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Welfare Reform

Volume 586: debated on Monday 13 October 2014

Today I can confirm plans for the next stage of implementing universal credit to all remaining jobcentres and local authorities as we progress national expansion through 2015-16 and secure delivery of universal credit across Great Britain.

Universal credit is a major reform which is restoring work incentives and transforming the welfare state in Britain for the better.

Once fully implemented, universal credit will account for £70 billion of benefit spending each year with up to £35 billion of potential economic benefits to society over 10 years. It is estimated to increase those in work by up to 300,000 once its impact is fully realised.

For a programme of this scale, the Government’s priority has been, and continues to be, safe and secure delivery. This started with the successful launch of the pathfinder in April 2013 where our test and learn approach enabled us to test that universal credit was working as intended. We have maintained this careful, controlled expansion of universal credit, continually learning as we go, from October 2013.

Universal credit claims are now taken in over 50 jobcentres and will be available in nearly 100 jobcentres by Christmas—more than one in eight across Great Britain.

We have increased the groups who can claim universal credit to include couples and, from this autumn, we will extend this further to include families in the north-west.

Now national expansion will progress from February 2015 to all remaining jobcentres and local authorities for new single claimants previously eligible for jobseeker’s allowance, including those with existing housing benefit and tax credit claims.

The Department continues to deliver universal credit based on experience and early evidence, with changes in perceptions and attitudes beginning to lead to positive changes in behaviour, and will shortly publish its report 'Universal Credit at Work' alongside an associated evaluation.

The universal credit service is being continuously improved, working with our local authority delivery partners to enhance support offered to households. I can confirm:

We are now trialling key aspects of universal support—delivered locally in 11 partnership areas across Great Britain to inform future delivery. These include triaging household needs to tailor personalised integrated services, and the sharing of data, skills and estate to support more households into work—to ensure the right integrated local foundations are established for further universal credit expansion.

We will put in place funded delivery partnership agreements between Jobcentre Plus and local authorities to make available more support for those who need extra help, including developing co-commissioning capability as we establish personal budgeting support in all local communities through expansion.

Through national expansion we will establish these partnerships to help households progress into work as we develop Universal Support—delivered locally building on the Local Support Services Framework—ensuring effective integrated services are established locally ahead of expansion to all claimant groups from 2016 as legacy benefit systems close to new claims.

We are also bringing forward further test and learn innovations. I can confirm:

Universal credit work coaches will engage with all households at their work search interviews to assess financial capability, referring to co-commissioned personal budgeting support for advice as appropriate; and identifying if an alternative payment arrangement is necessary for the housing element of universal credit.

In-work progression pilots will be extended to help households increase their earnings once they have found work. These trials will ensure we develop our approach further based on evidence as we progress universal credit labour market transformation, working in partnership with local authorities, employers, colleges and other partners to boost in-work support and progression.

We will also build smarter segmentation capability for work coaches, including via enhanced digital channels, to maximise the impact and efficiency of early interventions for those who need extra support.

We will commence testing an enhanced digital service for universal credit later this year for the full scope of universal credit households in a limited local area.

Taken together, these steps will secure the delivery of universal credit.

This plan—assured by the Major Projects Authority and signed off by HM Treasury—delivers national expansion and transition, enabling natural migration to build the universal credit case load over time as household circumstances change and they become eligible for, and claim, universal credit.

The Department will personalise support to maximise flows into work as more households move onto universal credit as legacy benefits close to new claims from

2016. This establishes the universal credit service across Great Britain, complete by 2017, with the case load continuing to build naturally thereafter.

We will keep all longer-term plans under review as we progress universal credit based on our test and learn approach, securing long-term transformation of the welfare state and UK labour market in a safe and secure way.