Universal Credit: heading for a pile up?

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If the UK government’s Universal Credit project fails it won’t be an ordinary car crash, but a motorway pile up – battering the poor as lazy and feckless has become something of a political sport in Britain in recent months, but failing to pay people the money they need to live will likely change the terms of the debate overnight –  starving children are no advertisement for welfare reform.

The government and its advisers have always said, though, that Universal Credit will be delivered on time and to budget. As the world’s biggest “agile” software development project it would be a remarkable feat – though after two years of work we are entitled to ask where the incremental prototypes are if this really is agile.

But signs are growing that the project is in trouble. Political squabbling between ministers is barely concealed (and it is between Conservative ministers – not even across party lines inside the coalition) and now a significant part of the project has seen roll out delayed.

Now, it may well be that this delay is indeed a sensible thing to do – and a sign that the government are serious about testing things before pressing on, but my sense is that the whole thing is in danger of collapse. It’s just too big, too quick and being done on the cheap using an untested (at this scale) method that has been bought into as a political silver bullet rather than because there has been a considered discussion of the options.