Coffee House

Welfare failures that are costing us dear

21 August 2013

I’m told there’s a joke that does the round in Whitehall, that to err is human, but if you really want to foul things up you need Iain Duncan Smith. I’m afraid a casual glance at DWP’s delivery record explains why.

On every single one of DWP’s five big reforms things are going badly wrong. The human cost of this colossal bodge job is impossible to calculate. But the fiscal cost could be as high as £1.4 billion.

Let’s start with reform of disability benefits. A vital reform that needs tremendous care. The test itself needs fast and fundamental reform (my speech on the subject is here). But the government’s contractor, Atos is running rings around the Government. Anyone taking the test is eight times more likely to end up in a tribunal than in a job. Those spiralling tribunal costs are set to cost an extra £287 million over the course of this Parliament.

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Then there’s the flagship Work Programme, which has missed every single one of its minimum performance targets. It’s so bad that George Osborne told the Commons it was under-performing. If its targets had been met, spending on benefits would have been £119 million lower over the past two years. Nick Clegg’s pet project, the Youth Contract, is even worse: it is now on course to miss its target by more than 92 per cent, at a cost of nearly half a billion pounds in 2014-15.

Then we have housing benefit reform. Eric Pickles warned in 2011, that ideas like the bedroom tax could cost more than they save. It looks like he was right. The Bedroom Tax is a mixture of needless cruelty and incompetence. 96 per cent of those hit simply have nowhere else to move to, and are facing the prospect of arrears, high rents from private landlords, and homelessness. We have already seen an extra £102.5 million earmarked for its implementation. And DWP’s fraud and error programme is also in trouble, with the department writing off £73 million in Housing Benefit overpayments this year, an increase of 9% on the year.

The final delivery risk is the greatest of them all. Universal Credit. In November 2011, we were told 1 million people would be on the system by next year. Now, Iain Duncan Smith can’t even tell us how many people he expects to be on the scheme by the election. In April we saw the fourth head of the project appointed in just six months. The Major Projects Authority has flagged this as ‘Amber/Red’, meaning delivery is in doubt. Yesterday, the nice special advisors did their best to stand up for their boss dismissing the Universal Credit figures as wrong. Well, we know that Mr Duncan Smith has always said the cost of the system would be £2 billion. Absolutely no more. On 1 November 2012, Mark Hoban explained how that money would all be spent between 2011 and 2015. Then we had the Spending Review announcing that actually another £300 million would be needed in 2015-16. So that makes £2.3 billion surely? What on earth is going on?

What people in Britain want is a new social security system that preserves the best of our ideals, fosters personal responsibility, brings down unemployment and gets the right help to the right people, especially disabled people and those who’ve paid in heaps, like the hard pressed over 50s. That’s why we need ‘welfare reform’ because business as usual isn’t delivering this. Just cutting help – like tax credits or the DLA budget – isn’t welfare reform, it’s just cuts. Any government can just ‘cut’. Real reform – system change – is far harder.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as delivery of reform has collapsed, the Tories have resorted to abuse. The Tory party likes to call Labour, ‘the welfare party’. Only the nasty party could turn a word that means ‘health’ or ‘prosperity’ into a term of abuse. The reality is that they’re now the ‘failed on welfare reform’ party. And no amount of bluster is going to hide it.

Liam Byrne is Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.

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Show comments
  • fozz

    The world has altered for good since the banks and politicians let us all down, culminating in 2007/8. Standards of living in the West will take many, many years to regain the position before the current economic crisis and we may even never again feel as ‘well off’ as many of us felt then, even though the whole rickety edifice was, as we can now see, largely built on a credit bubble that couldn’t last. The other factor rolling into view is the demographic tsunami we all know about. Only now are the politicians beginning to admit that the state cannot afford to provide the cradle-to-grave support it aimed for a few governments ago. It’s just not affordable so people are now going to be forced to become responsible for managing their own financial lives and plenty of them won’t like that. For many of the financially illiterate, there will suddenly have to be less partying at Nanny State’s cost and more sorting out their affairs at their own expense. This demands financial education and financial awareness. Until and unless this happens there will still be plenty of people deluding themselves the state will bail them out. It won’t. There’s no money. Liam Byrne was right about that at least.

  • HJ777

    And, Mr Byrne, any government can spend more money – until it runs out.

    Gordon Brown described the welfare bill as “the price of Tory Failure” and then proceeded to increase it by over 60% in real terms. Were you, by any chance, part of his government?

    This government may be making mistakes, but it is at least trying to do something about the welfare bill and the poverty trap created by Labour that condemned so many to being trapped on benefits, beholden to politicians like you.

    Your sheer hypocrisy amazes me.

  • John_Bracewell

    There is a joke going round Westminster, it’s called Liam Byrne.

  • Nicholas chuzzlewit

    Viz your penultimate paragraph; you had 13 years in office so why was none of this achieved when you had the chance?

  • Nicholas chuzzlewit

    Oh and you have not been abusing IDS you incompetent hypocrite. Labour, the party of lies, lying and liars.

  • DWWolds

    The mess that is costing us dear comes from the Faustian pact the last Labour government had with the City. Labour turned a blind eye to dubious practices in the financial sector provided the companies within it generated enough tax to pay for their 60% increase in welfare spending. We have now lost a large tranche of that tax income but we are still having to pay for much of the increase in welfare spending.

    Byrne is a hypocrite of the first order. And that description also applies to the rest of the Opposition Front Bench.

  • R2-D2

    If going a few hundred million over budget is “really fouling things up”, then how would you describe doubling the annual welfare spending to £100bn while times are good so that by the end of it “there is no money left”?

  • Bert

    Mr Byrne, you have no credibility at all.
    You should have come here to apologise but like Burnham you think you can tough it out and we will eventually forget your failures. We will not.

  • Barakzai

    ‘ . . . that to err is human, but if you really want to foul things up you need Iain Duncan Smith. ‘ And I bet the Gordon Brown supporters club is keenest to promote this opinion, Mr Byrne?

  • Tony_E

    Let’s start with ATOS Mr Byrne: The contract wth ATOS was reknewed by the DWP for 7 years in 2005 – so before the end of last year, there was no choice in the agency used by DWP to impliment any tests. ATOS is your failure. To have changed them part way through implimentation would have caused more trouble.

    The work programmes: No work programme has ever delivered anything permanent. They cannot work because they are an attempt to engineer demand where demand does not exist. The market does not bear this well, and at the end of the programme the demand returns to the proper rate, leaving no nett gain. Labour’s were no different. All such schemes are political, not economic.

    Housing benefit reform : Simply put, this rule was perfectly acceptable where it pertained to tennants in need of housing benefit while in private rented accomodation. Now that the rules are uniform- the private and public rented sector will be able to better allocate the property available. As soon as you can explain why this was fair in one sector and not in the other, then you will get a fair hearing.

    Universal credit: This unravelling of Labour’s titanic ‘middle class support system’ which was supposed to make Labour voters of even those whose insticts were otherwise is long overdue. It was a giant QE programme, even before the credit crunch, because it was simply a way of pushing fresh money into an already inflated and bubble fed economy. Labour’s record on wealth distribution is the worst of any government since the war – because when you inflate any asset bubble wealth always flows to the asset rich, usually at the expense of the asset poor who then see inflation erode whatever meagre earnings they already have. You bought middle class votes with the money of the poor. Are you proud of that mammoth achievement?

    When it comes to ‘reform’ – the 13 years of Labour were a massive failure. The state sucked in a huge proportion of GDP, and the gains were small by comparson. The vested interests were in reciept of largesse, while the taxpayer stumped up more and more for less and less. What happened to pensions reform for example? Oh yes, Gordon reformed private pensions by robing them until they were worthless. What happened to public sector reform? Oh yes, you gave al the workers huge pay rises, and signed the hundreds of terrible PFI contracts to hide the costs. What happened to Welfare reform? You knew that Frank Field’s arguments were sound but he was not allowed to rock the boat amongst the ‘clients’, so he was pushed out. Civil service reform? Politicised beyond belief. Education Reform? Grade inflation and teaching to the test. Social reform- we got longer opening hours. Judicial reform – we got the HRA, the largest lawyer’s welfare scheme in the world. Law reform – detention without trial & RIPA. Energy Reform – we’ll be lucky to keep the lights on constistenly by the end of the decade and a significant proportion live in energy poverty. FInancial Reform? The FSA, and the first run on a high street bank in a century while the bankers picked up their new Porcshes and Ferraris.

    And all the while the stench of sleaze, starting with Ecclestone’s million was unabated. A ‘Straight kinda Guy’?

    And now you want us to give you another go?

    • Ulysses Returns

      As cogent and intelligent a riposte to the labtard liars, cheats and hypocrites as I have ever heard. Byrne and his fellow travelers should hang their heads in shame and never have an opportunity to take high office again.

  • Colonel Mustard

    But are they costing us as dear as “there is no money left”? Are they costing us as dear as the “there is no money left but we have little or nothing to show for it”?

    Because it was mostly all wasted anyway, not least on ministerial vanities. How’s the cappuccino Liam?

  • paulus

    What an absolute disgrace to talk about technicalities of adminstering a benefit system. You have betrayed your fathers and grandfathers, they fought for justice and you fight for entitlement, what an absolute disgrace.

    The Labour party should stand for dignity, you have no dignity so no one can give you respect.

  • johnslattery

    You’re the xxxxxx that joked about all the money having run out, aren’t you, Liam Byrne? This government thing, all a bit of larf, really, innit?
    I am not interested in your opinion and refuse to read your article because of that flippant gesture. It says a lot about Labour’s contempt for the morons that still vote for them that people like you are still in a job. I hope the Tories have made a big poster out of your witty note and hang it out on billboards across the land come 2015.

    • fozz

      I believe they have done just that.

    • Tony_E

      About the only thing that I can’t bring myself to criticise Liam Byrne for is that note.

      It has long been customary for outgoing ministers to leave a note for their successor, usually wishing them luck or some such like, and a little gallows humour is probably not uncommon.

      It was a little unchivalrous of the coalition to release it (at least when they did). Once Mr Byrne had begun some of his less well founded criticisms then maybe it might have been appropriate, but not when they did.

  • Hexhamgeezer


    The fact that ‘five big reforms’ are required show what a monumental fck up you made in all your years in office.

    As us ex-liebour voters say “To err is human but to fck up on the scale you did and with such malice defies belief”

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      Byrne, Blair, Brown, Balls, Burnham. Funny how they’re all marked with the “B” in “B grader” and even that’s being over-charitable to gross underachievers!

  • realfish

    Amnesia and hypocrisy are two congenital disfigurations that define socialists.

    In the case of the reform of disability benefits, Mr (there’s no money (left)) Byrne has forgotten to mention that that it was Labour that introduced the Employment and Support Allowance, Work Capability Assessments and it was they who engaged ATOS to undertake them.

    And he has forgotten to tell his readers that almost immediately (on Labour’s watch) ATOS had difficulty with its capacity to undertake the assessments parts of the country; and from the outset, with the large number of (successful) appeals as a consequence of their assessments.

    And he should know this because Purnell (initially) and then Yvette Cooper, in her eerie in the DWP HO in Caxton House, received weekly implementation reports from the DWP regions, including warnings and updates of the growing difficulties.

    Just saying

    • Colonel Mustard

      Much like Burnham then, choosing to ignore or bury warnings. What a gang! The same duplicitous, manipulative bunch under the party political schemer Brown now on the opposition front bench desperately trying to airbrush out their roles in the debacle that was New Labour 1997-2010 – thirteen long years.

      The way they talk you might think they had been in opposition since 1997. When is the media going to wake up and put the boot into these charlatans?

  • dalai guevara

    Stop press
    Conservative voters finally realise, again, that IDS is a repeat underperformer.
    Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      And Liam Byrne is some kind of public welfare messiah? Grow up.

      • dalai guevara

        I could not care less whether the chap not in charge is also an underperformer.

  • Daniel Maris

    Welfare reform is vital to this country’s future.

    The essentials are:

    1. Create a genuine universal credit available to citizens only. This will make work pay.

    2. No open ended benefits for families who are incapable of supporting their children.

    3. Guaranteed paid work for young people leaving school and college for a guaranteed period – probably up to 5 years. This will establish the work habit, generate tax revenue and give people an incentive not to go on to benefits or to engage in criminal behaviour.

    4. A requirement to work and pay in before becoming eligible for benefits such as child benefit, social housing and so on.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Oh God not Zippy as well. Another web page ruined by the senseless rant of a witless politician Does he know that Labour spent all the money? The first rule of politics (Labour lies) applies. Now if Labour win the next election this is the note I’d leave for Liam

    We’ll keep the red rag flying high
    Coz Labour lies
    Yes Labour lies
    Oh Labour lies
    So many lies
    We’ll keep the red rag flying high
    Coz just like crap it attracts the flies

    PS There’s even less money now…..

    PS Given the number of people who are purely commenting on the note Byrne left for David Laws he might get the hint that he has zero credibility. I think its back to Rainbow for Zippy………..

  • Austin Barry

    Fraser, what is this whinging tosh?

    Are you the New Statesman in disguise?

  • MikeBrighton

    Liam. I could write a long post chronicling your parties manifest welfare failings in a long 13 years in office, but it would just be too depressing to describe so much damage, zero achievement and farcical policy choice.
    Your record in office in this area was truly appalling and you should be utterly ashamed. You are not stupid, we worked together in Andersen many years ago so you know this and what you write is therefore hypocrisy of the highest order.

    • Andy

      ‘You are not stupid. . ‘ Oh yes he is. He is a Labour Party MP.

      And if he had half a brain cell he wouldn’t have written this disgusting drivel. Like every Labour Party MP I have ever met he is a liar and totally and utterly incompetent. As you point out over 13 years in office Labour did nothing – NOTHING – to reform welfare and actually made the problem worse. They are perfectly happy for so many people to live wasted lives. Well IDS isn’t. And I say carry on with the reforms, every single one of them having been opposed by idiots like Byrne.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      Fair comment and accurate to a fault, but you don’t honestly believe this arrogant fool will read any of the responses do you?

  • El_Sid

    So how much was wasted on the (mis)implementation of tax credits? Over £10 billion now isn’t it?

  • telemackus

    I could not bring myself to read this as I abhor hypocrisy and cant.

    • dalai guevara

      famous last words of ToryOAP before he was winnowed

      • ToryOAP

        Winnowed? By whom you illiterate troll? The only chaff needing removing here is you and your schizo pals telemachus and Lindsay. Numpty.

        • dalai guevara

          Schizo? I sleep well, thank you very much.
          Dunno who you think my friends are.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        unintelligble nonsense as always.

  • CharlietheChump

    No Liam, Labour cost us dear. Always. Every time. No exceptions.

  • Tom M

    I am impressed with a newfound financial awareness and ability to count (taxpayer’s) money that has been sadly missing in previous years. I hope that you can pass on these skills to the shadow chancellor.

    • telemachus

      You need to read Sue Marsh

      You would find a shadow minister who actually understands his brief very well now. A shadow minister who has put disability at the heart of welfare discussions for some time. A team who have tried at least to listen and act, who I know are working very hard on policies we might actually like. The speeches still use broad strokes,…..but if you read Liam’s speech today and compare it to anything we’ve heard from any coalition minister, I think you would have to conclude we’re winning the war. (Though too many battles can still be lost…)

      • Colonel Mustard

        Labour arrogance and hubris. Almost as repulsive as their lies. You troll for a party of lies, liars and lying.

        • Nicholas chuzzlewit

          Forgive me Colonel but just in case this arrogant Labour idiot missed the point, Labour is the party of lies, liars and lying. Oh and perhaps we should remind people that it is the party of financial incompetence as well.

          • 2trueblue

            Liebore, more apt.

            • Nicholas chuzzlewit

              Apologies. Quite right.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        I think you mean that if I had read the tissue of falsehoods, hyperbole and nonsense emerging from the mouth of that incompetent fool Liam Byrne who is desperate to keep his job and his place at the public money trough, that I would conclude that Labour must not ‘win the war’ at any cost. Labour, the party of lies, liars and lying (and financially incompetent scum like Liam Byrne).

    • Andy

      Yes but this is from an idiot who spent all the money. He told us that himself.

  • Chris lancashire

    Absolutely pathetic – nothing constructive – only the slagging off of a decent man trying to rectify the worst of your mistakes. There’s no money left Mr Byrne so reform is not only essential but morally right. You deserve to be kept out of office for years to come.

    • HookesLaw

      We can only wonder why the Barclay Brothers want to see this idiot peddling his rubbish.
      What a sad state the press are in.

      • Smithersjones2013

        How else do you demonstrate that Labour talk crap unless you give them a platform to speak from?

        • Nicholas chuzzlewit

          Fair point but it does make sensible people throw up having to read their disgusting lies.

    • blindsticks

      Decent man, lol. You don’t know him, that’s for sure. Neither do your recommenders. Don’t be fooled by IDS. His incompetence alone will put Labour back in. He’s an arrogant , useless prat.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        So in line for a place in the shadow cabinet then which is full of arrogant, ignorant incompetent imbeciles. Labour, the party of lies, lying and liars.

      • blindsticks

        Just because you actually think he’s doing something against the idle and feckless and you cant stand Labour or Liam Byrne or what they allowed to happen to the country, doesn’t mean your precious IDS is doing it the right way or cost effectively. Nor does it mean I’m sticking up of Liam Byrne or Labour. Far from it. I’m just not that right wing or desperate enough to cling to the hopes of a previously proved incompetent like IDS. Have a look at his CV for a start. Do the research. He’s a man with a nasty temper who snarls and sneers at anyone who sees through him and has openly declared war on everyone on the dole, and not just the scroungers.
        So, carry on. And just hope one day none of you end up on the other side of that wall.
        Bunch of useful idiots that you are.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      Well said Chris. As if we need an incompetent imbecile like Liam Byrne spending public money again. This is an article by a carreerist politician desperate to retain his greedy place at the public money trough.

  • brossen99
    • HookesLaw

      When you give up peddling the rubbish.

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