Rishi Sunak is under fire after an extraordinary claim that “computer says no” forced him to impose real-terms benefits cuts in his spring mini-budget.
The chancellor has been strongly criticised for increasing payments to struggling people by only 3.1 per cent last month – far below the inflation rate of 7 per cent and rising.
Now Mr Sunak has blamed the government’s antique computer system, despite previously suggesting it would be too costly and that other help is available.
“The operation of our welfare system is technically complicated,” he told Bloomberg News.
“It is not necessarily possible to [increase benefits] for everybody. Many of the systems are built so it can only be done once a year, and the decision was taken quite a while ago.”
Mr Sunak acknowledged that blaming the technology “sounds like an excuse”, but insisted he was “constrained somewhat by the operation of the welfare system”.
But the claim was disputed by experts who argued that – while changing so-called “legacy benefits” and pensions is complex – levels of Universal Credit can and have been increased at pace.
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, pointed out that Mr Sunak increased Universal Credit immediately when the Covid pandemic struck in 2020.
Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, said: “The chancellor is right that it’s very difficult to change benefits outside the usual cycle, particularly for pensions. But these barriers can be overcome.”
The Department for Work and Pensions appeared to contradict the chancellor’s claim that the system can only be altered once a year, saying changes take “several months to process.”