The Work and Pensions Committee is today launching a new inquiry into what the Government calls “natural migration”: the process by which people claiming existing benefits move onto Universal Credit if they have a change in their circumstances.
Universal Credit has now been rolled out to every Jobcentre in the country. This means that if people who are already claiming benefits under the old system have a change in their circumstances (for example, if they form part of a new couple, or separate from an existing partner), they can’t make a new claim for the old benefits. Instead, they have to make a whole new claim for Universal Credit.
The Government calls this “natural migration” to Universal Credit. However, people who transfer onto Universal Credit in this way aren’t eligible for any transitional protection payments and so may see a change in their income from benefits. For many people, this may be the first time that they discover that their income will change under Universal Credit. The change usually entails a drop in income.
The Committee has heard concerns that:
- the Government hasn’t given clear and comprehensive information about the “triggers” for “natural migration”
- the absence of transitional protection means people might have to cope suddenly with a drop in income.
This is the latest stage in the Committee’s ongoing work on Universal Credit – which has already resulted in the Government making significant changes to the system.
In its November report on so-called “managed migration” – the process of wholesale moving existing benefit claimants onto Universal Credit even if their circumstances haven’t changed – the Committee called on the Government to publish an assessment of the impact of a sudden loss of income due to natural migration on different claimant groups, and then to look again at whether the triggers for natural migration are appropriate. In its official response to that report, published today alongside this new inquiry launch, the Government has refused to do that.
The Chair, Frank Field, has written back to the Secretary of State with a series of questions about the Government’s response – that correspondence is also published today. The Committee say they are “disappointed and concerned by the Government’s failure to engage with its report and reasoning behind key recommendations, and intends to return to several of them including, now, the “triggers” for natural migration.” The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) declined, again, to set tests that it will meet before managed migration begins. “Given that we, the National Audit Office (NAO) and the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) all made this recommendation, this continued resistance is very disappointing.”
Actually, it’s very worrying, as it indicates a blatant disregard for the protocols of Government accountability and democratic dialogue.
The Government’s response also does not address the central issue of who takes the risk in the transition to Universal Credit, with the Committee arguing repeatedly that it should be Government, making the huge reform, who assume the risk, not existing benefit claimants who include the most vulnerable people in our society. The Government claims it’s simply impossible for it to move people over without requiring them to make a new claim, but “did not offer—and has not offered during the Committee’s inquiry—any evidence” why.
The DWP also appears strangely reluctant to acknowledge the key recommendation it did accept. The Committee had said DWP should not ask MPs to vote on new UC rules until it had listened to expert views on them. And that is what happened: rather than a vote before Christmas as the Government had originally planned, revised rules were published last week. The Chair was therefore very “surprised to read that the Government ‘does not accept this recommendation’, given that by the time the response arrived the Government had not only accepted the recommendation but also implemented it.”
- Letter from Chair Frank Field to Amber Rudd regarding Universal Credit: managed migration Government response – dated 17 January 2019
- Secretary of State Amber Rudd responding to Frank Field regarding moving claimants onto Universal Credit – dated 17 January 2019
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