Universal Credit

Part of Estimates 2014-15 — Department for Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 7th July 2014.

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Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot 6:31 pm, 7th July 2014

The hon. Lady is right to say that the Select Committee has put forward a number of arguments, but that is what we are there to do. We are not there to tell the Department about the things it is doing well—more’s the pity, as that would give our work some balance—so she is right in that respect. I think that she is describing issues of obfuscation and not getting the facts, but my hon. Friend David Mowat was instructive in that regard when, earlier in the debate, he said that communication was the key. The devil is in the detail, and it is very difficult—when talking about, say, technology —to communicate with people and tell them exactly what is being done. I would love to say that technology was simple, but it is not.

Let us remind ourselves of the objectives of the change, to which both sides of the House agreed. The objectives were simplification, reducing costs and smoothing the transition from benefit to work. The Chair of the Select Committee talked about dealing with the wretched precipices that make people’s lives so difficult. The Committee has worked to hold the Government to account, and we should be trying to get a better result rather than just point scoring for the sake of it. The Chairman has done a good job of trying to get that balance right.

Let us look at where we are going. When we get this sorted out, 3 million households will be better off by £177 a month. We will have a system that provides better child care support, with an extra £200 million for child care helping 100,000 extra families working fewer than 16 hours a week. We will also have an extra £400 million to increase child care support to 85% of all working families. Let us look to the longer-term future: in 10 years’ time, UK plc will benefit by £35 billion. That will be a worthwhile and significant achievement. The path must continue to be trodden and the Committee must continue to fight the fight to keep the Department for Work and Pensions honest in all that it says, and to strive to get the best possible results. This must be a partnership, however.

Progress to date has included the launching of pathfinders, and we also have additional schemes such as the long-term schemes in our jobcentres. After the initial launch in the north-west, we now have universal credit rolling out in 14 jobcentres. By the end of this year, it will be in place in 90 of them. That will mean that universal credit will have been rolled out to one in eight jobcentres. That is not an insignificant achievement in that period of time, given the complexity involved. We already have 6,500 people on universal credit. I appreciate the Chairman’s view that that is a small number, but it is a start and a move in the right direction.

A point that has not been raised is that this is not just about nuts and bolts, IT systems and budgets. It is about a fundamental culture change, and as we know, changing a culture is one of the most difficult things to do in any organisation, never mind in the country as a whole.