Here’s a little taster from Iain dungcan (no…not a spelling mistake) Smiths appearance at todays Work and Pension Committee. It started at 4.30pm ish so is still ongoing. Apparantly, IDS said “with respect” to the committee 5 times so far…. which as we all know, means he’s got NO RESPECT at all.
I can’t get my head round some of these stats …. Nick from iLegal, if you’re reading this can you take a look? I couldn’t find anything to support this comment by IDS;
“Since the coalition came to power, the level of in-work poverty has been relatively stable. But there was a 500,000 increase while Labour was in power”.
I think he’s starting to show himself in his true colours judging by some of these responses to questioning:-
- Duncan Smith says he does not understand the difference between a pilot, which is what the DWP has been doing, and treating people as guinea pigs, which is what Gilmore accused him of doing. (when is a pilot not a pilot? Why when it’s a guinea pig of course :-))
- Q: So press reports of constant disagreement are wrong? (Teresa Pearce LAB)Duncan Smith says they are “ludicrous”. The DWP and the Cabinet Office are working closely together.
- Iain Duncan Smith says he has no idea what Glenda Jackson is asking. It sounds as if she is speaking a foreign language, he says.(never mind Glenda, at least you were successful in your former career which is more than can be said for that odious little sh*t
- Duncan Smith says the committee cannot run the department. (well you can be sure they’d do a better job!) and;
- He is not obliged to tell the committee everything, he says. (hmmm he thinks he’s not obliged to tell anyone anything doesn’t he. Well… lets hope the electorate tell him what they think at the next election.)
Q; Why has the estimate for the amount you will save from the benefits cap fallen?
Duncan Smith says 19,000 were in households that would have been capped, but are now not applying for benefits. He thinks they have gone back to work.
Q: If your modelling was so wrong, have you changed it?
Duncan Smith says the cap was partly about saving money. But it was partly about promoting “cultural change”. He would never have guessed that so many people would have moved into work.
The cap is working, he says.
Q: Would you consider exempting all temporary accommodation?
Duncan Smith says he keeps this under review.
Dame Anne Begg says that in Aberdeen, where she is an MP, most people affected are in temporary accommodation. That means their housing costs get picked up by the council. Are you sure that the savings you claim aren’t offset by other costs elsewhere.
Duncan Smith says he does not think that is happening.
He says the benefits cap was never meant to save “staggering amounts of money”. It was about changing behaviours, he says.
And that’s it. It’s over.
I’ll post a summary shortly.
Q: What assessment have you made of the issue of in-work poverty?
Duncan Smith says he wanted a chance to commen on this. He has had a look at this. Since the coalition came to power, the level of in-work poverty has been relatively stable. But there was a 500,000 increase while Labour was in power.
Q: What is the effect of part-time work on this?
Duncan Smith says we have seen the biggest rise in full-time work.
The numbers in involuntary part-time work are falling.
Debbie Abrahams interrupts. Duncan Smith says she is not letting him reply.
He says the proportion of people looking for a full-time job but unable to get one is lower that it is on average in the EU.
Q: There is only one disability support adviser for every 650 disabled people looking for work.
Duncan Smith says that figure comes down considerably when you take into account the work programme.
Labour’s Debbie Abrahams goes next.
Q: At December’s hearing I told you about a whistleblower who said benefits staff were under pressure to sanction people. After that I was inundated by comments from people, claimants and staff, making the same point. Have you had a look at this?
Duncan smith says the number of people being sanctioned varies every month.
Abrahams says the numbers of risen very steeply.
He tries reading out some numbers. Abrahams interrupts him.
Q: Do you accept that sanctions are too high?
No, says Duncan Smith. There may be individuals who make mistakes. But it is not policy to use sanctions to cut the welfare numbers.
Abrahams says she has written to Duncan Smith asking for a meeting, but Duncan Smith has not replied. He says he has not seen the letter. He will meet her any time.
He says he is happy to have this reviewed.
There is no policy to have people sanctioned for no reason, he says.
Q: Have Atos and Capita been able to recruit enough assessors to do the PIP assessments?
Robert Devereux says that both firms are still in discussions with the department about this.
The Mirror’s Tom McTague has summed up this hearing quite well.
Although, having said that, no that they have got off universal credit, the tone has improved a bit …
Labour’s Teresa Pearce goes next.
Q: In September 2008 you had 105,000 staff. That number has gone down by 11%. What effect has that had on performance?
Robert Devereux says the DWP has become more efficient.
It has cut the time it takes dealing with JSA claims, for instance, he says.
Some 80% of calls are answered within 20 seconds, which is the industry standard, he says.
Q: But universal credit and PIP have suffered delays. Are staffing costs not a factor?
Devereux says most DWP staff are working on existing benefits.
Sheila Gilmore comes in. Some PIP claimants are waiting five months. Was that planned?
Devereux says the DWP has been learning from the way this has been introduced.
Gilmore says people have been waiting months for a decision.
At last week’s public administration committee, Atos says PIP assessments were taking twice as long as planned, she says.
Duncan Smith says he does not understand the difference between a pilot, which is what the DWP has been doing, and treating people as guinea pigs, which is what Gilmore accused him of doing.
He says he has had a “rolling pilot”.
Iain Duncan Smith says the welfare cap would cover a five-year period.
Mike Driver says a breach of the cap would trigger a debate in parliament.
Q: Will all pensioner benefits be outside, like the winter fuel payments?
Duncan Smith says these matters are still under discussion.
Nigel Mills goes next. He asks about the plans for a welfare cap.
Iain Duncan Smith says this would impose a discipline on welfare spending.
Some areas will be exempt, he says, like JSA.
If you are going to set a cap like this, you need maximum flexibility, he says.
Ring fences in the department have to disappear, so that the department can switch money between programmes in case it underspends in one area, he says.
Iain Duncan Smith says some local authorities are taking innovative approaches, and making their money go further in terms of how they deal with crisis loans.
Mike Driver says the anecdotal evidence suggests that local authorities have spent less money on crisis loans in 2013-14 than they were given by the government.
Dame Anne Begg goes next.
Q: As a department should you not retain some responsibility for the social fund, instead of allowing it to be transferred to councils?
Duncan Smith says the government came in saying it would not not ring fence everything given to local authorities.
The DWP only devolved community care grants and crisis loans.
They are now asking about future welfare cuts.
Dame Angela Watkinson, a Conservative, goes next.
Q: Where are the savings coming from?
Robert Devereux says the biggest savings come from changing the inflation measure used to index benefits. The next biggest savings come from changes to housing benefit and ESA.
Q: What evidence is there about how people are managing on lower payments?
Iain Duncan Smith says the evidence is that by and large people are managing.
The big mistake was when crisis loans were issued by phone, not face to face, under Labour. At that point the number of crisis loans being issued soared.
Some people were on 10 or 12 crisis loans a year, he says.
Robert Devereux says before loans were issued by phone, the amount spent on them was under £100m a year. After the system was changed it went up to more than £200m a year.
Told that it takes three days to process universal credit payments,Theresa Pearce says the DWP should negotiate a better deal with the banks.
Mike Driver says he does not accept that. They already have a very good deal with their bank. They account for 25% of the volume of its transactions.
Labour’s Theresa Pearce is asking questions now.
She asks about some of the costs there were written off.
Mike Driver says the DWP has spent £303m. Some £196m has been capitalised. Of that, £165m went on software and £31m went on licences.
Only £40m has been written off, he says.
Q: What has been spent since April 2013?
Driver says the DWP is forecast to spend £195m in 2013-14. Some £26m will be spent on IT live running.
Q: What’s the Cabinet Office’s role now?
Duncan Smith says they are still supporting and assisting the DWP. But the DWP is running it. That was always the plan, he says.
Q: So press reports of constant disagreement are wrong?
Duncan Smith says they are “ludicrous”. The DWP and the Cabinet Office are working closely goether.
Q: So they did not ask you to scrap the system?
Duncan Smith says he would not be rolling this out if others in government were not happy with it.
Q: You said you would be testing 100 people for the “digital solution” by the end of this year?
Duncan Smith says they will certainly be doing that.
Q: What is the “digital solution”?
Duncan Smith says it develops as it is going along. It is developed within an agile approach. (That’s a way of managing IT systems.) It will involve a collective memory in the digital cloud.
Robert Devereux says the questions being asked implied that the DWP can develop these projects with great certainty. That is not the case. There is an element of uncertainty in this, he says.
Labour’s Sheila Gilmore goes next.
Q: If a universal credit applicant falls ill, how is their experience different from someone on ESA?
Robert Devereux says they would not apply for anything new. They would stay on universal credit.
Q: Would they fill in the same form?
Iain Duncan Smith says people will have to check whether they are sick.
Glenda Jackson is is still asking the questions.
Q: How much has been allocated to local authorities to help them carry on administering housing benefit in the light of the universal credit delays?
Mike Driver says the DWP funds housing benefit. It will carry on paying councils to do this.
Updated at 5.28pm GMT
Iain Duncan Smith says he has no idea what Glenda Jackson is asking. It sounds as if she is speaking a foreign language, he says.
Updated at 5.28pm GMT
Q: You have said you will publish a breakdown of universal credit spending by type. When will that be?
Robert Devereux says some JSA claimants are already getting universal credit.
These figures will be published as soon as they are ready.
Updated at 5.20pm GMT
Q: In December you told us the new business case for universal credit would be presented in January or February. Has that happened yet?
No, says Mike Driver. But it will be presented to them in the next two weeks.
Glenda Jackson goes next.
She says she is “still in the fog” in relation to costs.
(It is rare to see a select committee hearing with a cabinet minister go quite as badly as this. The committee’s disdain for Duncan Smith is almost as great as his for them.)
Dame Anne Begg goes next.
Q: Is universal credit still just dealing with single people?
Duncan Smith sidesteps the question. He says it is being rolled out in phases.
Q: So when will it be rolled out to couples?
In the summer, says Duncan Smith.
Q: Will you roll the whole thing out by 2017?
By 2016, Duncan Smith says, apart from the most vulnerable group, on employment and support alloance.
Q: And you are confident that you are on top of things now?
Duncan Smith says he is. He has the right people running it now, like Howard Shipley. And there are regular meetings to assess it.
Nigel Mills goes next.
Q: How do we know you have learnt the lessons from this?
Duncan Smith says that in the private sector 30 to 40% of IT costs are written off.
Look at what happened to the BBC, subject of a public accounts committee hearing today.
The BBC wrote off a whole programme, says Duncan Smith. He has not having to do that.
Labour’s Debbie Abrahams says she is unhappy with the “hubris” shown by the panel. People watching would be conceerned, she says. They clearly have not explained themselves to the committee.
(Her quotes are very strong. I will post them later.)
Duncan Smith says he does not accept that. He thinks he has been open.
Dame Anne Begg says the committee has not been convinced money is not being wasted.
Nigel Mills, a Conservative, goes next.
Q: [To Mike Driver] You said you would like costs to be written down over five years. Does that mean that it would have no value after that?
Driver says that at the moment they are going to write down the value of the software over a 15 year period.
Labour’s Glenda Jackson goes next.
She quotes from what the NAO said about costs being written off. (You can read more details of that here.)
Q: Has Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, asked for a ministerial direction on this? [She may have been reading the Institute for Government briefing – see 4.28pm.]
Duncan Smith says the NAO was referring to equipment that is being used. That means it is not being written off.
He tells Jackson that she needs to understand what the accounts actually tell you.
Dame Anne Begg talks about universal credit costs being written off. Duncan Smith says she’s wrong. She is referring to costs being written down. That is different. Every company he has ever worked for has had to write down costs, he says.
(This hearing has been running for less than 20 minutes, and some of the more aggressive MPs have not come in yet, but already it is getting very tetchy.)
Dame Anne Begg mentions another committee hearing last year. At that hearing Duncan Smith did not mention the universal credit “reset” (a review of its implementation). Why not?
Duncan Smith says the process of resetting and reprocessing was only finished at the end of last year.
Q: When was the reset publicly announced?
At the time of the committee hearing, at the end of the year, Duncan Smith says.
Labour’s Sheila Gilmore goes next.
Q: At that hearing you said your plans were on track. But they were being reviewed.
Robert Devereux says at that point the committee was told what the plans were at the time.
Dame Anne Begg says as a matter of courtesy parliament’s scrutiny committee should have been told that the plans were being reviewed.
Duncan Smith says the committee cannot run the department. At that point the deparment was still taking decisions, he says.
Begg asks why Duncan Smith did not tell the committee about his decision to conduct a red team review of universal credit when he gave evidence to the committee in September last year.
Duncan Smith says at that point the results of the review were not ready. He is not obliged to tell the committee everything, he says.
The hearing is starting now.
Dame Anne Begg, the committee chair, says they will start with universal credit.
Q: You gave evidence to the committee on 9 December. But your accounts were not published until just after the hearing.
Mike Driver, the DWP director general for finance, says he thought the accounts were sent to the committee on the day.
It will be interesting to see how Iain Duncan Smith and Robert Devereux get on.
Last year, just before the public accounts committee (PAC) published a report criticising the way universal credit was being introduced, the Times (paywall) published a story saying Duncan Smith tried to get the committee to blame Devereux. This was denied at the time.
At the end of last week the Institute for Government sent out a briefing note saying the DWP’s universal credit programme was a classic example of the “accountability muddle” that sometimes afflicts Whitehall.
It suggested three key questions for the committee. Here is the extract from the briefing setting them out.
1. Why have there been no ministerial directions about this project?
The IfG has argued that the system allowing permanent secretaries to formally state their objection about a project to a minister is not working. Not a single direction has been sought under the current government, compared to more than a dozen sought by this stage of the government post-1997. If a permanent secretary believes a spending decision breaches any of the Treasury criteria of regularity, propriety, value for money, and feasibility, as Accounting Officer they must ask for a written direction to continue from the Secretary of State. The accounting officer then implements the decision – but it is the minister who bears responsibility for that use of public money. In the case of Universal Credit, no direction was sought and we do not know why.
2. Where is the “clarity of consequences” for the damning PAC report?
November’s PAC report tells a sorry story about unclear management structures and responsibility. As the Institute said when it was published, clearly the immediate responsibility for the oversight and management of Universal Credit lies squarely with the permanent secretary. The IfG report ‘Accountability at the Top, argued that any system of accountability needs “clarity of consequences” – in a consistent and widely-understood link from performance to the rewards and sanctions that flow from it. We still do not know who in government was responsible for considering the PAC report, and what consequences, if any, they deemed necessary as a result of its damning content.
3. What has changed to ensure that past mistakes on accountability are not repeated?
Prior to the NAO report, the department consistently provided reassuring assessments of the progress of Universal Credit. Since the NAO report, the public has again heard assurances that issues have been resolved and the project is on track with a revised timetable. How can both the parliament and public and have the confidence that they are being correctly informed, including that the writing down of IT assets is being done in a way that ensures value for money? Without accurate information, it is impossible for parliament to hold both ministers and civil servants to account in a timely manner, and a danger that problems are hidden rather than faced up to.
Iain Duncan Smith questioned by the work and pensions committee
The work and pensions select committee’s session with Iain Duncan Smith is due to start shortly.
There will be three witnesses.
• Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pension secretary
• Robert Devereux, the DWP’s permanent secretary
• Mike Driver, the DWP’s director general for finance.
And here, according to the committee, are some of the issues that they will be looking at: trends in benefit spending; possible future welfare spending cuts; and universal credit.
Updated at 4.34pm GMT