The White Paper on Independence for Scotland will be published on Tuesday. The Herald reports, on the basis of a ‘preview’, that it will commit an independent government not to introduce Universal Credit (which is not due to be implemented until 2017, and is behind schedule). The argument for dropping UC is impeccable; its introduction would lock up the benefits administration for years to come, and an independent government would need to cut itself loose if it wants to have any kind of independent social policy.
That also prompts some consideration about the place of Universal Credit in the rest of the UK. The scheme is going to be a beast to administer – Gareth Morgan recently released the results of a straw poll which suggested that most people working in welfare rights don’t think UC will be fully operational within the next ten years. It was supposed to ‘simplify’ the system, but it’s starting off complicated and as the number of rules, exceptions and special provisions grows, it can only get more so. It’s not completely inflexible, but if any government wants to strike out in a different direction in the future – provision for early years, varying support for younger pensioners, protecting owner occupation or managing self-employment – it will have a devil of a job to do it. A prudent government might well come to the conclusion that it would be better off with a different kind of structure. One size can’t fit all, which is why we no longer have Supplementary Benefit, and why Universal Credit won’t last even if it does get off the ground.