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The second one concerns the point raised by the noble Lord behind me about the IT system. We all know about the NHS IT system: it was all going to be wonderful and we were looking forward to it. It was about integrating databases, computers and suchlike. It failed and failed and failed and cost billions. Does the Minister have an estimate of the timeframe for the integration of the Inland Revenue and DWP computer systems? I think that that is the project: obviously he will correct me if I am wrong. Also, what confidence does he have in that estimated timeframe and what is the evidence for his confidence if he has it?
My third point concerns DWP staff training. Can the Minister, again at this early stage of the Bill, give some assurance to the Committee about the level of funding going into the training of DWP and other relevant staff to ensure that they can understand the complex issues around capacity to get into employment? I have mentioned this story before. In conversation with a Jobcentre Plus manager, I asked how they dealt with people with mental health problems. The answer was: "We don't". I asked what happened and the answer was: "They become homeless and go back into hospital". As somebody responsible for a mental health trust, I would be interested to know whether the Minister is satisfied that in future DWP staff and others will be adequately trained. Our trust and others will not be able to finance large numbers of people coming into hospital who at the moment do not do so.
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: I should like to intervene quickly to put noble Lords' minds at rest. On a point of information, I am not putting myself at great risk, so noble Lords should feel quite relaxed. I promise that I will not ask them to perform CPR. I will just make the point that it is a risk I am happy to take, and my responsibility. I take it every time I attend a meeting that is quite far away from my room. My issue was that I was never asked personally: that is all. It is a simple point.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen): My Lords, before we continue, perhaps I may explain something to noble Lords that may help our sound broadcaster. The Room has been set up so that nobody needs to touch anything. Noble Lords do not have to switch anything on or off. The Room has been set up so that we can all speak without anybody having to touch anything. I offer that explanation to noble Lords.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, before I deal with the amendment, the stand part debate and the clause, I have to take on board what the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said, and her expression of concern. I do not have an answer for her now, but I will go back and get one and make sure that her concerns are addressed in the most thorough way possible. If things have not gone appropriately, I apologise unreservedly.
Before I turn to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Kirkwood, let me talk a bit about the universal credit. Clause 1 establishes universal credit as a new benefit under the provisions of Part 1 of the Bill. This is a modern, simplified benefit, available both to people who are in work and those who are out of work, instead of claiming a number of benefits and tax credits from different sources, as happens currently.
As the Committee will know, the Government are determined to reform the welfare system to make it fairer and more affordable while addressing the problems of poverty and dependency on welfare. Universal credit is at the heart of this strategy. I welcome the support from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for the principle of universal credit. While I am on that point, a number of noble Lords have thanked my Bill team for their accessibility and requested that that continue and I can again give an assurance that we will lean over backwards to continue that accessible approach. The reason is entirely one of self-interest, and when I say self-interest, I mean the interest of the governance of this country. It is vital that we have a proper debate on this very important Bill. A number of noble Lords have pointed out that this is a really important, transformative Bill and it is important that we address the issues properly and with full knowledge. That is why we have this very accessible approach.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Could the noble Lord help us a little more? Some of us, in our amendments, are relying quite heavily on the impact assessment figures and we would not want to mislead the Committee by using figures that will be replaced quite quickly.
Lord Freud: We will get a code. But even the current impact assessment shows the transformative effect of universal credit when it is fully implemented. The combined impact of take-up and entitlements may lift hundreds of thousands of individuals out of poverty, including as many as 350,000 children. The vast majority of gains from universal credit will go straight to the poorest households.
I shall pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on risk. By combining, effectively, out-of-work benefits and in-work tax credits, we effectively de-risk moving from one category to the other and that is a very powerful incentive for the poorest people to take a risk. One other aspect of it which I have been very conscious of as we develop the whole approach is that it is the best way of dealing with fluctuating conditions. You can move, take a risk and work for some months without being terrified that, if it does not work out, you have lost your benefit support structure, because you are just moving up and down the taper. So, from the aspect of risk, universal credit has huge advantages and it is one of the main drivers of our expectation to see many fewer workless households.
Baroness Meacher: I agree with the Minister that that is one of the great things about the universal credit-on the assumption, and this is the second point that I made, that the systems are properly integrated. As I understand it, this wonderful moving in and out of work, with your benefit going up and down as your earnings do the opposite, depends on the integration of those computer systems. My concern is that if the Bill goes through and the universal credit comes in but the IT systems are not ready, then I would have thought that the whole thing would be undermined. I would be interested to know the Minister's response.
To return to the structure of the universal credit itself, the single taper on earnings means that claimants will clearly see how the universal credit award decreases as income from earnings rises, making work financially rewarding for everyone. Alongside the work programme, universal credit will ensure that claimants have a route out of poverty through work rather than a lifetime on benefits-or on social security, depending on language; I will touch on language in a minute as well. I hope, and I hear from noble Lords in terms of principle, that there is general support for this approach.
The participation tax rate assesses the proportion of earnings that are effectively lost through tax and benefits on starting work. The dynamic effect of universal credit means that over 1 million fewer households will face participation tax rates over 70 per cent.
We will also tackle the issue of high marginal deduction rates, which undermine the incentive to increase earnings or hours once someone is working. Under the current welfare system, people in work can gain as little as a 4p increase in their take-home pay for
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On the questions raised in this area by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, regarding the numbers of people who face higher and lower marginal deduction rates, the impact assessment confirmed that 2.1 million individuals will have higher rates under universal credit but that the median increase will be comparatively small, at about 4 percentage points, and many of those will be households with above-average income for universal credit claimants, moving from a marginal deduction rate of 73 per cent to 76.2 per cent. Some 330,000 second earners will face higher rates, compared with 140,000 with reduced rates. The median increase is higher for this group, reflecting the fact that second earners already tend to have lower marginal deduction rates. As the Committee will know, the impact assessment also addressed the issue that some second earners might move out of work, but we are still expecting the net effect to be a large reduction in those who are workless.
On my noble friend Lord Newton's concern about child benefit and the debate around that, the best that I can do today is to commit to taking that up with Treasury colleagues and find out what the process is. Again, I will revert.
I return to the universal credit. The way that it will tackle the problem of very high marginal deduction and participation rates is to have a consistent taper of 65 per cent. Overall, this produces substantial improvement in those marginal deduction rates. About 700,000 people who currently have rates above 80 per cent will benefit from it. I turn to IT.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: On the impact of the taper rates, does the Minister agree that, if you have council tax benefit or its replacement outside the system, you simply cannot be sure what the effect of the withdrawal and taper rates will be? Can you include that benefit?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I reinforce my noble friend's point. As every council tax taper will differ from district to district, and there are some 300 to 400 of them, it will be impossible for anyone to predict who gets what.
Lord Freud: We will have a debate on this matter rather soon, but maybe not today. The only way I can respond is to point out that, depending on how we adjust the system to have what is effectively a tax rebate system outside the universal credit, we could see different effects. Rather than prejudging this, I will reserve that information for another day. We will have plenty of time to deal with it.
I have been asked about IT by a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Newton, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, among a few others who have some concerns. We have gone through a huge process of external assessment by the Major Projects Authority,
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The programme is on time and on budget. It is being developed in a radically new way to government programmes. The difference is that in a traditional government programme the whole system is built, trialled for a few months and then introduced. This system is being built in layers so that we can trial each layer as it develops and test it with customer insight. That process is happening. One of the things that we can do today is take some particular claimant types through the system. I am planning a demonstration for noble Lords later this month to take them through this process, because when they start to see the different elements coming together there will be a much better basis for understanding.
In my confidence, I can quote only these external sources; my own views are perhaps less relevant. The external sources are holding the programme up as an exemplar of how the Government should develop IT. We will be getting these external reviews regularly at each of the difference gateways, so it will be monitored externally very carefully. I have no knowledge of where this is on anyone's risk register, so I cannot answer that particular question put by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. Obviously, though, any big programme is going to be looked at to ensure that it is being done to time and to budget. That is just governance.
I think there is a lot of confusion in the external world between what is an appropriate level of governance and external monitoring of an important, big programme, and the fact that there are always risks involved in developing it. I responded to the article in the Telegraph, saying that this was a programme on time and on budget. Basically, the article was misleading and I stand by that letter.
Baroness Meacher: I wanted to turn the question around another way. The Minister rightly says that there are always risks in these things. If, in fact, the IT system is not ready when the plan is for this Bill to be implemented, will the Minister give an assurance that there will then be a delay in the implementation of the Bill until the IT system is ready? If not, I go back to my other point about the risks, fears and so on. If there is a lot of change and reassessment, which we know are going on anyway, it would be helpful to have an assurance that, as he says, they would then have a system that would deal with a lot of the problems of the current system. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could give us that assurance.
Lord Freud: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for that. I am at a slight loss at how to respond, in case it is an "Am I beating my wife?" question. I am getting some help from the Box. The universal credit will be built on a computer system, or rather a pair of medium-sized computer systems. We have a careful introduction process. One of the options we had, if I can explain it in layman's terms, was that we could have picked everyone up electronically out of current
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That would have been the conceptual framework in which the noble Baroness asked her question. We are not doing that. We are moving people into the system over an extended period. We will start with the flow in October 2013, and then as we get the system working we will have some managed migrations over a four-year period. It is not the Big Bang approach-where you wait for the thing to go, and then you throw everyone in-that one might envisage. It is a much more considered, steady, incremental approach. Indeed, we are developing the actual IT by using elements and units of what we have much more incrementally than it might seem from outside. That is one of the things that I will try to show noble Lords when we have the presentation; indeed, it will be a wider presentation for all parliamentarians. I see that a few in the Room may be very interested.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I am trying to visualise in my mind what you are doing with your groups. What worries me is the older group, who may not be quite as alert to the modern methods of IT and may find it not as easy to move around and get the right information via an IT system. It would be helpful if you could answer that point, or take it into account when setting up your demonstration.
Lord Freud: Yes. Picking up on that point from the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, one of the most complicated areas in practice is not the development of the IT system; it is the interface between the user and that system. We must develop, and are developing, a sophisticated set of gateways. There are a lot of issues to get right surrounding identity assurance, ease of use-which we are doing a lot of work on-and where you go to get access when you do not have broadband in your home or do not necessarily understand how to use programs. Getting that help right and balanced is something that we are spending a lot of time and energy on. I accept the noble Baroness's point: that is one of the key issues to get right.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: The noble Lord is clearly impressively knowledgeable around all this. He said that the systems were being built in layers, and that he would be able to demonstrate to us that some of them are actually working now. Are they working on the basis of collecting real-time information for the individuals represented in those layers?
Lord Freud: No. I shall explain to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, exactly how this works. We are building a system so that certain types of people can apply and run their universal credit. That is not a small trial; that is the mainframe system equivalent. The first type is a simple claim; I think he is personified as "Tom"-I forget his surname. We have pulled in a lot of Toms and run a customer insight with them to run through how they would interrelate with the system. The next stage has been to work out how we have a joint claim.
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Noble Lords who are interested in this area-I suspect that quite a few are-will find this fascinating as we run through it. I am waving my hands to try to give the Committee an image, but I cannot do it. I much prefer to have a screen to run through things on.
Lord Newton of Braintree: I wonder if I could intervene from a sedentary position. I think all that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was seeking was a simple assurance: if at some stage it becomes clear that the next bit will not work, will Ministers change the timetable? That is not a "beating your wife" question. It is simple and straightforward.
Lord Freud: It is never that black and white. When you build a system in stages, the issue is how partial or complete the system is. There is a decision to be taken around the level of partiality. If there were to be a delay-and as I say, there is not-clearly, one would have to be realistic. If there were some other problem and it did not work at all, again one would have to be realistic.
Lord Freud: I am most grateful to my noble friend. I shall continue dealing with the questions. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood was interested in the interrelationship with the Social Security Advisory Committee, which, as he pointed out, has a statutory duty to examine all social security regulations. Any regulations for universal credit that rely on existing legislation-for example, those relating to claims, and awards and payments to joint claimants-will therefore be subject to full SSAC examination. I accept that there are large parts of the Bill that introduce new regulation-making powers. In these areas, the committee may not have its former role, but I assure noble Lords that we will continue to talk to the committee and use the arrangements currently in place allowing us to provide it with information on new powers and the regulations made, within six months of the commencement of those powers.
On the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, on how the system will cope with, for instance, a self-employed and an employed member of a household, any earnings received through the PAYE system will automatically be taken into account even though they may be from one or more PAYE sources. We will clearly need to take assessment of non-PAYE earnings through some other tool, and we are looking at developing a self-reporting tool to provide us with earnings information.
A number of noble Lords raised the issue of language, including my noble friends Lord Kirkwood and Lord Newton and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollis and Lady Campbell. I have to agree that language is extremely
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I will come to the language issue around the name "universal credit". One of the things about the word "credit" is that it carries with it a sense of entitlement, and I know that a lot of noble Lords are concerned about that. There is some language around that, and that is why the term was chosen in the case of tax credits. There is a sense in which it is a credit; there is an entitlement there.
I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about allowances for training of staff-clearly, one does not have a transformative project such as this without having properly trained staff. The total budget that has been set aside to fund the transition, including administration costs, is £2 billion. Training is a crucial element of that.
Amendment 1, raised by my noble friend Lord Kirkwood, would rename universal credit. His title, "working age entitlement", is a straw man, as he said. It is fair to ask where "universal credit" comes from. It has its origins in the financial dynamics paper, although the noble Lord will know if he remembers that paper well that there were two different credits. In this case, they were boiled down into a single credit for all people on working-age, means-tested benefit. That is where its universality resides: it captures everyone in that category.
One of the attractions of having one word to capture all working-age benefits is that we have two systems today, an out-of-work benefit system and an in-work tax credit system, and the differentiation between them has made it harder to move from one to the other. That is where the discrimination and the differentiation are; that is where the apartheid-if one wants to use an ugly word-lies. That is the gap that we are trying to remove. There is not a real gap, as noble Lords have pointed out today, between those who are unfortunate enough to be out of work, or those who have a disability or fluctuating condition that means that they cannot reliably go into work, and those in work. There is no hard line between the two, nor do we want there to be. We want people to be able to flow across easily. It is because we have two different systems that we have made it so much harder. That is what we are doing with the universal credit, and that is what lies behind our reason for calling it that. As the noble Lord said, what's in a name? It may seem rather a wide name-"universal"-but it reflects the fact that a whole range of needs will now be met through a single payment rather than by a piecemeal and confusing jumble of benefits and credits. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: I have two questions arising from what the Minister has said. The first is on the current impact assessment-we look forward to the new one soon-of the number of children who will be helped. I think that the figure was 350,000. Was
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Lord Newton of Braintree: Before the Minister responds to that, may I chip in? The one thing that has not been touched on-I noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was a bit agitated about this as well-is childcare costs. There was no comment on this.
Lord Freud: The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, asked two questions. The child poverty impact that I cited from the impact assessment refers to the universal credit alone. It does not incorporate the other changes that there may be. On IT, we are working very hard to make these systems work together smoothly. The third issue, raised by my noble friend Lord Newton, was on childcare. I have had a supportive word from the Box, which I shall seize and use: I hope to be able to inform him and other noble Lords soon about our childcare arrangements.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: I am grateful to all colleagues who have taken part in this debate. I hope it has fulfilled its purpose of scoping out exactly where the Committee is going. I understand that colleagues want to finish at 7.30 pm. I cannot but welcome my mentor, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who was Secretary of State for Health and Social Security under Margaret Thatcher and succeeded in spite of all these things. It is a particular delight. I should like the Minister of State to pay particular attention to what the noble Lord says because he knows what he is talking about. I know this because I have followed his career for many years.
We obviously need a code for this. An Enigma machine might be purchased so that we can understand what "soon" really means, and issues of that kind. That will help the Committee. I certainly want to sign up for the demonstration of Yasmin and Liam when it comes. Apart from anything else, I have a drink riding on this. If this system works, I owe the Minister of State at least a double whisky or whatever his poison is. I want to be deeply involved in all these processes related to IT.
I have two other very quick points. It is true to say, and reassuring to hear, that SSAC has that role, and that the Minister clearly understands its importance in this process. He will know that it has never had the same formal process of review over tax credits that it had over the benefits system. We need to be careful
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Lord Freud: My noble friend asked for some reassurance in the area of tax credits. Under the universal credit, it will effectively become part of the responsibility of the DWP and therefore become overviewable and reviewable by SSAC. Whereas I might have been a little coy in giving some other assurances today, I can be absolutely uncoy about this one.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: There is no need for code for "coy". In the last minute available to me, the one thing I want to say is that if we are getting this level of co-operation from the Bill team, I am willing to do more work. We do not normally do it this way. With new, technical social security Bills, the default position is to table amendments to clarify and bring the thing into focus. Speaking for myself-I speak for
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