I have to confess to a weakness for fantasy fiction, but there are times when the willing suspension of disbelief doesn’t come easily. The DWP’s Full Business Case for UC, Neil Couling’s entry for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, scores well for imagination but lacks conviction.
There’s been a fairly dedicated attempt to avoid direct comparison with the equally unbelievable business case published in 2014. At that time, the DWP was claiming that Universal Credit would bring benefits of £35.9 billion, consisting of £9.1 bn for reduced worklessness, £21.1 bn in distributional improvements, higher takeup and entitlement, £1.5 bn in reduced fraud and error, £3.7 bn in reduced admin costs, and £0.5 bn in improved health. Now the claim is that UC will gain £24.5 bn in people choosing to work more, £10.5 bn in distributional improvements, and £9.1 billion in reduced fraud and error.
We’re being asked to believe that a system that has greatly reduced work allowances, and gets withdrawn much more rapidly than originally envisaged, will do vastly more to get people into work than was claimed last time. And (given that the error figures have jumped across categories) we’re also supposed to believe that savings on fraud are six times greater than they were before, at a time when all the indications are that UC is more vulnerable to fraud than the previous system was. What is supposed to make this plausible?