The Work and Pensions Committee’s report on Benefit Delivery makes for depressing reading, even if there’s not much in it to surprise us. Errors are increasing. Turn-round targets are being exceeded and effectively ignored. Rule which insist on assessment before payment, or claiming JSA while being rejected for ESA, lead to people being denied their entitlements. The system of review is not working. Underpaid benefits lead to problems of debt and deprivation.
There are two underlying issues. The first is identified by the Committee: the DWP has given priority to reforming benefits and the process of day-to-day delivery has suffered accordingly. The second is a more general fault. Successive ministers, in successive governments, have convinced themselves that better information is the answer to everything. Time and again, snarl-ups happen because the information isn’t forthcoming – mistakes are made, the assessments haven’t been done, the reviews haven’t got round to it, the letters haven’t been opened. Unless and until benefit rules are stripped back, conditions are forgotten and rules are made less sensitive to individual circumstances, this system will be unmanageable. The answer is not better or faster information: it’s less of it.