Today I announce our plans for the next stage of implementing universal credit.
Universal credit is a major reform which will transform the welfare state in Britain for the better. Once fully implemented, universal credit will account for £70 billion of benefit spending each year, and bring a £38 billion economic benefit to society over 10 years.
Rightly for a programme of this scale, the Government’s priority has been, and continues to be, its safe and secure delivery. This has already been demonstrated in our approach to date, which started with the successful launch of the pathfinder six months earlier than planned in April 2013, and has continued with the controlled expansion of universal credit, starting in October 2013 and running through to spring 2014.
Furthermore, we are already pushing ahead with the cultural and business change required as part of universal credit: retraining 25,000 Jobcentre Plus advisers; delivering 11 in-work progression pilots; and rolling out the new claimant commitment, which is on track to be in place in all jobcentres by March 2014.
Over recent months the Department has worked with the Government Digital Service to assess the options for the next stage of universal credit delivery. That work has explored the use of the latest digital technologies and also assessed the utility of the work we have done to date, through the universal credit pathfinder, going forward.
Today I can announce the conclusions from this work:
As part of the wider transformation in the development of digital services, the Department will further develop the work started by the Government Digital Services to test and implement an enhanced online digital service, which will be capable of delivering the full scope of universal credit and make provision for all claimant types.
Meanwhile, we will expand our current pathfinder service and develop functionality so that from next summer we progressively start to take claims for universal credit from couples and, in the autumn, from families. Once safely tested in the 10 live universal credit areas, we will also expand the roll-out to cover more of the north-west of England. This will enable us to learn from the live running of universal credit at scale and for more claimant types, including the more vulnerable and complex.
These steps continue our progressive approach—test, learn, implement—as we deliver this flagship programme.
Our current planning assumption is that the universal credit service will be fully available in each part of Great Britain during 2016, having closed down new claims to the legacy benefits it replaced; with the majority of the remaining legacy case load moving to universal credit during 2016 and 2017. Final decisions on these elements of the programme will be informed by the development of the enhanced digital solution.