6 December 2006

he introduction of the proposed Employment and Support Allowance has been put back from April 2008 to November 2008. The projected costs of the reforms are also increasing rapidly. However, the government have made it clear that the Welfare Reform Bill has enjoyed support from all political parties and that they do not expect any serious opposition from the Lords.

The delay to implementation was revealed in a document produced last month by John Hutton, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The document requests permission from the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee to spend £32 million on computer software development before the Bill even receives royal assent. Hutton says that unless permission is granted then that the implementation of ESA will be further delayed. However, even in the short period since the document was produced the estimated cost of implementing ESA has risen from £295 million to £318 million with a warning from the DWP that the final cost could be up to £80 million higher.

Most of the money will be handed over to private sector IT companies.

Ordinarily no money can be spent on new legislation until it has actually been passed into law, just in case it is thrown out or substantially modified in its passage through the Commons and the Lords. But Hutton argues that there is little likelihood of the Bill running into trouble. He argues that there is widespread support from all parties for the Bill, quoting approving comments from Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs and points out that the Conservatives did not even force a vote on the Bill's Second Reading.

Hutton says that no reason to suspect that there will be any less of a consensus around the Bill when it goes before the Lords in the New Year and that he is hopeful it could pass into law as early as Easter 2007.

The Work and Pensions Committee has indicated that whilst it is unhappy with the hasty and incomplete nature of the information provided by the DWP, they feel that they have no choice but to grant the request for money to be released to allow work on ESA to begin in January 2008.

You can read the Work and Pensions Committee report here.


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