The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report that’s highly critical of the government and its Universal Credit system that has been a central pillar of its welfare reforms of recent years.
Among the potentially damaging contentions in the NAO’s publication is the claim that Universal Credit has not yet delivered value for money for taxpayers and may never do so.
The audit office is also unconvinced that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will ever be able to accurately assess whether or not its new benefits system is achieving the overarching goal of getting more people into work.
The rollout of the Universal Credit system has been beset by problems with late payments and recipients have often been left waiting for weeks for payments they are urgently in need of.
According to the NAO’s report, roughly one in four new claims made via the Universal Credit system led to late payments, with those payments delayed on average by four weeks.
However, there were more severe problems with late payments at certain times last year, with 40 per cent of people receiving late payments between January and October 2017 having been forced to wait 11 weeks or longer.
Late payments of benefits have become a major problem for many thousands of people around the UK, with the DWP generally expecting prospective credit recipients to have enough money to cope with delays.
The NAO’s report suggests that most recipients struggle to cope with any delays and many have found themselves heading into debt and serious financial hardship as a direct consequence of them.
Reliance of foodbanks is understood to have increased significantly in many of the areas in which the Universal Credit system has been rolled out.
Around four in 10 Universal Credit recipients polled by the NAO reported experiencing financial difficulties as a result of their engagements with the system.
“The DWP has kept pushing the Universal Credit rollout forward through a series of problems. We recognise both its determination and commitment, and that there is really no practical choice but to keep on keeping on with the rollout,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO.
“We don’t think the DWP has shown the same commitment to listening and responding to the hardship faced by claimants.”
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Politicians planning to stand in the upcoming Holyrood elections are being urged to take action to help tackle key issues relating to poverty among families across Scotland.
The number of Scots struggling to keep a roof over their heads is sure to rise in the coming months as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt.
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