Last week we had a visit from Guy Opperman a minister from the Department of Work and Pensions, who came to meet the staff at Chichester’s Jobcentre Plus; to listen to their experiences and ensure that staff and claimants are getting the support they need as we begin to roll out Universal Credit (UC) locally.
UC is a new benefit system that will roll six benefits into one, making it easier and simpler for people to get the support they need and transition into work. In Chichester we are at the beginning of rolling out UC, it started in July for new claimants, with the full service due to start at some time later this month. We will be fully up and running by 2021. UC has had a slow rollout with pilots across the country, which has been very important to ensure this new system works effectively.
We were very impressed by the Jobcentre staff, who were all extremely dedicated to their work. The work coaches are on hand to help people through what can be a very difficult point in their lives, making sure they get the support available to them. We were particularly inspired when we spoke to a member of the team who was unemployed for around two years himself, and now is a work coach at the Jobcentre. His personal journey means he can call on his experiences when helping people into work.
One of the biggest changes in the new system is the use of online technology allowing people to register and update their claims online, and even talk to their work coaches, all through a single web-portal. It’s the first time I have ever heard a public servant praise a computer system... According to a DWP national survey, 98 per cent of UC claims were made online. Before people would have to go to the centre every two weeks or so but now people no longer have to routinely attend, saving time and money. Although this option is still available to those who like to meet face to face.
Chichester Jobcentre Plus offers a lot more than many realise, their ABC programme is a case in point. Helping people get A job, then get a Better job, and then build a Career. Work coaches help support people into long-term sustainable employment, which is invaluable. Chichester now has low unemployment at 1.3 per cent and across the whole country we have the lowest levels since 1975, with over 1,000 more people moving into work each day since 2010.