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Engaging with our stakeholders

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Photograph taken at Social Security Advisory Committee stakeholder event. It shows stakeholders sitting at a number of tables watching a presentation being delivered

The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) held one of our twice-yearly stakeholder days in London on 9 November. As usual, we had an excellent and diverse range of people there – a good mix of some faithful ‘frequent flyers’ and others, attending one of our events for the first time.

The highlight for me was an opening session where we heard from some impressive members of Centrepoint’s Youth Parliament about what engaging with the benefit system is really like for young people living independently. There’s no substitute for getting the reality of what it feels like from those who have the daily lived experience – many of whom have already had a raw deal from life, including from officialdom, as they have been growing up. It can look and feel very different to what the designers of the system, however well-meaning, may have intended.

That was a great prelude to a session later in the day when attendees brainstormed with us on the key issues we need to look at in our forthcoming study of benefit issues affecting young people living independently. We had already felt confident this was a sensible next topic for our independent work programme, and the discussions on the day strongly confirmed that judgement. Given the large number of varying ways different parts of the social security system treats ‘young people’ – not least different age definitions – there’s no shortage of issues to look at. So we will now be distilling the scope of the project, and get cracking on it after Christmas. More news in 2018...

In the meantime, we were able to launch at the event our latest study on the subject of in-work progression and Universal Credit. Our big messages include that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should test a wider range of interventions to support in-work progression, it should deepen its understanding of tax credit claimants before the main phase of their migration on to universal credit, and it should clarify some areas of policy so that work coaches’ discretion is exercised with a measure of consistency. It was great to hear Neil Couling (DWP’s Director General responsible for the Universal Credit Programme) at the event describe the report as the best piece of work he has seen on the subject. Hopefully that means we can expect a positive response to our recommendations from ministers.

We also squeezed into the day a short session on ‘kicking the tyres’ on progress with Universal Credit rollout, with introductory reflections from Neil Couling and Nick Timmins followed by lively debate from the floor. All eyes will now be on the forthcoming Budget to see if Universal Credit gets a mention there. In a way, it’s been gratifying recently to hear so many other observers (including both the former Secretary of State and the Minister for Welfare Reform!) now lining up behind SSAC’s original formal recommendation from 2014 that a 7-day waiting period for UC should not proceed - though it remains deeply frustrating (and has been damaging for some vulnerable claimants) that we were not listened to at the time. We’ll see what happens in the Budget…

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