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News | Published October 26 2018

Public Accounts Committee slams Universal Credit for causing “unacceptable hardship”

A report from the Public Accounts Committee has heavily criticised the government’s proposed Universal Credit system for causing “unacceptable hardship” and critiqued the Department for Work and Pensions for their “dismissive attitude to real-world experience.” The committee, chaired by Meg Hillier MP, has investigated the system twice since 2015 and examined whether the scheme constituted value for money, as well as the extent to which it studied the experiences of claimants. The full report can be found here.

The Committee raised concerns about the transparency of the DWP in 2013, criticising the tendency of the department to only report good news and suppressing or denying any problems that emerged. These concerns were reiterated in 2015 and 2016.

The committee’s report follows an inquiry from the National Audit Office in June which stated that the government could not prove the scheme was value for money, adding that they were unlikely ever to achieve this. It also questioned the success of the system delivery in terms of reducing fraud and saving administrative costs. 

Key Facts
  • Public Accounts Committee has investigated the system twice since 2015
  • Esther McVey announced further delays to the rolling out of Universal Credit
  • Committee slams DWP for "systemic culture of denial and defensiveness"
  • In some areas where UC has been introduced, food bank usage has risen, as have rent arrears for claimants 

Today’s report acknowledges that the Department is responsive to staff feedback about its digital systems, but accused them of having “persistently dismissed evidence that Universal Credit is causing hardship for claimants.” In terms of transparency, the Committee slammed the actions of the DWP, accusing it of refusing “to measure what it does not want to see.”

The Chair of the committee, Meg Hillier MP, stated that “This report provides further damning evidence of a culture of indifference at DWP – a Department disturbingly adrift from the real-world problems of the people it is there to support.”

The DWP were criticised for refusing to listen to this feedback, especially from organisations that are directly supporting claimants, and the report described this approach as a “fortress mentality” which is “failing claimants.”

The announcement by Esther McVey, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, of further delays to the rolling out of Universal Credit also came under fire, with the committee stating that the “slow and measured” approach is “not a solution on its own.” They also detailed the admission from McVey that some claimants will become worse off under the system. 

Looking ahead, the report states that “If the current problems are not addressed and the funding needed is not forthcoming the hardship is likely to continue.” The report highlighted the need for the Department to listen to the “real life experiences of recipients.”

The Chair of the committee, Meg Hillier MP, stated that “This report provides further damning evidence of a culture of indifference at DWP – a Department disturbingly adrift from the real-world problems of the people it is there to support.” Hillier said that “The culture needs to change” due to the DWP’s “apparent determination to turn a deaf ear to concerns of claimants, frontline organisations and Parliament.” Referring to the “desperate hardship” of claimants under the system and the “painfully slow approach” to correcting underpayments, Hillier labelled the DWP as a “Department in denial.” Looking ahead to Monday’s Budget, she announced that “We will be watching Monday’s Budget carefully and, in its formal response to this report, expect Government to take meaningful action on our recommendations.”

Universal Credit has repeatedly been the subject of criticism from politicians and frontline organisations. In some areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out, food bank use has increased and local authorities, and private landlords, have seen an increase in rent arrears among claimants.

The report ended with a list of recommendations. Foremost among these was the need to change the Department’s “systemic culture of denial and defensiveness” as “a matter of urgency.” The report also called for: systems to measure the hardship suffered by claimants; additional support for work coaches; claimants and local authorities; a new empirical model for assessing the system’s success; and a more concrete plan for the migration of claimants to the new system. The final statement urged the Department to respond to these recommendations and “accept the hardship its previous approach has caused.” 

 

Foremost amongst these was the need to change the Department’s “systemic culture of denial and defensiveness” as “a matter of urgency.” The report also called for systems to measure the hardship suffered by claimants, additional support for work coaches, claimants and local authorities, a new empirical model for assessing the system’s success and a more concrete plan for the migration of claimants to the new system.