What is Universal Credit costing?

The redoutable Computer Weekly offers a preliminary insight into some of the papers that the DWP has being trying not to release, concerning the early plans for Universal Credit. It’s not a great surprise to discover that the DWP underestimated the difficulty of the project and the time it would take. But I was more surprised to read the DWP’s defence, right at the end of the article:

“Universal Credit is one of the most radical redesigns of the welfare system this country has ever seen and it is currently running smoothly in over 50% of Jobcentres across the country with an average of 6,500 claims a week.”

That figure, 6,500 a week, prompts two considerations.  The first is that it should mount up to about 340,000 over a year.  That’s much faster than the process has been up to now, but it’s still slower than anything which has been signalled formally, and it doesn’t yet include most potential types of case; all new claimants are supposed to be brought into the scheme in 2016.  If we are looking at a twenty year plan for development, we ought to be told.   The second is that the figure of 6,500 a week needs to be set against the estimate of £15.84 billion in administrative costs by 2021.   It’s impossible, without a business case and budget, to tell how much of that is planned to be spent this year, but it’s not implausible to suppose that if this year’s admin were to cost £2 billion, the administrative cost per case could be £6000 a head, potentially as much as the benefit paid.  That’s probably wrong, but I really shouldn’t have to guess.  Tell us what the real cost is.

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