The Labour Party has promised to put the brakes on the deeply troubled Universal Credit system for three months if it gets into government next year.
During that time, shadow work and pensions minister Rachel Reeves said that Labour would urge the National Audit Office to conduct a review of the lumpen welfare reform programme. The one-dole-to-rule-them-all scheme is currently being steered – its critics might say into the ground – by Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith.
Last month, the government's Major Projects Authority confirmed that Universal Credit was in such a sorry state that it was not even worthy of being flagged with a "red" warning any more. Instead it was given the first ever "reset" label by the MPA.
The huge benefits reform programme, which is expected to eventually cost billions of pounds of taxpayer money, has been riddled with IT problems from its inception. Roughly £34m has been wasted to date on the technology initially brought in to underpin Universal Credit.
Reeves - who has been punting her Universal Credit message to various news outlets over the last few days - told LabourList:
Labour’s review and the National Audit Office’s work will enable an incoming government, under Ed Miliband’s leadership, to take hard-headed decisions about whether Universal Credit can be rescued.
In reality, though, it should not take another ten months to bring in the National Audit Office. In the interests of taxpayers, David Cameron should call them in today. Then, we can finally get a grip of this failing programme.
As of 31 March this year, the DWP said it had just 5,610 claimants signing up to Universal Credit. Duncan Smith had claimed that one million people would be on the system by April 2014.
But on Monday, IDS continued to insist that his loathed welfare reform package to cut and shut six different claims into one system was on schedule.
The cabinet minister told MPs:
Universal credit is on track to roll out against the timetable set out last year. The claimant commitment is in place across all jobcentres. Universal credit is live in 14 sites, and from today further expansion is under way across the north-west, with couples and families joining at a later stage. Based on the case load projections, there are, at the moment, around 11,000 people making those claims on universal credit.
"We hit a bump," was the most IDS could confess to Parliament about the shambolic deployment of Universal Credit. ®