The Secretary of State for Work and Pension, Iain Duncan Smith, announced that Universal Credit would be rolled out to 100 Jobcentres across the UK by the end of 2014, and the rollout would accelerate from February 2015 to include all Jobcentres by April 2016.
Universal Credit aims to simplify the benefit system, making it easier for people to understand and making administration more efficient and to improve the financial returns for people moving into and progressing in work. Policy in Practice found that Universal Credit would increase the amount of money in people’s pockets, and improve their employment prospects.
Universal Credit is currently being rolled out across the North West of England, and is currently available in 50 Jobcentres. The service is primarily being rolled out to single people, but couples and families are now able to claim the new benefit in some parts of the country.
Local support services for recipients that may need help to apply for Universal Credit online, or to manage a single monthly payment, are being trialled across eleven local authority and JCP sites across the UK. The government’s press release on the rollout indicates that there will be additional funding available to local authorities working to develop effective support services.
The Policy in Practice Perspective
Policy in Practice was founded to make policy work for people. We work with local authorities and other local organisations to help them to implement welfare changes quickly and effectively, and were involved in the first wave of pilots, helping to support households in Lewisham affected by the Benefit Cap.
Our clients support the policy intent behind Universal Credit. Their concerns are about how the new benefit will work in practice, and how they can best support their residents in the transition to UC. While we welcome the accelerated rollout of Universal Credit, which gives some clarity over timescales, our view is that if Universal Credit is to change attitudes toward the benefit system, recipients’ first experience of the new system has to be positive.
It is far from certain that all local organisations are prepared for the accelerated rollout. Advisors will need to be able to explain the new system, and begin the shift away from a process driven benefit system to one that is more focused on outcomes. This will mean developing effective systems and processes that work with the current benefit system, as well as UC.
As Universal Credit rolls out across the country, reaching a growing number of low and middle income households, it is important that it feels different. It needs to be a true departure from the process driven, complex and often perverse welfare system we have today.