The vow of silence on the subject of the Work Programme continues in place, while the government works out how to fiddle the figures. Perhaps the idea is to blame the "customers" for not being willing to work. At the moment the spotlight is on Universal Credit, which begins with a tiny "pathfinder" in Ashton under Lyne tomorrow. Amelia Gentleman in the Guardian on Friday described the pilot and its limitations; and the BBC's Sunday news programme has looked at the problems. The pilot will include only a very few people, about 300 a month; all of them will be new claimants, not on any other benefits than JSA, single and with no dependants, but with bank accounts. It would be hard to get that wrong, you would think. Even when it rolls out nationally in October, families and children will not be included. But plenty of people anticipate the problems. A charity which works with young men under 25 says that lots of them can't use a computer. The local council has installed computer hubs, but points out that the online form, which takes about 45 minutes to complete, has no "save" function. Tameside CAB is worried about people falling into debt because of monthly payments.
The IT is the worry, of course. There are so many different interfaces and databases which have to be meshed. And it's been costing £500,000 a day to develop the systems. The BBC piece said that Iain Duncan Smith has complained about the way UC is being presented, so they asked him or someone else from the DWP onto the programme - but no one was available.
Nick Cohen in the Observer has a different take on UC. He says that it "poses a serious threat to women's independence". That's because it will lump all benefits, including tax credits (but not child benefit) into one payment made into one bank account. And that is far more likely to be the man's. If you doubt that, read the article and the link it has to the Women's Budget Group. Cohen links this attitude to the religious background of IDS's special adviser, Phillippa Stroud, who is also head of his think tank, the Centre for Social Justice. She's an evangelical Christian, married to the boss of a church which teaches "male servant leadership and joyful female submission". Whether this is relevant or not, I don't know.
If you're looking for a home in Somerset, you might want to avoid the Yarlington Housing Group. This housing association, according to the Independent, makes its new residents sign a Household Ambition Plan. It's so sinister that it has caused a storm of anger. But expect more of this sort of thing. Unless you own your own home and don't claim any sort of benefits, you must learn to tug your forelock and obey your masters.