The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is not a man plagued by self doubt. His ambitious welfare reform programme has plenty of critics but Mr Duncan Smith is clear about what he is doing, why he is doing it and that it will succeed. That was confirmed by his performance on the BBC before lunch when he was interviewed by Andrew Neil for the Sunday Politics.
The delays and IT glitches in the “rolling out” of the introduction of Universal Credit. Only 6,000 are on it so far. By 2016 all new claimants will be on it. By 2018 the “managed migration” of those on the existing benefits it replaces will have been completed.
However the next General Election is in 2015.
Mr Duncan Smith said the following of those areas where the new system was being tested:
Under the pathfinders we are finding people are going to work faster. They are doing more job searches and they are more likely to take work under Universal Credit.
Good news. But how much impact will Universal Credit have had by the time the electorate offers its verdict on the programme – along with the rest of the Government’s record – on May 7th 2015?
We don’t know. However it is reasonable to expect a significant number of people around the country will have experience of the change.
In December the Conservative MP Nigel Mills asked Howard Shiplee who is delivering the scheme on how his projected the numbers to go:
Nigel Mills: How many people do you think will be on UC by the time we get to that first region coming on in a year?
Howard Shiplee: At the moment, I do not prefer to give any numbers. We have to go step by step in the way we have said. Our statisticians will establish what the numbers are and as we go forward we will be able to explain in more detail what that is going to look like.
Nigel Mills: You must have a view surely, by the time you have couples and children on in a year’s time.
Howard Shiplee: The furthest I would go is that it will be into tens of thousands and, importantly, because of the volumes it will start to give us a greater level of accuracy on the statistics that are being produced, which is quite important coming back to a previous question.
Mr Mills has a majority of 536 as the MP for Amber Valley. Naturally he will be concerned to see the lives of those of his constituents languishing on benefits transformed by a change that will simplify the system and reward work. But it would be entirely understandable for him to be also concerned about the political implications of the schedule. Not that there would be any advantage in trying to rush it before the system was working – either for Mr Mills in retaining his job or for his unemployed constituents in finding new jobs.
Even with this perfectly sensible approach of trail and error the rate of progress is such that by the next election there should be enough evidence on Universal Credit to make a judgment.
The next Queen’s Speech may be a bit thin. However when it comes to implementation of some of the laws already passed the Government is just getting into its stride.