Iain Duncan Smith denies £2.4bn welfare 'disaster'
Report offers damning assessment of IT system behind Universal Credit project, but minister says it's fixed
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH has "furiously defended" his flagship welfare reform today after a damning report outlined serious problems with the IT system that underpins it.
Labour branded the Work and Pensions Secretary's Universal Credit scheme a "£2.4bn disaster" after the National Audit Office report uncovered a litany of problems with the computer systems that will support and deliver it. The report says the £425 million IT system at the heart of the project has "limited functionality" and accuses civil servants of wasting £34 million on IT projects, the Evening Standard reports.
The report said ministers launched the Universal Welfare project without knowing how it would work, and still had no complete understanding of how the IT system would function. Meanwhile, the development team had nurtured a "fortress culture" that only allowed good news about progress.
Duncan Smith acknowledged the project had faced "deep" problems, but blamed civil servants for the blunders and insisted the flaws in the IT system had been fixed.
"This is not an IT disaster, this will be delivered in time and on budget," he told the BBC today. "I am not and will not be spending a penny more than we originally planned. I hope and believe that with the way that we've changed this, we will actually be more efficient in delivering this and save the taxpayer further money."
Under the universal credit plans, six means-tested benefits - jobseeker's allowance, employment support allowance, housing benefit, working tax credit, income support and child tax credit – will be combined into a single payment. Ministers insist the new system will ensure claimants are always better off in employment and will reduce fraud.
The Universal Credit IT system is not the first complex government computer project to get into trouble and is unlikely to be the last. A report published in 2008 revealed that almost every government department had shelved a major IT project in the previous five years at a total cost to taxpayers of £274 million.
Some major IT projects die a slow death. The ambitious £12.7bn scheme to create a computerised patient record system across the entire NHS is one example. Ministers decided to abandon the project in September 2011 after "years of delays, technical difficulties, contractual disputes and rising costs", says The Guardian.
But a Department of Work and Pensions spokesman was upbeat about the progress of the Universal Credit IT project. He pointed out that the Audit Office had not checked on its progress since April and a new management team installed by the minister was making "real progress". ·