Iain Duncan Smith has been accused of rolling out the government’s flagship welfare programme at a “glacial pace” after he admitted the process would not be completed until 2019.
The work and pensions secretary said in a statement to MPs that nearly 40,000 people had made a claim to universal credit, with 20,000 having completed the process and 17,850 having received payment.
In 2011 he told MPs that one million claimants would be transferred to universal credit – which rolls six benefits into one payment – by 2015.
Labour’s welfare spokeswoman Rachel Reeves said: “There was one revelation at the bottom of the press release put out this morning: an admission by the secretary of state that the delivery of this policy will not be completed until the end of the decade – if then – and with only, and I quote, ‘the bulk’ of claimants on legacy benefits transferred by 2019.”
She asked Duncan Smith to define “bulk” and called on him to explain why he had told the Commons on numerous occasions previously that the transfer to universal credit was on time and within budget.
“We had already been told that at the beginning of next year that universal credit would be rolled out to all jobcentres across the country. This has now turned into one in three jobcentres by the spring but we don’t know which jobcentres and in which part of the country or whether these jobcentres have been informed,” she said.
Duncan Smith said earlier that the original plans for rolling out the welfare changes had been wrong and he had taken the decision two years ago to reset the timings of the project because he recognised that it needed a longer timescale.
The reforms have faced repeated criticism, including from the National Audit Office which said the project had “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance”.
But on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Duncan Smith dismissed claims that the scheme was beset by problems. “You’ve said that it’s constantly dogged,” he said. “That’s not correct. I decided two years ago, having had some outside work look at this, that the wrong way to roll it out, as was originally planned, was to roll it out like tax credits, which as you may remember had been a disaster. They crashed and 400,000 people didn’t get their payments.”
In September Duncan Smith announced to the Conservative conference that he planned to accelerate the national rollout of universal credit to every community in Britain by the end of 2015/16.
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