhog Day and it was not hard to see why.

Labour calls a debate that will not change anything but is designed to expose the Conservatives as callous and the Liberal Democrats as collaborators. The Conservatives (as personified by pictures of a laughing Iain Duncan Smith) duly live up to their billing. The Lib Dems accuse Labour of playing games but end up seeming to vote for something that they were against before they were in favour of it. We’ve been here many times before.

A Labour motion ‘that this House believes…the bedroom tax should be abolished with immediate effect’ was voted down by 298-266. A coalition amendment approved by 300-262 extols its record on cutting the welfare bill but also ‘notes’ that ‘the part of the coalition led by the deputy prime minister has proposed reforms to introduce other formal exemptions to the policy, including where claimants have not been made a reasonable alternative offer of accommodation’.

The net result of all that politics was that nothing much changed yesterday apart from UKIP’s Douglas Carswell voting against the policy he supported as a Conservative. But the sense of déjà vu hanging over the opposition day debate was about much more than just that. Here are some high (or low) lights:

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


Iain Duncan Smith’s cat

In the wake of yet more delays and questions about value for money, I wonder what Erwin Schrödinger would have made of universal credit.

In the Austrian physicist’s famous thought experiment, a cat is placed in a sealed box with a flask of poison and a radioactive substance. The decay of a single atom of the substance during the test will trigger a hammer that breaks the flask and kills the cat. The point is that an external observer cannot know whether or not the atom has decayed, the poison has been released and the cat is dead unless they open the box. Since we cannot know, the cat is both alive and dead.

Schrödinger’s Cat was meant to illustrate a paradox in quantum theory but it could just as easily be applied to Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship welfare reform. It’s not just that universal credit is meant to be simple and transparent but is actually fiendishly complicated and impossible for outsiders to understand. These have become givens over the last couple of years. IDS’s cat also exists in two states at the same time and we cannot know whether it is alive or dead until we open the box or see it in action.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Keeping it in the family

How would the government’s own policies fare under the new families test?

The test published by Iain Duncan Smith will apply to all new laws and policies ‘to make sure they support strong and stable families’. It follows a speech by David Cameron in August promising family impact assessments of all domestic policies as part of a wider speech about family-friendly policy.

As I blogged at the time, Cameron was careful to avoid giving the impression that he only meant traditional families. However, his speech exposed a huge gap between rhetoric and reality on everything from the benefit cap to the bedroom tax, out-of-area homelessness placements to the private rented sector and troubled families to wider welfare reform.

So who better to set out the detail than a secretary of state famed for his ability to believe he is right regardless of the inconvenient facts?

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing 


Double vision

Universal credit came under scrutiny on TV and radio last night and whether you look from above or below things are not looking good.

Dispatches on Channel 4 covered the problems from below by looking at the experience in Warrington, where the job centre was one of the first to pilot the new all-in-one benefit. We heard from a succession of people whose claims were delayed, or processed wrongly or were simply not told what was happening and from Golden Gates Housing Trust on the problems this has caused.

The pilots are of course only meant to cover the simplest cases. However, single people don’t necessarily stay single: Jay moved in with his girlfriend and baby and found himself in a nightmare of delayed payments and rent arrears. ‘Me, my partner and my child will be homeless and you just don’t know what’s going on,’ he said. Jay started off as a fan of universal credit but they survived on coffee and crisps until the problems were sorted out.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


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