Britain’s universal credit could yet be a success

THE GULF between principle and practice is often fatal for policies—and for political careers. Britain’s government faces a backlash over universal credit, a reform combining six welfare programmes into one. This was widely seen as a good idea about a decade ago. But a series of administrative failures, a senseless decision to make payments well in arrears and a squeeze on the system’s overall generosity have left many claimants angry. Some are destitute. In places where universal credit replaces legacy benefits, reliance on food handouts rises and more people fall behind with the rent.

This good-idea-turned-disaster has already led the government to delay the reform. Some critics say it should be abandoned altogether (see article). They are wrong. If the government corrects its mistakes—starting by providing a little more money in its budget on October 29th—universal credit could still succeed. In fact, Britain might end up with a world-class welfare system that approximates an idea long advocated by many reformers, including this newspaper: a negative income tax for low earners.

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