In a written statement, he stated that the pathfinders will begin taking on couple claims in Summer 2014 and claims for those with children in Autumn 2014. ‘The majority’ of existing claims will then be migrated over to Universal Credit between 2016-2017.
However, he told Parliament that people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) and Support Group of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – around 700,000 people – may not be transferred onto Universal Credit by 2017.
This is unsurprising yet disappointing news. However, it is important to remember what the alternatives to a slow UC roll-out are.
One alternative would be to steam roll through the implementation in order to meet the target date. This would no doubt lead to more errors, more IT failure, and ultimately more hardship for Universal Credit claimants.
The other alternative would be to stick with the current benefit system – a system where claimants have to fill out multiple applications, give evidence to three different government agencies, get multiple payments at different payment cycles, and see their benefits withdrawn at different rates when they move into work.
I doubt anyone would prefer either of these options. While the implementation of Universal Credit has had its share of teething problems, this should not overshadow the aims of the policy which have cross-party support. Universal Credit aims to deliver a simpler, more transparent welfare that makes work pay.
Early results from the pathfinders indicate that it is largely successful in achieving these aims. Universal Credit claimants are not only more likely to understand their entitlements and work incentives, but are making more of an effort to find work compared to those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.
While a failure to implement Universal Credit may make headlines and score political points, it is in everyone’s interests to deliver a better, simpler, more transparent welfare system.