Universal Credit report

02 April 2020

Today we are publishing a report into Universal Credit. It aims to do two things: provide a description of Universal Credit as a digital welfare system and make recommendations for its future development.

Using public documents, it details how DWP has built a highly credible capability to deliver and iterate its digital services. This, in turn, means it is increasingly hard to ‘blame the IT’ for the issues with Universal Credit. Instead, we must look to some of the core policy assumptions, now ten years old, that attempt to model an ideal of the ‘world of work’ and an opinionated view about what constitutes personal responsibility.

It also asks the question: are the benefits of digital being shared equally with the public? In particular it looks at which elements of the policy the department have chosen to digitise, and how options for things like different payment cycles are offered to claimants.

We also make recommendations for DWP and the Government Digital Service around how digital public services like Universal Credit can be made more transparent and accountable. Much greater transparency is needed around how Universal Credit works, how it is changing and how it is performing.

The report was written before the COVID-19 outbreak put additional pressure on Universal Credit. The priority of DWP is rightly focused on dealing with the increased numbers of claimants (something which is no doubt much harder than they are being given credit for). Still, hopefully, this report can make a useful contribution to the debate about the changes needed to Universal Credit to cope with COVID-19, and the debate around transparency of digital government services more generally, at a time when transparency is more important than ever.

Read the executive summary key recommendations

This work was supported by the Open Society Foundations.