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> Why are benefits so complicated?

Why are benefits so complicated? Here’s one reason. The benefits world is a bit like a big, old, city hospital. The hospital will have gradually grown over the years: new blocks will have been built, some old buildings demolished, and some bits will have stayed but been changed beyond recognition. Strange bridges and corridors will have been built to connect parts of the hospital, and different parts will be on slightly different levels and at different angles to each other. Although the basic purpose of the hospital is the same - to make people well - the way in which this is done now is going to be quite different from what it used to be. Finally and importantly, although each change over the year will have been planned and designed carefully, there will have been no overall plan over the years.

The benefits world is very similar to this. Over the years the original rules and benefits have had extra bits added on, and some of the original rules have been abolished. Some of the original rules are still sort of there, but buried under amendments, updates, and other changes, so that they have very different effects from those they used to have. Extra bits of law have had to be written to connect all the different rules. Although the basic purpose of benefits is the same - to help people who have financial needs - the way in which it does this now is very different from what is was like, say, 50 years ago. Like the hospital, it is now much bigger and much easier to get lost in.

Consider this.

The Child Poverty Action Group publish a handbook for advisers. If you’re a professional adviser you can’t really manage without it. I have a copy of the one from 1984 (it’s two books, actually): It is about 365 pages long. The 2013 edition stretches to about 1800 pages. That’s about five times longer less than 30 years ago…

One of the stated purposes of the new Universal Credit is to make everything simpler. I don’t think it’s going to work out that way…