A flurry of reports about delays and problems with the system have followed the announcement that Universal Credit will be extended to six new areas in October. The original plan was that UC would be required for all new claimants by then. Most of this is old news (I covered many of these issues in March – click on the tag ‘Universal Credit’ to bring up a few of the stories). Possibly the most striking information is that the roll-out will be confined to the very limited numbers of single jobless claimants who have been the target of the initial pilots. Dame Anne Begg, for the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, has been critical of the ‘snail’s pace’ of the reform; I welcomed the first delays, and I have to say that this further delay comes as a relief. There’s not much to say in favour of jeopardising the incomes and security of several million people.
The delays do however raise the question of whether the final date of 2017 is still feasible – if it ever was. Between now and then, the DWP would need to get a workable system in place for a wide range of groups – couples (there’s the process of joint application still to resolve), families with children, people with disabilities, tenants, employees, self-employed people, people with multiple jobs, people moving in and out of hospital, people who are sick while unemployed, expectant and new mothers, owner occupiers, claimants with incomes from pensions, homeless people and so on. Even if the system manages to catch up with every one of those groups, each of which poses distinct problems for the administration and probably worse for claimants, the reach of the system still has to extend to eight and half million people. The idea that this can all be settled in four years seems fanciful. And there will be, of course, an election in the interim.