Essential “How To” Guides to Tory Britain – No.3 – How to save “Billions” on “welfare”.

As the senior Tory – yes, I’m looking at you, Our Glorious Ronsealed Fishpointer General – will tell you, £20 Billion was cut from “welfare” by the coalition government. I have yet to see any proof that this is true – but I have seen ample evidence (from respected fact-checkers) that the savings made from all this cutting was……. £2 Billion.

As I have noted before here and elsewhere – and make no apology for saying again – all the evictions, homelessness, increased child poverty, hunger, untoward deaths, suicides, pain, and gut-wrenching fear was all for a total saving of just 1% of the total social security spend. There was no need for the vile Under Occupation Penalty, no need for the proliferation of food banks, no need for the sick and the dying to suffer – simply freezing basic rates of benefit would have done exactly the same thing.

Of course, what nobody in the last government will admit is how much was wasted. We all know about the uselessness of the Work Programme which with a price tag of £7 Billion so far is worse than doing nothing; the expense of PIP which cost the taxpayer £650 Million before a single penny of the new benefit was paid; the outrageous new contract for Maximus at £595 Million for just 3 years delivering the WCA, with a new one for Atos to supply the IT at £10 Million; the ridiculous Discretionary Housing Payment scheme which has cost more than the Bedroom Tax it was supposed to help with; all stupid and wasteful schemes which have done nothing but cause immense distress for claimants, hassle for local authorities, and ever-more inefficiency in DWP.

But that, dear reader, is nothing compared to the Great White Elephant Hope that is Universal Credit. This, the brainchild of one George Smith – a serial failure of a human being who has lied all his life – is the result of what he claims is a Paul-esque experience on a housing estate in Easterhouse where it was revealed to him that the problem with the feckless is their worklessness. He intends to rid the poor of this appalling state they have put themselves into, and to that end he has painted himself the saviour of them all.

Yea, verily, IDS (for it is he) informs us that his religion is what informs his politics and he is attempting to convince us peasants that his crusading zeal will transform our lives. It will, obviously. It’ll make us much poorer if we’re poor already; and if we’re working it’ll make work pay. Less.

Meanwhile, he’s spending our taxes like there’s no tomorrow. Originally, Universal Credit was “designed” to revolutionise “welfare” for the tiny sum of £2.6 Billion. After a little while, as news about how it was to be implemented began to filter through, IT experts and respected computer magazines suggested that it was likely to cost £12 Billion or so for nationwide roll-out. A few weeks ago, those experts opined that the costs would be at least £15 Billion and it was likely to take about 9 years.

We may never actually find out how much it costs. Most government departments are subject to budgetary restraints; Osborne, now and when in coalition, insisted on certain ministries cutting back quite severely. But not DWP.

There is a thing on the gov.uk website where you can look up what constraints there are on various budgets, and which parts of the budget or specific functions are exceptions to those constraints, usually filed under “transparency”. DWP has one of these. It’s a masterclass in obfuscation and as transparent as a brick.

Example – there is a specific exception from spending controls, dated January 2015, which involves “consultancy” fees of £490,000. This is for – wait for it – “a content-led digital campaign with a local focus, supported by partnerships with local authorities and other hyper-local voices” the aim of which is “to drive claimants to an online hub to receive daily hints to improve their jobsearch”. Drive them mad, more likely. There is a lot more equally risible tosh which goes on to describe how everyone will find out more about Universal Credit and their responsibilities etc. etc. ad nauseam.

Now, best part of half a million may not sound much for hyper-local voices or whatever – but this is just one of many of these. This particular item is, as the “transparent” explanation says, number 14 of 15 of Tranche 1 of the hyper-local campaign. So yes, my friends, there are more of them. Lots and lots more. But you can’t find out how many. This is because there is a short list of some of the other expenditure, but you can only actually read the latest. You can’t see the ones that went before, you can’t see how much was spent, and you can’t see what other hyper-whatnot fuckwittery you’ve just paid half a million for.

As this nonsense has been going on for several years now, the bill must be running into hundreds of millions – but it’s all exempt from budget constraints, and despite a micro-mini token non-effort at “transparency” the truth about how much IDS is squandering on all this remains as elusive as ever.

IDS claimed when all this began that Universal Credit will save £2.6 Billion a year as I said earlier – AND with an “overall economic benefit of £35 Billion”, the details of which he has yet to divulge 5 years later.  He claimed that Universal Credit will have been rolled out nationally by the end of 2013 – by then there were about 3,500 claimants on it. There have been 5 chief execs; various new announcements about “agile” technology, new digital platforms, the famous “reset”, and hundreds of millions written off – that we know about.

There’s a lot we don’t know about, and that little titbit I treated you to above is just one of five of these items exempt from budget constraints in January alone; and as we can’t see the others we have no idea how much they all cost. This suggests to me that there must be a huge number of bits and bobs IDS gets charged consultancy fees for, and who knows how many IT “experts” bamboozling the poor dab with hyperlocaljargonbollockspeak.

Cameron is perfectly content to allow all this to carry on. Osborne will stand before the House and the country and tell us that he must make cuts to benefits so that he can get us into surplus and clear up the mess Labour left etc. etc. Neither of them will admit that all these cuts to the livelihoods of our sick, our dying, our disabled, our children, our young, our unemployed, and our working poor, actually save very little money. No Tory politician – or voter – will agree that this is a completely ridiculous situation, that people are being left destitute with no safety net to catch them, and the few quid this sometimes saves is a tiny drop in the ocean of government spending.

And nowhere is that government spending more profligate, wasteful, and cruel than in DWP. Cameron and Osborne must know this, but they allow it to continue. I suspect the reason is one of either of these – they did not expect to win the election and assumed that Labour would clear up the mess, and now that they are actually back in office they now have to deliver what they said they would; or, and this is much worse, they know exactly what they are doing, they know that Smith’s vanity project is doomed to disaster, they know that people will suffer, but they are quite prepared to spend however many tens of billions it takes to get rid of social security altogether, make us insure ourselves privately, and make their pals rich in the process.

Maybe one day we’ll find out just how much has been spent on this. Maybe someone somewhere will blow the whistle. Maybe the Tories will implode at some point and someone will get a look at the real books. Meanwhile, IDS carries on – and layer upon layer of obfuscation and secrecy will continue to surround this ridiculous project, and hard cash that could do something useful like build homes or create jobs will disappear into the great gaping maw that Universal Credit has become.

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