SKETCH: Homer’s DWP Odyssey

Lin “Woeful” Homer is in front of the Public Accounts Committee looking humble and helpful. She knows the committee doesn’t have anything fatal for her. Yet.

She and her HMRC have been running a pilot for Iain Duncan Smith’s insane plan to computerise the working population. And it works. Yes, it’s a success, so far. “System integration is going according to plan.” They say.

There are a couple of thousand people on the pilot, and the system serves them wonderfully well. Under questioning though, it was revealed they’re all essentially single men with no children, not in receipt of tax credits. They’re not people at all, in tax terms.

“If you can make it work for one person you can make it work for a million,” Ian Swales said, incorrectly. “We’ve seen so many systems that don’t even work for one person.” That’s more to the point.

A Universal Credit system is never going to work universally, any more than Marxism did. The only historic inevitability is the system crashing round IDS’s career.

The committee asked if the system was ready for the moment Work and Pensions say they have a few multimillion families with multiple spouses, live-in grandparents on a matrix of benefits and an unquantifiable number of children?

We’ll have to wait for the corrected record, but Ms Homer is cautiously confident they will always be ahead of anything the Department of Work and Pensions can throw at them. That’s a good way to bet.

Especially as the target of getting the pilot up to 140,000 taxpayers by April of next year has been abandoned.

So conditioned to failure was everyone that the April target was mildly laughed at. The 50 per cent cost overrun on the original budget generated a gentle melancholy. The assertion that extra costs have “reached a high water mark,” wasn’t howled out of the room.

The committee performed valiantly but perhaps lacked the forensic fury that they – led by Margaret Hodge and Richard Bacon – can generate, at their best. Hodge promised livelier exchanges when they come back next time.

Lin herself has timed things well. She’ll certainly be gone on to her next disaster before this particular cataclysm comes to pass.




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