Rishi Sunak: I can't raise benefits because of 'complicated' computer system

Treasury says welfare payments involve 'complex and inefficient paper-based systems that are slowed further by ageing, inflexible IT'

Rishi Sunak attends a regional cabinet meeting in Stoke-on-Trent on Thursday

Rishi Sunak has blamed a “complicated” IT system for not raising welfare benefits to shield the most vulnerable from the cost-of-living crisis.

The Treasury this week downplayed a suggestion made by Boris Johnson that further help would be made available within days and some Tory MPs have privately argued it may be needed before the summer.

Asked about further benefits support, Mr Sunak replied: “The operation of our welfare system is technically complicated. 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.”

The Chancellor said his answer “sounds like an excuse” but insisted he had been “constrained somewhat by the operation of the welfare system”.

'Complex and inefficient'

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions told Bloomberg that benefits programmes involved “complex and inefficient paper-based systems that are slowed further by ageing, inflexible IT”, with changes taking "several months to process."

Mr Sunak announced changes to National Insurance, fuel duty cuts and £500million for councils to help vulnerable people mitigate rising costs in his Spring Statement in March.

He had previously set out a £9billion plan, covering around 28million Britons, in the wake of the soaring cost of energy, food and fuel in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic.

A £20 weekly uplift for Universal Credit claimants, introduced by ministers as an emergency measure during the Covid crisis, came to an end in October.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Mr Sunak reiterated that ministers remain “very committed” in their aim to level up the entire United Kingdom after an analysis found London had continued to pull ahead of much of the rest of the country since the 2019 general election.

“What does it mean to me? It means making sure people, wherever they happen to grow up and live in the UK, feel that they’ve got fantastic opportunities ahead of them and they’ve also got enormous pride in the place they get to call home,” he said.

On the Northern Ireland Protocol, meanwhile, Mr Sunak echoed the Government's position that the current arrangement has posed “enormous challenges to the stability of the situation in Northern Ireland”.

“You can see it’s become a power to re-establishing power-sharing in Northern Ireland, it doesn’t have cross-community consent, and that’s a very serious situation that needs resolving.

“And our preference is to have, and always has been to have, a negotiated settlement with our European friends and partners and no decision has been taken about what the future direction might be.”