Study from think tank Institute for Government finds that ‘the dire days are over’ for the technology system supporting benefits reform
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A think tank report has found that, although it took a long time and the endurance of some “dire days”, the Department for Work and Pensions ultimately pursued an approach to delivering the IT system that supports Universal Credit that “has worked well”.
In a study for the Institute for Government titled Universal Credit – Getting it to work better, Nicholas Timmins concludes that, for all the problems that the benefits reform programme continues to suffer, “IT is no longer one of UC’s greatest weaknesses”.
Although the technology platform underpinning the delivery of Universal Credit has endured its share of difficulties and failures, Timmins found that the DWP settled on an effective delivery model.
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“The dire days of the IT system that supports UC are over,” he said. “It has taken a long time to build something that works, and changes are needed to automate some processes that still have to be done manually. But the ‘test and learn’ approach eventually adopted by the DWP has worked well, even if the ability to make changes swiftly has slowed as the caseload has increased – chiefly because any new error that a change introduces will now affect large numbers of claimants, simply because UC is now going to many more people.”
He added: “Furthermore, there is only so much capacity. Desirable changes have to be prioritised and introduced in stages: for example, the introduction of the run-ons of various benefits.”
Timmins, a former Financial Times journalist who is now a senior fellow at the IfG, found that the status of the IT platform is, to an extent, microcosmic of the performance of the UC programme as a whole which, “while far from perfect… is improving”.
“Measures have been taken that reduce, and will further reduce, some of the worst aspects of its early days,” the report said.
Among the additional measures recommended by Timmins was an initial “stepping-stone two-week grant for entirely new claims”.
This could help “ensure that UC gets money fast to the most vulnerable, without burdening them with significant repayments [to be made] out of benefit levels that no-one would describe as generous”.