A report in the Mirror suggests that the business case for Universal Credit has been set back and won’t now be fully considered until the end of 2017. There are supposed to be three stages in the preparation of a business case, before funds are spent on a project. The first stage, the Strategic Outline Business Case, wasn’t passed until a year ago. That’s four years after work started and eighteen months after the programme was “reset” or started again from scratch. The details of the Strategic Outline have still not been fully published, but several documents refer to them. The second stage, still to come, is the Outline Business Case; the final third stage, the final Business Case, is supposed to be the point at which the programme starts. But there were 141,000 claimants receiving Universal Credit in October 2015, and the administrative expenses since 2010 must now be approaching £2 billon – they are supposed to reach £15.85 billion by 2021.
I put in a Freedom of Information request earlier this month to the Treasury, asking for the schedule for consideration of the remaining elements of the Business Case. The Mirror report says this:
With no sign of approval by November, both Spicker and Field requested updates from the Government on the policy, but was told the business case was “with Treasury ministers for approval”.
Actually, I haven’t received a reply yet – I assume this means to say that Frank Field has, and the date we should be looking at is two years away. The details we have of the Strategic Outline case implied that Universal Credit’s costs should be offset by its immense social benefits, including reduced worklessness, higher takeup and reduced fraud. This claim will have to be reconsidered: if the system hasn’t been implemented as planned, the supposed benefits can’t be realised either.