Rishi Sunak MP: Ministers should keep faith with Universal Credit
I believe our welfare system should do three simple things.
It must be compassionate to those who need our help, it must be effective in getting them the help they need, and it needs to be fair to those who pay for it.
Simply put, Universal Credit is a rare example of a policy that delivers on all three counts.
To start with compassion; rather than recipients having to make calls to up to three different agencies when something in their life changes, Universal Credit simplifies the system and ensures that nobody misses out on a benefit that they are entitled to because of a bureaucracy that is simply too complicated to navigate.
The calls made by claimants have been to local rate numbers. It is not right to say that they were premium rate numbers. As of today, those calls have been made free for all claimants, although they were offered the opportunity to be called back for free if the call charge was difficult.
I am aware that the average wait time is two minutes, and of course a wait time of an hour is unacceptable. I am sure Ministers have heard that and '‹will be doing everything they can to ensure that everyone across the country benefits from a prompt and cheap response.
At the same time as simplifying the system, Universal Credit humanises our bureaucracy by recognising that those who need our help do not have exactly the same needs.
Instead of a faceless homogeneity, for the first time personalised work coaches can compassionately take into account the specific needs of each individual and their specific circumstances, tailoring the approach to them and ensuring that they get the specific help that they need.
Compassion alone is not enough. The effectiveness of our welfare system should be properly judged by the number of lives that it transforms, and that transformation comes from well-paid work.
Universal Credit ends the well-documented problem of single parents effectively working for free if they want to work for more than 16 hours. Universal Credit ensures that all work truly pays, and it is working.
Compared with the system that it replaces, claimants spend twice as much time actively looking for work and, for every 100 claimants who found employment under the old system, 113 will find employment under Universal Credit.
In reality, the lives of more than 250,000 people will be transformed over the course of the roll-out through having a decent job and the opportunity to build a stake in our society.
Finally, Universal Credit is fair to the people who pay for it. In Britain today, we spend around twice as much on working-age welfare as we do on education.
To put it another way, for every Â£1 that the taxpayer sends to the NHS, they also send Â£1 to the working-age welfare bill. Given the sums involved, I make no apology for speaking up for those who ask me “Is this money well spent?”
Universal Credit ensures a responsible and sustainable system by putting in place a sensible regime of conditionality. That gives hard-working '‹taxpayers the confidence that when they contribute to the system, not only will that help somebody to get back on their feet, but that the person will also have a responsibility to do their bit. That is fair.
Universal Credit is not perfect – no system so large and complex can be – and we should make improvements where we can, but it is significantly better than what it replaces, and the fundamentals of what it is trying to achieve are sound.
It has been implemented slowly and methodically. It is insane to argue that it has been rushed when the full roll-out will have taken almost a decade from start to finish.
This is welfare reform in action: making things simpler, ensuring work pays, and transforming lives. I urge the Government to carry on with their plan.
Rishi Sunak is the Conservative MP for Richmond