I’ve just been listening to an outstanding 30-minute report on Universal Credit, broadcast last Thursday but available on Iplayer. (The BBC tends to remove Iplayer programmes rapidly, but as this is a factual programme I hope they’ll leave it up for a while to come; currently the site says the broadcast will be available until the year 2099. )
The programme’s main focus is about the process of implementation – the development of the computer processes and the pilots. I suspect that many people, hearing it, will think it demonstrates what can happen to a good idea when the computer boffins lure it down a dark alley and set about it. I see things differently. Universal Credit is, and always was, a bad idea. The aspiration is unrealistic; the design is defective. Every decision that has been made about the structure of the benefit adds to its complexity and moves further away from its unachievable original aims. The belief that every problem could be settled by an omniscient computer programme was always deluded. As the awful truth has sunk in, the people charged with delivering the system have realised that there was no way of doing what they had been charged to do. Everything else follows from that.