I would heartily recommend everyone to read the uncorrected House of Commons Oral Evidence taken before the Work and Pensions Committee on Universal Credit on Monday 17 September 2012 by Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud, if only to read how politicians can avoid giving a straight answer to some very straight questions (and get away with it)! Glenda Jackson can also be read playing a splendid role questionning the two aforementioned Tory apologists, along with Dame Anne Begg (who according to this week’s New Statesman had to put up with Iain Duncan Smith leaning obliviously on the back of her wheelchair in the Commons bar recently).
For local authorities there is no good news as the answers received by Ms Jackson reveal and they now appear to be ‘charitable organisations':
“Q216 Glenda Jackson: Will the funding be there to assist local authorities?
Lord Freud: Clearly, it is premature to say exactly what kind of funding is required.
Q217 Glenda Jackson: We know the cuts they are having to carry.
Lord Freud: We have got funds to introduce Universal Credit. We are not concerned about who undertakes particular endeavours, and we can pay that on a neutral basis, so, in the sense that, yes, we do have funding for it.
Q218 Chair: My understanding was that a large chunk of the £2 billion-or £3 billion; there seemed to be some argument in the debate last Tuesday-that was set aside to help introduce Universal Credit would go on transitional protection for those whose income would lose out, rather than in the mechanics of it.
Mr Duncan Smith: The mechanics are part of all of that. The whole point that we have been talking about is getting people online. All those processes are part of what we have to do. We are discussing with local government about how that lies and where that sits. There are other charitable organisations we are talking to.”
And then it gets worse –
“Lord Freud: No. Let me just go through that. What we are transferring to local authorities is a whole range of responsibilities, where they can make better judgments on their local requirements: elements of the Social Fund; the decisions on DHPs, which are very substantial-next year, when you add them all up, DHPs are £165 million; and decisions on direct payments.
Q227 Chair: That just confuses the landscape. The whole point of Universal Credit, and the reason that you get people like me saying that in principle this was a good idea was it was meant to be that single working-age benefit for those who were on means-tested benefit.
Lord Freud: And it is.
Chair: But it is not.
Lord Freud: It is.
Q228 Chair: It was going to be, but then council tax went off to the local authority and the Social Fund went off-”
And shortly after that they give up on that strand…but so it goes on, and on. I’m not sure I’m much clearer about what’s happening with UC, so I look forward to the edited (‘corrected’) highlights in due course from the Committee and congratulate the members of it again on some thorough questioning.