I cannot increase benefits due to a “complicated” computer system
Rishi Sunak has blamed a “complicated” IT system for not increasing social benefits now to protect the most vulnerable from the cost of living crisis.
The Treasury this week played down a suggestion by Boris Johnson that further aid would be made available within days and some Tory MPs have privately argued it may be needed before the summer.
Asked about other social benefits, Mr. Sunak replied: “The operation of our social protection system is technically complicated. It is not necessarily possible to [increase benefits] for everyone.
“A lot of systems are built so it can only be done once a year, and the decision was made a while ago.”
The Chancellor said his response ‘felt like an apology’ but insisted he had been ‘somewhat constrained by the way the welfare system works’.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions told Bloomberg that the benefit programs involved “complex and inefficient paper-based systems that are still hampered by aging and inflexible IT”, with the changes taking “several months to process”.
A report by the Public Accounts Committee warned that some of the systems used by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been “unfit for purpose” for decades.
Technology dating back to 1988
MPs on the committee said millions of pensioner records were kept on a computer system that not only dated back to 1988 but was also “inherently vulnerable” to error.
Simon McKinnon, DWP’s top technologist, said in committee testimony in 2019 that it would take “many years” to move away from the decades-old technology.
“The state pension is managed by a 30-year-old system, but we have [rebuilt] parts of it – the “Check your state pension” [service] has 12.5 million page views in the past year,” he said at the time.
He admitted that “legacy systems” were “very critical to what we deliver… It’s going to take many years, but we have the ambition to move away from that in due course.”
Some new systems are expected to work alongside aging technology, with data and applications being transferred gradually, while others will be replaced immediately.
Mr Sunak announced National Insurance changes, fuel tax cuts and £500million for advice to help vulnerable people mitigate rising costs in his spring statement in March.
He had previously drawn up a £9billion plan, covering around 28million Britons, following soaring energy, food and fuel costs following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic.
A £20 weekly increase for Universal Credit claimants, introduced by ministers as an emergency measure during the Covid crisis, ended in October.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Mr Sunak reiterated that ministers remain ‘very committed’ to their aim to level the whole of the UK after analysis revealed London had continued to outpace much of the rest of the country since the general elections of 2019. .
“What does this mean to me?” It means making sure that people, wherever they grow up and live in the UK, feel they have fantastic opportunities ahead of them and are also extremely proud of where they can call home. “, did he declare.
On the Northern Ireland protocol, Mr Sunak echoed the government’s position that the current arrangement has posed “huge challenges to the stability of the situation in Northern Ireland”.
“You can see it has become a power to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland, there is no cross-community consent, and it is a very serious situation that needs to be resolved.
“And our preference is to have, and always has been to have, a negotiated settlement with our European friends and partners and no decision has been made on what the future direction might be.”