Universal Credit is the most important reform to the welfare system since the war.
The challenge of implementing change on this scale makes it easy to forget that the principles of Universal Credit: a simpler benefit system that allows people to keep more of their earnings from work, retain broad public and political support. Understandably, concerns over implementation are beginning to overshadow the fact that these reforms are critical and long overdue.
Local authorities have shown that benefit claims can be processed online. They have improved processing times and reduced error using the same technology that the DWP aims to implement for Universal Credit. There will be challenges and the system won’t be perfect on day one, but it should improve quickly enough over a long phased rollout lasting four years.
Central government has to deliver on its promises with a simple and clear claims process, sensible regulations on passported benefits such as free school meals and an IT system that delivers. Local authorities have to design council tax and local welfare support that work with the principles of Universal Credit.
Concerns over the technology and the regulations mean that there is a bigger implementation challenge at risk of being overlooked. Universal Credit needs effective local welfare delivery.
Recent reports by the Work and Pensions select committee made it clear that effective local face to face support will be required for vulnerable claimants. This creates an opportunity for organisations that can rise to the challenge and that want to play a role in local welfare support.
At the moment, it is unclear what the local delivery model will look like for Universal Credit. The pilots for local authorities and housing associations hope to identify what works, but this will vary from region to region.
The delivery model will depend most importantly upon what work that each organisation involved in local delivery has done to prepare.
What can you do to support the implementation of Universal Credit?
The first step will be understanding Universal Credit. The free calculator available at policyinpractice.co.uk may help.
Housing associations and local authorities can begin to learn more about their residents. I am working with two local authorities to help them to model the impact of welfare reform on their constituents. I have also designed tools in partnership with landlords to help housing associations to explain the impact of welfare reform to claimants while assessing online access and identifying budgeting concerns. The impact of direct payments to tenants should mean that this is a priority for landlords.
Universal Credit also aims to support progression in work. Perhaps your organisation can offer childcare, or employment support to help people progress into an on in work?
As Universal Credit approaches, you will have to ask what role your organisation can play in local welfare support, and what you can do to make welfare work.
Deven has written extensively on welfare policy, government spending and employment for the Centre for Social Justice and works independently to support the implementation of policy reforms.