Writing for the Harrogate Advertiser, Amber Rudd explains why Harrogate has been chosen as the place to start the next stage of the Universal Credit roll out.
HARROGATE gets a lot right.
Whether it’s the more than 5,000 businesses, from micro to large, in the area or the 54,000 local people waking up with the security of a job I know that this is a successful and industrious part of Britain.
Tourism, too, boosts the local economy and I count myself among the thousands of people to have enjoyed a day out in Harrogate.
But soon I’ll have another vitally important reason to visit.
Today I revealed to Parliament that Harrogate will be the launching pad for the next stage of the Universal Credit roll out.
Universal Credit, for those not familiar with it, is the new, simpler benefits system.
It replaces six old benefits with one monthly benefit payment. So instead of claiming half a dozen different benefits and getting paid on different days, people now get one payment on one day of the month.
It’s a system that more than 1.6 million people across the country now use to a high degree of satisfaction.
But when it comes to Universal Credit this is only half the story. And that’s because there are around three million people who still receive the old, complex system.
Often these are people who have long term health conditions and have been on benefits for quite a while. Some of those claimants may be your friends, neighbours or colleagues.
And where people who have moved have thus far have done so because they are either new claimants or have had a change of circumstances meaning they have to make an up-to-date claim, there are a group of people who have not changed their benefit claim since they first began claiming them.
Therefore, the next step on the Universal Credit journey is to carefully move these three million people from the old system to the new system.
When I became Work and Pensions Secretary a few months ago I decided it was important to do this slowly so I announced that I would start with a pilot area and make sure this huge transfer of people is fit for purpose and working properly.
There is nowhere better to do this than in Harrogate.
It’s home to a mix of benefit claimants with a varying range of needs and has had Universal Credit for new claimants since 2016. It’s also really well located to the nearest Universal Credit operations centre in Leeds, meaning more staff are able to dedicate their time to this project.
So what happens now?
Well, you don’t need to do anything until we contact you. And this won’t happen at the flick of a switch.
From July, anyone being moved from the old system to the new system will be informed of their move and Jobcentre Plus staff working locally in Harrogate will work to support them at each step of the process.
Harrogate residents will be given all the support they need to get their new benefit claim up and running.
Over the next few months, we will also be working collaboratively with Harrogate Council and local charities to design our approach, with support for the most vulnerable at the forefront of our minds. As a result, I am extremely confident this steady-as-you-go process will reap rewards.
I know Harrogate Jobcentre Plus manager Hannah Spencer and her team to work with people in the town to deliver this successfully.
My team and I are ready to offer any support they need and I will receive regular updates from the team in Harrogate.
And, as I said, I look forward to paying Hannah and her team a visit to learn more about how it is all going.
Together I know Harrogate will once again get it right.
Amber Rudd is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.