Saturday, December 28, 2019

Blame George Osborne for Universal Credit not Iain Duncan Smith

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My Twitter feed is exploding with outrage at Iain Duncan Smith's knighthood. Why should the architect of the hated Universal Credit be honoured?

But that outrage has been turned on the wrong target.

Universal Credit, which takes six benefits to which working-age people may be eligible and merges them into one payment, has long been advocated by welfare experts.

The problem lies not with the system but on the government's unwillingness to provide enough funds to make it work humanely.

Remember that IDS resigned from the cabinet over this issue in 2016.

Here is part of his resignation letter:
Throughout these years, because of the perilous public finances we inherited from the last Labour administration, difficult cuts have been necessary. I have found some of these cuts easier to justify than others but aware of the economic situation and determined to be a team player I have accepted their necessity. 
You are aware that I believe the cuts would have been even fairer to younger families and people of working age if we had been willing to reduce some of the benefits given to better-off pensioners but I have attempted to work within the constraints that you and the chancellor set. 
I have for some time and rather reluctantly come to believe that the latest changes to benefits to the disabled and the context in which they've been made are a compromise too far. While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. They should have instead been part of a wider process to engage others in finding the best way to better focus resources on those most in need. 
I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest. 
Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government's vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced. 
It is therefore with enormous regret that I have decided to resign. 
It is George Osborne who should be the target of Twitter's outrage tonight.

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

Blame George Osborne for inadequate payments to UC claimants.

Blame Iain Duncan Smith for the system by which payments are made.

We like to kid ourselves that we live in a digital world of integrated systems. In reality we have a cobbled together network where the main banks still rely on computer programs written for pounds, shillings and pennies. Universal Credit ostensibly uses a web interface or call centres, but it is just a munge up of paper based legacy systems.

How does a claimant submit a bank statement as part of a UC claim? Email or upload an electronic document? Nope. Copy the electronic document to a USB flash drive or phone, and transfer it to the UC system at a Job Centre? Nope. Print it out, book an appointment with a civil servant, take it to the Job Centre to be scanned and uploaded to the UC system? Correct.

I understand why the designers of the UC system do not wish to expose it to random electronic documents provided by claimants. But if I were building something of its type, I'd provide a sandbox environment to which claimants could submit documents. Almost the first thing I would do is to create a set of processes which provide "safe" electronic documents -- strip out binary coding and deliver marked up text.

It is politically undesirable for UC to make fraudulent or excessive payments. It is unfair (not an expression I use often) that UC payments are slow or unresponsive. I prefer the risk of petty fraud than families not getting their benefits.

The claims process, which requires a wallet of paper documentation, is based on the premise that the claimant and civil servant handling the claim cannot be trusted. The mindset is that of an auditor rather than a service provider. The claims process comes across as security theatre, or of a systems architect demonstrating that the obvious vulnerabilities have been covered.

I am sure that there are criminals robbing UC. You don't solve the problem by treating claimants and civil servants as criminals.