Universal Credit

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 24th February 2014.

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Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent 2:30 pm, 24th February 2014

How many people are currently claiming universal credit.

Photo of Laura Sandys Laura Sandys Conservative, South Thanet

What recent progress his Department has made on the roll-out of universal credit.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Since October, universal credit has started running in Hammersmith, Rugby and Inverness and it is rolling out today in Harrogate and Bath. It is already out in a number of other centres up in the north-west. Based on caseload projections, some 6,000-plus people are likely to be paid universal credit in the pathfinder. That will be subject to confirmation in the official statistics. Many more claim jobseeker’s allowance using the key elements of universal credit, which are also being rolled out to a wider audience. Some 270,000 jobseekers are now using elements such as the claimant commitment, which is part of universal credit.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

Well, the Secretary of State is certainly going faster than universal credit.

Under the Government’s original timetable 1 million people would be receiving universal credit by April this year. When does the Secretary of State now expect this 1 million target to be met?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I have said constantly and I continue to say that we will not be giving out targets for dates. As I said earlier, roll-out has begun. I invite the hon. Gentleman to go to any one of the centres and talk to the staff there and to the claimants. He will find that what is happening is a real improvement in their seeking work and getting work, and in the advisers being able to apply themselves to those with the greatest difficulty. Universal credit will have rolled through by 2016, as I said, with all those benefits merged into one, and people will be claiming universal credit, not any other benefit.

Photo of Laura Sandys Laura Sandys Conservative, South Thanet

Thank you so much—very informative!

Photo of Laura Sandys Laura Sandys Conservative, South Thanet

I am a strong believer in behavioural change, and my behaviour will change shortly—but just before it does, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the behavioural change that is happening as a result of the introduction of universal credit?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I say to my hon. and highly informed Friend that it is important for us to understand what this is all about. Colleagues on either side of the House should attend centres where universal credit has been rolled out. They will hear from the advisers that we are beginning to see a real change in culture among those who are claiming benefit and those who are delivering it. All the centres that I have visited believe that this is improving the situation for claimants, and it makes life a lot easier and a lot more efficient for advisers in jobcentres.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Would that the Secretary of State were as informative as the Speaker. The answer to the question on the Order Paper—in other words, how many people are on universal credit—is 3,200. Bearing in mind that so far universal credit has cost £612 million, that is £191,250 per person, which does not compare very well with the £6,500 per person that was mentioned for the future jobs fund. It seems that the Prime Minister was right when it comes to Government pet projects: money is no object. When will the Secretary of State allow the Opposition direct access to his officials so that we can sort out his mess?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I rather hope that at some point the hon. Gentleman had a maths O-level, because his maths is so pathetic as to make it risible. He has all the numbers and all the amounts that are relevant to the development of all the equipment that will roll out the complete universal credit. [Interruption.] I am going to answer this question. In truth, the operational running costs of the pathfinder, which is what we are running at the moment, are some £6 million, which equates to £200 per claim. By the way, he needs a little correction. In case he had not noticed, we have already invited him and all his colleagues to come and visit us. I think they are down to visit us this week, so he needs to check his diary, or maybe his colleagues did not want him to come with them. I do not know.