Good morning, it’s a pleasure to be here and to once again have the opportunity of speaking to you.
I firmly believe that we are all part of a joint endeavour in delivering a better system of welfare in this country.
And I see it as a real privilege to have therefore been asked on a number of occasions to address you since I became Minister for Welfare Reform back in 2010.
Most recently, on 10 July 2014, I spoke at the closing day of your LGA conference in Bournemouth.
I outlined that across central and local government we are currently in the midst of enormous culture change – none more important than the introduction of Universal Credit.
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to all the local authorities and stakeholders who have shown remarkable determination in helping to develop and implement Universal Credit.
The successes we have had and those that we will have would not be possible without your support.
In the last year we have seen a great deal of activity around Universal Credit and it will be expanding across the country in the next couple of months.
A key part of that expansion will be working closely with you all to lay the foundations for Universal Support.
I will touch more on Universal Support later in my speech but first I want to reflect on Universal Credit.
When I spoke at your conference back in December 2013 we were only live in 7 sites in England and Scotland and had just outlined our plans for giving Universal Credit a national footprint in the north west of England.
Since that time and building on our firm commitment to test and learn in a safe and secure way we have now completed a 7 month rollout covering the whole of the north west of England.
I am pleased to say that Universal Credit is now live in nearly 100 jobcentres covering some 45 local authorities across England and Scotland, as well as Wales.
As part of our rollout in the north west of England we also expanded the gateway – first taking claims from couples in 5 jobcentres during June and then expanding this to all live sites from July.
In addition to couples, from November we started taking claims from families in 6 jobcentres in the north west of England.
Five of these are in Wirral local authority – Birkenhead, Bromborough, Hoylake, Upton and Wallasey. The other is in Warrington.
We plan to expand taking claims from families to all current live sites shortly.
Also in November 2014 we began a controlled test of the enhanced Universal Credit Digital Service in a single post code area in Sutton, south London.
The enhanced Digital Service gives claimants an online account to manage all aspects of their Universal Credit claim bringing them into an interactive digital relationship with the department.
This will enable households to report changes online and to make changes to their Claimant Commitment to-do list, at any time.
The signs from this test have been very encouraging so far.
This successful expansion of Universal Credit into the north west of England has allowed the Universal Credit caseload to build gradually and as of December 2014, over 44,000 people have made a claim for Universal Credit.
In September last year we announced our plans for the national expansion of Universal Credit to all remaining jobcentres and local authorities.
This national expansion of Universal Credit will make the new service available to the vast majority, with a few exceptions, of new single claimants who would otherwise have been able to claim Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) including those with existing Housing Benefit and Tax Credit claims.
Beginning next month Universal Credit will begin to expand across Great Britain in a tranche based approached, mirroring the successful implementation methods that we used to safely and securely roll out Universal Credit in the north west of England.
On 9 December we announced via GOV.UK the 78 local authorities and 150 jobcentres that will roll out Universal Credit in the first tranche between February and April 2015.
Once this first tranche of national roll out is complete in the spring of 2015 Universal Credit will be available in 1 in 3 jobcentres across Great Britain.
I am pleased that many of you here today have been working in partnership with DWP on the first tranche of national expansion.
It is fundamentally important that we can all work together – as without your help and support we would not be able to continue our progressive approach to test, learn and implement – as we deliver Universal Credit.
We are also working to finalise the other 3 tranches of national roll out and we will announce these as soon as possible to allow you and your partners as much time as possible to prepare.
Our current planning assumption is that Universal Credit will be fully available in every part of Great Britain during 2016.
Meaning that virtually all new claims will be for Universal Credit with the last new claims to legacy benefits being accepted during 2017.
Following this the remaining legacy caseload will progressively decline, and the department will migrate the remaining claims to Universal Credit.
Should there be no change in the labour market outlook or the pace at which claims are migrated, the current business case assumes, for planning purposes, that the bulk of this exercise will be complete by 2019.
However I would like to reassure you that the national expansion of Universal Credit over the next year will not directly affect the £304 million agreed in the 2014 Autumn Statement to administer Housing Benefit during the 2015 to 2016 financial year.
The roll out of Universal Credit is an opportunity to bring together many different agencies responsible for delivering the current multitude of benefits alongside other local support providers, like local authorities and charities.
Many of these services often work in isolation.
Under Universal Support, these services will be brought together in a joined-up, potentially co-located way, based on local needs to provide whole person support.
Led by a partnership of the local authority and Jobcentre Plus, in the interests of both claimants and the taxpayer.
Whilst we recognise the need to support vulnerable people we also recognise that, for many, vulnerability is not a permanent state but something that affects them temporarily.
We also believe that, even for people with chronic problems, the role of support must be to maximise their life chances, help to move them towards full independence, work readiness (wherever appropriate) and social inclusion.
Universal Support encourages that approach.
This is why the strong integrated relationship between DWP, local authorities and third sector organisations are key in delivering this intent.
We hope that every local authority will have a tested and funded way of providing support to the vulnerable and those at risk.
And one of the key areas of work to assist this has been in the development and trialling of Universal Support.
Since the publication of the local support services framework in February 2013 and the update and trialling plan in December 2013 we have continued to work closely with local authorities.
This was followed in May 2014 by the publication of an Expression of Interest (EOI) trialling prospectus – which has enabled DWP and local authorities working in partnership to trial aspects of Universal Support.
I was personally pleased to announce in July 2014 the 11 sites from across Great Britain that on 1 September 2014 began to test aspects of Universal Support for a 12 month period.
Each of the trials is working in a partnership across a range of demographics to test various support options for those who need additional help.
In particular claimants with complex needs and vulnerabilities.
There are 3 key support elements at the core:
- digital inclusion
- financial inclusion
With these trials we want to show that investment in local support services to help and support the most vulnerable and at risk in society helps to transform lives and is value for money.
For example we have single authority trials like Derby City who have developed a co-located multi-agency advice hub bringing together advice and support.
The tri-borough trial in Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark have extended the ‘digi-buddies’ service, offering digital support from Lambeth to Lewisham and Southwark.
Also as the trials have grown a number of them have adapted.
In one area this had led to a change of focus to offenders and ex-offenders which offers the opportunity to gather valuable data on a group known to have multiple and complex needs who may require intensive support under Universal Credit.
There have been many examples of enthusiastic partnership working between agencies and partner organisations.
In some areas this has required a commitment to a full time joint presence by all partners typically where a hub has been established, ensuring the full service envisaged can be offered.
This has also facilitated improved working relationships between partner organisations and greater understanding of respective roles by staff and the overall trial.
Each of the trials will participate in a robust evaluation to be conducted by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion.
A report on the first 6 months of the trails is due in Spring 2015 and the results from this and subsequent reports will be used to determine how best to support those who need additional help.
From the visits I have made to local authorities and jobcentres I have always been encouraged and impressed to see how well everyone is working as integrated delivery partnerships.
Especially the 15 co-located sites that are really pioneering this way of working.
One issue that comes up a lot is about how these integrated delivery partnerships can effectively share data, something which I know we all feel is fundamental to the success of both Universal Credit and Universal Support.
Effective data sharing means that information will not be lost or duplicated in the journey between multiple providers.
Through improved data sharing, Universal Credit claimants who need extra support will get a more coherent provision of services to ensure they don’t slip through the net.
Over the last 5 weeks we have been running a consultation on amendment regulations to allow us to widen the scope of data sharing for the purposes of Universal Support.
My aim is to get these regulations in place for the start of the national expansion of Universal Credit.
The information shared will enable local support providers to identify Universal Credit claimants who need assistance, advice and support and to ensure that support is in place.
I know that many of you have already responded to the consultation – thank you – we have received many positive comments and it’s clear to us that this is as important to you, as it is to us.
The consultation closes at 6pm today, so there is still an opportunity for those who haven’t to submit your thoughts.
Moving into 2015, the hard work of the last year will continue.
I want you to know we are keen to build, maintain and grow the strong relationships that we have with local authorities.
I hope that as Universal Credit expands across Great Britain so will our networks of integrated delivery partnerships and co-located sites so that we can restore work incentives, renew fairness, provide whole person support to those in most need and ultimately transform lives.