by Amelia Gentleman & Patrick Wintour article:
Buried beneath the news of Prince George’s arrival on Monday was an announcement from the Department for Work and Pensions that staff working for the private IT firm Atos, delivering the controversial fitness-for-work assessments, were all to be retrained, owing to “unacceptably poor” standards of work.
Similarly, long awaited statistics showed Nick Clegg’s £1bn youth contract scheme had helped little more than 2,000 people find long-term work. The numbers covered the first year of what was planned to be a three year scheme. It was dismissed by the shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne as a scheme with a 95% failure rate.
These were bleak indications that all was not well within two of the government’s previously much trumpeted welfare reform programmes – drowned amid royal baby hysteria. It was a significant moment for a department that is rapidly getting used to making uncomfortable admissions.
Over the past few months, the DWP has had to make disappointing announcements in at least four significant policy areas: as well as the work capability assessment announcement and the youth contract figures, the department has indicated that the timetable for implementation of its main benefits reform, universal credit, is slipping back, and has released results from the much-hyped work programme that are best described as mixed.
The DWP has been successful in making the political argument for welfare changes, and polls continue to show support for cuts to benefits across all parties. A poll by Lord Ashcroft suggested that 86% of Unite members support the government’s £26,000 benefit cap – but it has repeatedly stumbled on the implementation side.
Whitehall analysts wonder if the department has bitten off more than it can chew by announcing and attempting to implement a range of ambitious new policies, affecting vast numbers of people, in one term.
Officials have come under huge strain as they struggle to push forward with reform, at a time when the departmental headcount has been cut radically. The Institute for Fiscal Studies calculated recently that between 2011 and 2016 the department will have lost 40% of its workforce. The Public and Commercial Services union said the DWP had cut 20,000 jobs since May 2010.
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25th July 2013