We have begun the national roll-out of universal credit. Those plans are on track, and universal credit is now available in nearly 150 jobcentre areas for single claimants and in nearly 100 areas for couples and families. Universal credit will be available in over 500 jobcentre areas—seven in 10—by the end of the year, and it will be rolled out to all our 714 jobcentres next year.
In contrast to some reports today, the staff in the jobcentres in my constituency are looking forward to the roll-out of universal credit because they know the advantages it will bring to local jobseekers. Has my right hon. Friend made a recent assessment of the benefits of universal credit following the roll-out so far?
We have indeed. From what I have read of the reports my hon. Friend mentions, every single point made in them is wrong and misleading. We will be making our position clear on that. The analysis that he asks for has shown that the benefits of universal credit are statistically significant. Findings now show that, compared with similar claimants on jobseeker’s allowance, universal credit claimants spend more time looking for work, enter work more quickly and spend more time in work. They also end up earning more.
The roll-out so far has been to specific groups of people with particular characteristics. That is partly because, to put it uncharitably, the original IT system does not work. If I were being charitable, I would say that it worked but with greatly reduced functionality compared with what was originally planned. However, the Department is piloting a digital solution in Sutton, Surrey, and I wonder whether the Secretary of State could tell us how that is going. When are we likely to get the results of that pilot? Can he tell us when the digital solution is going to be rolled out, given that it was meant to be the great white hope for saving universal credit?
The IT system is exactly the same system, and it works in all categories. The difference is that we have rightly decided, in accordance with the Public Accounts Committee’s request, to roll this out stage by stage—we have been told that this is the correct way to do it—rather than trying to rush it, as was done with the tax credit system, which crashed. The hon. Lady mentioned the digital solution. Digital development and the online service are merging together, because the live service has many elements that will be used by the digital service anyway. This is a merging of the two services, and we will be reporting on that as we go along. It is successfully rolling out at the moment and expanding at the same time. I would be very happy if the hon. Lady wanted to go and visit it.
I congratulate the Government on their agile approach to the roll-out of universal credit. Given that it is expected to come to Wycombe, along with every other constituency, in the course of the next year, will my right hon. Friend remind the House of the advantages that our constituents can expect from it?
Apart from the technical changes, the reality is that at the moment when someone falls unemployed then takes a part-time job they have to sign off and go through the whole rigmarole of claiming tax credits with no one talking to them. Under universal credit, they do not sign off. They stay with their adviser, who helps them enormously in negotiating their way through all their job applications. There is therefore a human interface, which is much better and which will help people who are unemployed and who have difficulties. People can look forward to that.