Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Universal Credit - Update

Yesterday I was writing a page for with information about the introduction of Universal Credit. However I've just realised that I need to amend it before I upload it as there has been a development.

The government has just issued a press release with more details about how it plans to proceed in October this year:

At the moment Universal Credit is being piloted in a few areas in the north-west of England. The government's position has been that in October this year it would be 'rolled-out' across the UK. If this gives you, as it does me, an image of a giant carpet being suddenly unrolled over the country, you may need to adjust your metaphor. 

The new press release states that from October the following Jobcentres will be added to the pilot areas:

  • Hammersmith
  • Rugby
  • Inverness
  • Harrogate
  • Bath
  • Shotton

To me this seems less like a roll-out and more like distributing some scatter cushions.

Prospective claimants not within those Jobcentre's catchment areas therefore appear to have a bit more breathing space. They'd better not be too complacent though, because the press release also states that the Claimant Commitment will roll out to all Jobcentres from October. This means that new claimants for Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, and Employment and Support Allowance will now have to 'accept a Claimant Commitment' - this is a document in which the responsibilities of the claimant are spelled out, and will vary depending on the claimant's circumstances. For jobseekers this is unlikely to seem that different to having to enter into a jobseeker's agreement, but for Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support claimants this may come as a nasty shock (although it should be noted that some claimants, for example carers, will not be required to work or prepare to work).

What else can we read into this press release?

Reading between the lines, the document does seem to be a tacit admission that systems aren't as ready as the government would like. For example, it states:

"The Pathfinder exercise has shown that the IT system works underpinned by the Real Time Information system. But, in parallel, after asking major projects expert David Pitchford to review it earlier this year, ministers have accepted his recommendation that they should explore enhancing the IT for Universal Credit working with the Government Digital Service. Advancements in technology since the current system was developed have meant that a more responsive system that is more flexible and secure could potentially be built."

Translated, I think that really means:

"We've been advised that our IT systems are not fit for the job we've asked them to do, and more work is needed."

But I might be wrong...

The fact is that the government gave themselves a fair bit of wiggle room when they originally announced Universal Credit: They didn't say how fast the roll-out would be, only that it would start in October this year and be complete in 2017. And, in fairness to them, it is certainly better for everyone, claimants included, not to rush things. 

Amusingly (at least to me), they say that there current plan means that "Universal Credit will be rolling out in areas of England, Wales and Scotland". I've just checked - Shotton is in Wales, so all bases covered.

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