Frank Field MP: DWP must prove it does 'test and learn' before starting Universal Credit migration
If the Department for Work and Pensions is confident that Universal Credit is operationally ready to begin the managed migration pilot, there is no explanation for not setting and meeting the tests to demonstrate this, says Frank Field MP.
Today’s report from the WPSC is about the questions, the tests, that DWP must set itself - and crucially, meet – before it starts any part of its so-called “managed” migration of existing claimants onto Universal Credit. But there is really only one question: is the Department up to the job?
At every stage since landlords and local authorities raised the alarm about hardship and homelessness with us two years ago, the story of Universal Credit has been a sorry, painful one.
Food banks have become some of our most regular - and valuable – witnesses, and now we begin to hear from groups supporting women forced to turn for the first time to “survival sex” to find a roof to sleep under.
With almost every report, we lambast the Department for its failure to properly collect, never mind use, essential management information on how or even if its own policies are working.
With almost every report, we ask the Department how on earth it can know that its ends justify its means, when it also collects almost no information on what its policies, or the disastrously managed attempts to implement them, are doing for or to claimants.
Now the Department wants to push into the final stages of UC, and move millions of people currently scraping by on existing benefits onto its huge new “simplified” 6-in-1.
We started to get really worried about this, and the vagueness of Government’s plans for it, around last October.
Since then we, the SSAC and the NAO have all called for comprehensive tests of readiness for the huge task ahead to be set and met, before it tries moving even one live person onto its “full service”.
Six months after we started pressing them on this next potential UC disaster on the horizon that first, big question remains. Are they up to their job: protecting our most vulnerable fellow citizens?
The pilot readiness tests would be separate from 'go to scale' readiness tests which must also be put in place, and met. We simply don’t accept the Department's argument that our, the NAO’s and SSAC's recommendations now have any "less resonance" than when they were first framed, simply because it has finally conceded to conducting this pilot before it gets any new powers from Parliament to go “to scale”.
If the Department is confident that UC is operationally ready to begin the managed migration pilot, there is no explanation for not setting and meeting the tests to demonstrate this.
The problem is DWP is still talking semantics: we are talking about people.
Anyone who sees their income slashed or their circumstances and life chances reduced, or any of the other messes UC is getting people across this land into, will find no comfort in learning it didn’t happen on purpose.
Does DWP want to explain to them it didn’t bother to find out how they might be affected?
Will it be a comfort to learn DWP did take a look at that, but didn’t bother to apply its findings?
‘Test and learn’ must mean just that: DWP must not move one person onto UC until it proves it does test, and it does learn, and it is ready to do so without terrible risk to the claimants it serves.
Frank Field is the independent MP for Birkenhead.