On last week’s figures unemployment locally remains very low indeed. This reflects the national picture with the lowest unemployment since 1975.
However whatever the current position we need to ensure that those out of work and looking for a job or who cannot work are properly supported.
The Government is in the process of rolling out “Universal Credit”. This replaces a confusing and inflexible benefits mess – 6 different payments being made to those in need from 3 different agencies. These benefits brought with them rules that put people in a dreadful situation whereby for example if they took on a few extra hours at work or a promotion they would lose benefits making their families worse off.
The principle of Universal Credit is that it helps individuals into work, allowing them to keep more of what they earn. It is flexible allowing those in work to keep their benefits on a sliding scale – and ensuring that work always pays. Those on Universal Credit are expected to be helped by a job coach and to retain that relationship after they have secured a job – helping them to progress.
So far it seems to be helping: those unemployed on Universal Credit more likely to get a job within six months than their peers with the same qualifications on the old scheme.
This is not to say that the system is perfect. Sadly that is rarely true of any benefits system and is certainly not true of what UC is replacing. Whenever major changes are planned to a national benefit system – especially changes requiring huge IT infrastructure – there is cause to be cautious. This is why the Government is rolling it out very carefully – it will take nine years to implement fully – and at every stage they are learning and implementing necessary changes. Changes have included help for tenants and advances helping to address the gap between signing on and securing the first UC payment. There may be more changes needed to ensure those on UC get all the support we want them to receive but I have no doubt it is improvement.
Photo caption: With local artist Jo Willis (and the Horsham cricket ground in the background) at the Horsham Art Exhibition.