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Universal credit savaged by public spending watchdog

The government’s ambitious change to the benefits system, universal credit, fails to deliver promised financial savings or employment benefits and leaves thousands of vulnerable claimants in hardship, according to the public spending watchdog.

The National Audit Office effectively demolishes ministerial claims for universal credit, concluding that the much-delayed flagship welfare programme may end up costing more than the benefit system it replaces, cannot prove it helps more claimants into work and is unlikely to ever deliver value for money.

The NAO report paints a damning picture of a system that despite more than £1bn in investment, eight years in development and a much hyped digital-only approach to transforming welfare, is still in many respects unwieldy, inefficient and reliant on basic, manual processes.

Although £2bn has been spent on creating and running universal credit, IT and contractor problems mean it is now running six years behind schedule. While an estimated 8 million people are expected to be on the benefit by the time it is fully rolled out in 2023, just 850,000 are presently claiming it.

Despite evidence that universal credit is failing to deliver on its core promises, the NAO concludes that it is too complex and would cost too much to halt the programme at this stage. “There is really no practical choice but to keep on keeping on with the rollout,” said Morse.

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