Today letters will be sent to 500 people who receive one of the benefits being replaced by universal credit (UC), marking the resumption of the government’s “managed migration” to UC after it was paused during the pandemic. Between now and December 2024, 2.6 million people will move from older benefits to universal credit.
A lot is at stake with managed migration. When people receive one of these letters from DWP they will be instructed to make a claim for universal credit before the “deadline date”. But some people will struggle to make this transition – if they have not understood the letter, are severely ill, have learning difficulties, are in the aftermath of domestic violence, lack digital access or have limited literacy, for example. Those who miss the DWP’s prescribed deadline face losing their benefit income altogether, including any transitional protection that would be provided if they would be worse off on universal credit than on their previous benefits (approximately 900,000 people). For many of those affected, benefits make up the vast majority, if not all, of their income – not making the transition will result in destitution. It’s crucial that we get this right.
That’s why it’s deeply concerning that the DWP has abandoned its plan to pilot managed migration, evaluate the process and report to parliament on what improvements need to be made. The pilot, which began in 2019, was paused at the start of the pandemic, by which point only 38 people had been moved to UC. The DWP has now confirmed that no further piloting will take place which means that the outcomes cannot be evaluated and put to public scrutiny as planned.
So whereas before we could take some comfort from the fact that the department’s migration approach would be road-tested before full roll-out, now millions of claimants will be asked to move to UC in a scheme based on the experiences of just 38 people.
Instead of a pilot, the DWP is entering a “discovery phase” which will start small and be scaled up rapidly. The department insists it will take a “test and learn” approach but there is no plan to publicly report on what it learns once the migration is underway.
Moving people on a low income from one benefit system onto another was never going to be an easy task. But the DWP’s decision not to fully trial the process and evaluate it is irresponsible – it makes it more likely that high numbers of people in vulnerable situations will fall through the cracks and face destitution because they couldn’t get a UC claim up and running and have lost all their previous benefits.
It is the department’s duty to ensure people are safely moved over to universal credit. The risk should not be borne by the millions of claimants who from today will see that letter from DWP land on their doorstep.
The department must demonstrate that it is taking the necessary steps to ensure that everyone is able to transition to universal credit by gradually trialling migration and putting the outcomes to parliament for scrutiny. If it doesn’t, the fate of millions of low-income people will be put at risk in the midst of a cost of living crisis.