The main story in the Budget is about Universal Credit, but the measures taken fall rather short of what would be needed to save the benefit. The Work Allowances are increased for some, but not for people without children – a high proportion of current claimants, because they went on the system first – and one of the main effects of cutting the Work Allowance has been that they have little reason to remain in contact with the scheme as income fluctuates. Most of the administrative problems are untouched, and a slightly slower rollout (still continuing, but slowing by a few months) is not going to make much difference to them.
The other part of the Great Plan, which is less noticeable, is a declaration of the intention to continue with the abolition of Housing Benefit by moving to a Housing Credit within the Pension Credit system. This provision was set up rather a long time ago, in 2011 – I have to admit I’d forgotten about it – and it will take a long time, now planned for late 2023, to be fully implemented. At the time the government suggested, bizarrely, that combining Housing Benefit into Pension Credit should improve takeup. It will probably have the opposite effect. Housing Benefit is more effectively accessed than PC; that’s probably true because social landlords steer their tenants towards an application, and they won’t be able to do the same with Pension Credit.
There’s another issue besides. We’ve seen in Universal Credit that the effect of transferring Housing Benefit back to the DWP has been to create confusion: DWP officers don’t necessarily know about housing (for example, what a tenancy is) or what they need to do. (We had the same problem in reverse when the DHSS initially transferred responsibility for rent to local authorities in 1982.) Killing off Housing Benefit will also finally kill off the expertise of local departments that learned the hard way how to make the system operate despite its arcane rules.