The introduction of Universal Credit is causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help according to a report by the Government’s public accounts committee.
The report says that while the Department is responsive to feedback on its digital systems from staff, it has persistently dismissed evidence that Universal Credit is causing hardship for claimants and additional burdens for local organisations, and refuses to measure what it does not want to see.
In 2013 this Committee raised concerns about the Department’s culture of reporting good news and denying problems that emerge. In further reports in 2015 and 2016 the Committee warned about the Department’s continued lack of transparency.
It is hugely regrettable that the Department has not heeded these warnings. Instead of listening to organisations on the frontline supporting claimants, the Department has continued with its fortress mentality and as a result is failing claimants who struggle to adapt to the way Universal Credit works.
The recent announcement by the SoS of a further delay and a “slow and measured” approach to the rollout is not a solution on its own and the SoS has admitted that some claimants will be worse off under UC.
If the current problems are not addressed and the funding needed is not forthcoming the hardship is likely to continue. The Department needs to work with third-party organisations to help shape the new programme in light of the real-life experiences of recipients.
Chair Meg Hillier MP said “This report provides further damning evidence of a culture of indifference at DWP – a Department disturbingly adrift from the real-world problems of the people it is there to support. Its apparent determination to turn a deaf ear to the concerns of claimants, frontline organisations and Parliament is of real concern. The culture needs to change.”
“A Department in denial cannot learn from its mistakes and take the action necessary to address the desperate hardship suffered by many Universal Credit claimants. DWP’s dismissive attitude points to a troubling pattern of behaviour in the Department – something highlighted by our recent report on errors in Employment and Support Allowance. The Department’s painfully slow approach to correcting underpayments, years after it accepted responsibility, indicated weaknesses at the highest levels of management.
“As a priority, the Department must demonstrate a tangible shift in the way it listens and responds to feedback and evidence. Meanwhile, the Government’s recent announcement of changes to the roll-out of Universal Credit offers no guarantee that the problems facing claimants will be resolved.”
“We will be watching Monday’s Budget carefully and, in its formal response to this report, expect Government to take meaningful action on our recommendations.”