Coffee House

Guinea-pigging, carpets and foreign language courses: the universal credit fog

3 February 2014

9:17 PM

3 February 2014

9:17 PM

You can tell how little someone respects and admires someone by the number of times they say ‘with respect’. Based on the number of times Iain Duncan Smith and Robert Devereux used that phrase in today’s Work and Pensions Select Committee, relations have really hit rock bottom between DWP and the MPs scrutinising the department.

Just to underline his irritation at some of the questions, IDS told Glenda Jackson that he had ‘no idea what you are asking’ and that to understand her, he would have to take a foreign language course. Devereux snapped that she was criticising him for answering the question she’d set, and repeatedly complained that the committee was ‘going round in circles’. Debbie Abrahams asked questions, let IDS utter a few syllables, and then bellowed ‘can I move on now minister, thank you very much’. Jackson herself told the room she was ‘in a fog’. And IDS managed to confuse everyone from the outset: as he was denying that the DWP accounts had been ‘swept under the carpet’, he told the committee that if this had been the case, he too would be under the carpet. Later, he retorted to one member: ‘I don’t understand how you define a pilot different from what you call “guinea-pigging”.’ Still, the committee didn’t cover lobster-potting or jam jars, as it did last time round.


What made matters worse was that during the section on universal credit, the select committee MPs and the DWP witnesses seemed to be talking about two different programmes. If you listen to the MPs, the programme has already flopped. If you listen to the DWP crowd, it’s on its way and moving on from the troubles of last year.

Most ministers – even those who have been very supportive of universal credit – are nervous about the project. But there is some optimism that things have indeed moved on from the darker days that the reports from the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee dealt with. IDS and Devereux apparently get on much better now, too: partly because the number of voices calling for the Permanent Secretary’s head shocked him into paying greater attention to universal credit rather than treating it as just another project. But then again, today we found out that Howard Shiplee, appointed to rescue the project, has been on long-term sick leave. So it looks as though we’re destined to stay in the fog over universal credit for a little while longer.

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Show comments
  • Hokanson Carpet

    But you may want to consider a better carpet for high traffic areas such as halls and main living areas.

  • brianw100

    1. Universal Credit: IT mega-project
    2. BBC Digital Media Initiative IT mega-project

    These two dinosaur projects have much in common – both over-bloated, over-long, expensive and with no practical output to show for the effort.

    … and Universal Credit may be stepping a similar path to disaster as the BBC Digital Media Initiative:

    See here:


  • drydamol1


    It’s very difficult to appreciate actually what the Tory
    Aim is .Progression within society is normally expected as one gets older .How
    can the Tories justify this with another £100 billion worth of Benefit Cuts
    ,that is cutting the Welfare Bill in Half .Obviously with the Growth in
    Population there is expected there will be more people who become Ill ,are Disabled
    and become Vulnerable .

    The Tories introduced Workfare , Atos Assessments ,Poll Tax and are now introducing National
    Conscription (second reading 28th Feb 2014) .Years ago Government
    abolished the Slave Trade , Hitler’s Eugenics Programme was reviled , We threw
    out the Poll Tax and Nation Service ended in 1960 .They pontificate about not
    wanting State Control and prefer Privatisation which leaves us in the hands of
    profiteers and we have no redress .

    It looks like the Tory Policy Think Tank is sinking and
    not thinking or returning to Victorian Values whereby we Doff our caps to those
    of the upper class .National Conscription is a Tory title to cover many avenues
    , 18-26-year-olds will be expected to participate in Military or Charitable
    service for a period of one year .Our Military after all the redundancies and
    Care Work on the cheap to be undertaken by semi-literate couch potatoes who
    thinks a firing pin or putting someone on the cammode is a new Xbox game .

  • Rockin Ron

    I believe (but don’t know) that IDS is a decent man. However, the switchover to Universal Credit will destroy him before or after the election. This project has the stink of failure emanating from it and even its supporters are not that confident about delivery anymore.

  • asalord

    The universal credit fiasco: another waste of Scotland’s oil revenue.

  • Kitty MLB

    Indeed we have been wandering around in the thick incompetent and
    suffocating Dickensian fog of socialist ideal for long enough.
    The fog will clear when the sunlight comes out for that is the
    best disinfectant ( apologies, that was cringeworthy)
    These benefit reforms are urgently needed, but if made to difficult to
    understand, or too slow they will be treated in the same way as Andrew Lansley’s
    much needed health reforms.
    This wretched coalition, all talk and no action, nothing but white noise-
    although I am still impressed with Michael Gove ( needed to separate that man)

  • artemis in france

    All change produces upheaval and this will inevitably result in feathers being ruffled. IDS is fortunately a stubborn man who is more on top of his brief than many ministers, not just in this administration, but in many before it. He may seem a little arrogant at times but hé is speaking with beneft of knowledge and experience. He is a crusader and so sometimes may drift off course but hé is wedded to his task and as long as hé is kept in power will continue his long, slow fight to regularise the benefits system. He also hopes to make the lives of the majority of UK `citizens better and, horrible word, fairer. The sélect committee is no doubt full of those who are ideologically opposed to him and his aims but his intelligence will ensure that if they do happen to spot an anomaly hé won’t rest until it is corrected. In short hé is a man of principle.

  • Anita Bellows

    A very good question was to ask how to make a pilot without making guinea pigs of people. The question has not been answered

    • IanH

      It doesn’t need answering, it’s a stupid question

  • HookesLaw

    When will you realise that select committees are all about MPs grandstanding for the TV cameras?

  • toco10

    Welfare benefits reform is working and it took a huge piece of determination and courage by IDS to bring this about.Glenda Jackson,actress and MP for Red Ed’s leafy Hampstead says it all for Labour luvvies.

    • Kitty MLB

      I totally deplore that Glenda Jackson woman,
      she speaks in parliament like she is still on the stage.
      As well as her face tends to be twisted with Leftie hatred and envy- ghastly woman.

  • Baron

    The fog would clear if IDS did something more radical, disbanded the existing set-up, move the right to dispense welfare to the lowest level of government, the parish council (or the equivalent in areas without them), ask the councils to set up Welfare committees of local voters chaired by a magistrate, and with a representative of the local charities that in many areas make enough money in their retail shops to cater for a chnk of the local welfare needs. If the need exceeded whatever the charities retail outlets chipped in (instead of spending the cash on themselves or enriching few foreign despots), the committee would request the central Government for additional money. The names of those getting help should not be published, but every tax-rate payer should be allowed to inspect it.

    • IanH

      You are aware of course that the only interest your local councils have is in ripping of the public to fill a big hole in their pension funds. You are seriously deluded if you think they are there to serve the public. The notion of giving them access to anymore funds to distribute as they see best is more than scary.

      • Baron

        Unless we shift the dispensing of Welfare money to the front line the statute backed philanthropy will keep on growing until it bankrupts all of us. Under the IDS scheme the max may indeed stop at £27,000 per unit, or even lower, but the number of those who’ll get it will continue to increase. We humans are always looking for the least demanding way of obtaining sustenance and roof over the head.

    • Mynydd

      Wasn’t this the way it worked in the 17/18th centuries.

      • Baron

        Quite, Mynydd, and the evidence of it may also be found in some churches on plaques showing the endowments by rich locals. The funding wasn’t sufficient in most cases, but the principle of it is right: the neighbors, people on the spot know best who needs what, a bundle of money, kick in the backside, re-training.

    • AtMyDeskToday

      “dispense welfare to the lowest level of government”

      A laudable aim, the difficulty is that until post-WW2 local authorities were exactly that, local and had authority, but no more. They are just another arm of central government. The UK must be about the most centralised state in the world. Every aspect of local life is dictated from London, the causes of the Somerset floods being a prime example of incompetence though ignorance of local conditions. Radical does not adequately describe what is needed.

      • Baron

        An excellent observation, AtMyDeskToday.

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