National Audit Office calls on government to heed the lessons learnt from previous welfare reforms

1 June 2015

A recent NAO report has suggested that mistakes made by the Department for Work & Pensions, whilst implementing welfare reforms, have had ‘significant financial and human costs’.

The report also commends the DWP for its ‘resolute approach’ in overcoming operational challenges and maintaining performance whilst dealing with an ‘unprecedented number’ of reforms. The report estimates that the Department has introduced around 30 distinct programmes over the last five years.

These include Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, and the Work Programme. In addition to these the report focuses on the introduction of ESA, child maintenance and Housing Benefit reforms.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, commented on the inevitability of problems, when trying to implement such a large portfolio of reforms. Amongst its recommendations the report called on the Department to ‘plan more openly for the possibility of failure’.

The key lessons, highlighted by the report, call on the Department to ‘think more strategically when considering how reforms will work in practice’.

It states that: ‘the Department has relied too heavily on reacting to problems and has not been able to anticipate possible failings or establish the principal ways in which performance and progress can be measured’. It recommends that more thought should be given to the use of phasing of different reforms to reduce operational risks.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has responded favourably to the way in which the report calls for more involvement of third-party providers in ensuring the success of future reforms.
In its report of the latest NAO report, Inside Housing pointed out that ‘The report made no specific assessment of the DWP’s performance over smaller housing-related reforms, such as the introduction of the bedroom tax.’