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Work and Pensions Committee

Oral evidence: Universal Credit and Managed Migration, HC 130

Wednesday 12 October 2022

Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 12 October 2022.

Watch the meeting

Members present: Nigel Mills (in the Chair); Debbie Abrahams; Shaun Bailey; Siobhan Baillie; Neil Coyle; Steve McCabe; Selaine Saxby; Dr Ben Spencer; Chris Stephens; Sir Desmond Swayne.

In the absence of the Chair, Nigel Mills was called to the Chair.

Questions 51 - 99


I: Dr Stephen Brien, Chair, Social Security Advisory Committee; Charlotte Pickles, Member, Social Security Advisory Committee, and Carl Emmerson, Member, Social Security Advisory Committee.

Examination of witnesses

Witnesses: Dr Stephen Brien, Charlotte Pickles and Carl Emmerson.

Q51            Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Work and Pensions Committee. First, the Chair sends his apologies. He is away on other business as this was planned to be a recess week. We have a session on Universal Credit and managed migration and we are hearing witnesses from the Social Security Advisory Committee. I would like to thank them for attending today and apologise for the fact that we had to rearrange from a few weeks ago because of the events that were outside our control. Could I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record?

Dr Brien: My name is Stephen Brien. I am the Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee.

Carl Emmerson: My name is Carl Emmerson. I am a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee.

Charlotte Pickles: I am Charlotte Pickles and I am also a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee.

Q52            Chair: Thank you. I think you expressed concern over the removal of the 10,000-household cap, but you did not recommend we should necessarily have stuck to it but instead came up recommendations on improving the oversight of managed migration. Why did you go for that approach rather than asking the Government to stick to the 10,000 cap they originally agreed to?

Dr Brien: Let me highlight: it was probably a two-step process that we went through. When we initially scrutinised the regulations and the proposed amendment of regulation 9, we wrote to the Secretary of State advising her not to change that because we felt that it was an important part of public scrutiny for the programme and had been considered a few years earlier. Also, in our conversations with officials and Ministers, it was very clear to us that they were very keen and minded to remove that.

Given that as an advisory committee we did not have any power to stop it, our subsequent response was, “If you are minded to remove it, we strongly recommend that you put a set of replacement arrangements in place to compensate for the lack of public scrutiny by Parliament, and hence we suggested the measures and our recommendations, which also included the SRO reporting to the Select Committee, being the parliamentary body to which he is accountable.

Q53            Chair: I am trying to think how I can ask this gently but, Stephen and Charlotte, you were both around when UC was originally envisaged and legislated for. Did you ever envisage 10 years later we would still be trying to roll it out? Has it been vastly different to what you ever thought you were helping Iain Duncan Smith produce at the time?

Dr Brien: We certainly did not envisage it taking this long. As you will remember, the original plans had a shorter timeframe. However it was always the intention to manage the process safely. There is a bit of learning, as you do, going through this. From my point of view now, sitting on the committee, it is prioritising the safe and effective managed migration—that is the priorityrather than sticking to very firm timelines.

That was one of the things that we felt was a weakness on the 10,000. It was quite an arbitrary, blunt instrument that forced a return to Parliament. Whereas, in an agile process, as our report states, we do need to rethink and have a slightly more flexible form of governance to accommodate the agile process.

Q54            Chair: The Department does not seem very keen on external independent oversight of this process. Do you think that is a role your committee could play or is that beyond your scope?

Dr Brien: We are not technical experts, so we certainly would not feel that we are the right people to provide that independent oversight from a technical point of view. What we have been able to do is highlight the need for transparency, hence our recommendation that the Select Committee is a good place where there is already a line of accountability for the SRO to come back to the Select Committee.

Therefore, if there is to be an external body whose purpose, in effect, is to provide a degree of transparency, which we think is very important, we felt the Select Committee was the best place to do that, so it is not adding yet another layer of accountability, yet another layer of governance. There is a risk at one level that this programme is potentially over-governed and under-transparent. A shift we were keen to emphasise in our report was increased transparency and public confidence of the programme without necessarily adding yet another layer of oversight.

Chair: I think we were trying to get you to do it and you are trying to get us to do it; so moving responsibility around.

Q55            Sir Desmond Swayne: Given that answer, beyond scrutiny by the Select Committee, and given that the Secretary of State has made it absolutely clear that there will be no cap and that the parliamentary vote has gone out the window as well, is there any other way that the Department could demonstrate that it is ready for substantial migration, as is envisaged, showing the systems are capable and robust?

Carl Emmerson: I think the answer is there are definitely moments when that could happen. Perhaps the key moment in the programme is going to be when the Department moves to what it calls its steep scaling phase; so it has gone through the discovery phase, it has gone through the shallower scaling phase. Hopefully at that point it has learnt lots of lessons about: how do you get people across? Where problems have emerged they have managed to correct those problems, make sure they are not repeated. They have started to work out how you scale up what they are trying to do that, which at the moment is very intensive.

The moment you start that steep scaling phase is perhaps where the biggest risk is, because if you get things wrong going forwards from that pointobviously getting anything wrong at any point is going to be bad for some people, but getting it wrong at that point is going to affect a very large number of claimants. It is very important that the Department is sure, and it has demonstrated that it is sure that it is ready to go ahead at that moment in time.

Stephen says there is not a fixed timescale on this, but this might be around the middle of next year. If they are going to hit the ambition to get the whole thing rolled out by the end of 2024 they would have to scale up quickly beyond that point. That is the moment when there needs to be a lot of attention paid to: what are the criteria the Department is setting itself, which it needs to set out in advance? Is it meeting those criteria? I think it would be good if it was much more transparent about showing people externally that it is meeting those criteria, if that is the case, and what lessons has it learnt from the process so far and how is it confident that, going forwards, problems that have emerged have been corrected and will not reoccur?

That is clearly a moment when perhaps SSAC will be very interested in talking to the Department about how things are looking. It may well be a moment where the Select Committee wants to talk to the Department about how things are looking. However, in our report, recommendations 3 and 4 are very much focused on trying to make sure that parliamentarians get the evidence that allows them to look to see: these were the goals the Department set itself for deciding it would be safe to proceed on this basis, these are the indicators and does it show that they are ready to go? I would stress that is perhaps the key moment for scrutiny to occur.

Q56            Selaine Saxby: The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has said that gearing up to deal with more claims during the pandemic may well have given DWP more relevant experience, but it provides no evidence in the Explanatory Memorandum of the current turnaround times or claimant experience to support this view. Is there evidence that you think it could helpfully provide from the pandemic?

Carl Emmerson: We know that Universal Credit responded very well through the pandemic, and dealt with an incredible increase in the number of people making new claims. That is reassuring, in the sense that the systems held up to that challenge, and that the alternative world where those systems did not work would have been one where there would have been much more widespread hardships. That is clearly a big success story for Universal Credit on the whole.

In some sense, that may provide some reassurance but I stress the challenge of moving people across from Employment and Support Allowance and across from tax credits is very, very different. You have claimants with very particular situations. In the case of Employment and Support Allowance, a lot of people will have vulnerabilities, such as mental health problems. In the case of tax credits, you will have a lot of people who perhaps do not consider themselves as somebody who will be going into a jobcentre or using DWP’s services.

The challenges to me look very different and I think that provides the justification for going very slowly at first and learning about what works, what does not work for, in particular, those two groups. It is very different to somebody making a fresh claim for Universal Credit at the start of the pandemic.

Q57            Selaine Saxby: Is there anything else anyone wanted to add? No. Moving on, in the evidence session we held in May we heard that the Harrogate pilot does not provide a good basis for understanding how different groupsincluding vulnerable groupsmove through the migration process. Will the discovery phase and small-scale managed migration provide a better basis?

Carl Emmerson: It certainly has the ability to. The original Harrogate pilot started in summer 2019 on a very small scale, and then it had to be abandoned in March 2020 for understandable reasons as the Department moved its attention to the pandemic. I think the way that pilot worked is that they focused on people who were only receiving jobseeker’s allowance.

That may well be a natural group to start with but it is going to be a group of people whose Universal Credit awards are typically the same amount, so there are no concerns with people entitled to less money and, therefore, you need to find out about transitional protection. It is an easier group in that respect. It is also a group who is engaged with the jobcentre. They are used to going to the jobcentre regularly, so again reasons to think that they might be an easier group to engage with.

I am not saying they were wrong to start that in Harrogate in 2019 and that that was a natural group to start with, but I think I would be very careful about saying there are lots of lessons you can learn from that group and apply it automatically to, as I was saying, roughly of the people to move across who are on ESA and roughly half are on tax credits, where the challenges are very different.

Clearly, the discovery phase is going to have to look very carefully at: what works for people on tax credits? Where are the problems? What works for people on ESA? Where are the problems and how do we get through that? It is understandable why the Department feels that the Harrogate pilot does not give them much of an evidence base on that.

Q58            Selaine Saxby: Thank you. You proposed that, in order to provide reassurance before scaling up, the DWP could consider entering a second discovery phase to solve issues affecting certain groups of claimants while the migration rate is scaled up for others”. What sort of indicators would trigger that second phase and, if the Department does not have this understanding, what do you think the risks may be?

Dr Brien: It is probably worth reflecting on the way the agile process works, in that a stylised view of a discovery phase followed by scaling up is, in effect, stylised. There does need to be a continuous set of discovery moments through that process.

Rather than thinking in a very binary way of two discovery phases, at the moment I would be expecting the Department to put a major discovery phase to work at the large groups that are reasonably well-defined and that they can afford to go at scale, and then to have an ongoing process of identifying other groups, working out their slightly more niche situations, perhaps different combinations of benefits; perhaps those who were engaged with both the HMRC and DWP versus those who are purely engaged with DWP at the moment.

I would be thinking in much more like a continuous discovery phase. For example, once a certain set of simpler cases have been identified, the programme can say, “We are going to go at scale for those and we are going to continue to test and work out what is really needed for the next layer, the next layer, the next layer”. Those discovery phases, in effect, get smaller and smaller as you are dealing with more and more marginal challenges. I think the agile process would suggest a much more continuous mindset rather than one, two or three big well-defined discovery phases.

Q59            Chair: Which groups, Dr Brien, do you think are most likely to be the easiest to transition? You think naively that tax credit claimants are used to doing an annual claim and you could just give them a different process for a different Department, and that might be more straightforward than some of the more vulnerable groups.

Dr Brien: At one level this is what the discovery phase is going to be all about. You could say, I have a group of tax credit claimants who may have just one benefit, that is working tax credit; it is a very administratively straightforward transition. However, the complexity there of course is this is a group that have been used to dealing with HMRC once a year and are now going to have to deal with a new organisation with a different cadence and may struggle to recognise the need to have prompt responses to the letters because they are used to a different operating model.

Whereas you may discoverI am taking it as a huncha group who are on DWP benefits for whom, as Carl said, there is no change on transitional protection and the same organisation it may be easier to bring those across. That is exactly what the discovery phase needs to work through. Two, three four major categories of claimants: what are the different types of challenges, which one is best placed for them to go at scale, then how do they need to refine the process with the others?

Q60            Sir Desmond Swayne: What is the role of the work coach in securing a smooth migration and how important is it to that process? What are the implications of the reduction in the ratio of work coaches to migrants?

Dr Brien: If I could just clarify, I suspect we are not talking here specifically about work coaches per se, but more the caseworkers in places like Bolton, who are at the moment working through the process of transitioning, which is a slightly different role to the work coaches who are engaging with Universal Credit claimants when they are on the benefit. Can I just clarify we are talking about caseworkers?

Sir Desmond Swayne: Let us deal with caseworkers and I will come back with a supplementary on work coaches.

Dr Brien: Sure. At the moment, the two centres that are dealing with the first 250 each500 in total claimantsthere are about 12 caseworkers managing this as the first start of the discovery phase. They are literally working through by hand all the calculations and the determinations before they go into the system and double checking. At the moment, as Carl mentioned, it is a very manually intensive, deliberately so, process so that not only the systems produce the output but real caseworkers are following through directly.

As this builds up, those processes will need to get automated and, as we get to higher volumes, we will shift from being a predominantly manual to predominantly automated process. That is where the UC programme board is going to have an important role to play in monitoring the staffing levels, the staff capacity. We do not want the staff to be burnt out. We want to make sure they have enough response time and so forth. As we start the ramping up, that is an area that will need some quite careful scrutiny.

However, in our conversations with John McGlynn, the Chair of the programme board, he was very proactive and engaged on that as one of the issues that he would certainly be keeping a close eye on in terms of how the programme is managing that.

Q61            Sir Desmond Swayne: With respect to work coaches, I understand that they are able to provide easements on a number of discretionary factors as to a claimant’s availability to work. Is there any concern about a diversity of practice in the application of those easements, that some people might be blessed with a soft touch and others might have a hawk when it comes to applying for any easement in their availability for work?

Dr Brien: Lets break the claimant group into three because I think it is worth identifying who might be in focus here. The three major groups that are outside the Universal Credit system would be those on predominantly legacy disability benefitsthe ESA and so forthwhere the relation of the work coach would be very light touch anyway because this is a group that is not in work and is predominantly not expected to be in work, as things stand.

The other group, at the other end of the spectrum, would be the higher-earning working tax credit claimants, who are in work, who are above the administrative earnings threshold and who, as they come into Universal Credit, will not be having a regular engagement with the work coaches because they are earning sufficient.

There is a smaller group in the middle of lower-earning working tax credit claimants, who are perhaps in irregular work, part time and so forth, who will be the group that I think you are now referring to. They will be moving from a regime where they have had no engagement with the work coachthey have been getting the working tax creditto one where they are under the administrative earnings threshold and will be expected to be engaging in further work search.

That is the group I think we have to be concerned about. I would say again, as part of the governance of the project and part of the reason why we are saying that parliamentary scrutiny is helpful here, is because these are exactly the type of questions that are worth raising and making sure that the programme does have the proper systems in place, to make sure that there are appropriate guidance and that the guidance is being implemented in a consistent way.

I would class this as exactly the sort of question that is probably premature at this stage, because the primary concern of the programme is to work out the transition mechanism of one benefit on to another. However, as the volumes come up, this will be exactly the sort of issue that may not be directly in focus for the administrative side of the programme but those with outside interests.

This is why we encourage the programme to consider bringing in other people for show-and-tell, who can have this perspective on the other angle to be taken care of. This is a perfect example of the sort of questions that we need to find the root to the answers and being answered transparently as we go forward.

Q62            Chair: Dr Brien, there appeared to be some suggestion in the Chancellor’s non-budget, mini-budget, fiscalwhatever we called ita couple of weeks ago that they wanted to bring more people into the scope of in-work conditionality to try to get people working more hours. Do you think that is a realistic ambition to do, along with achieving this roll-out? I think you talked about a group of people who currently have no engagement with a work coach because they are all working tax credit and work part time but will need some engagement. If you are going to add a whole load of more people because you raised the thresholds, is that feasible for the Department to do at the same time as they are doing this roll-out, do you think?

Dr Brien: We are probably looking at two different time periods because if the Chancellor has an indication of changing the administrative earnings threshold and bringing more people in, it is to have an effect and impact, it would be a relatively short timeframe to get that up and running. Whereas, given the likely trajectory of roll-out and scaling up with the managed migration that would be in a year or two’s time and that would be getting real scale.

At one level, moving the AET now, working out how to do it in a consistent and effective way and what staffing levels are required for it, is probably quite a good practice for what would happen later with the move to UC volumes. I think that the timings are not necessarily a challenge because of the sequencing. None the less that is something that job coaches would need to work on and managing the time to engage with more claimants.

Q63            Chair: Thank you. Can I move us on to a slightly different area? You commended the UC programmes team’s culture at senior grades but the extent to which there was a culture of feeding back openly, especially about things not going, well at lower grades was less clear. How important do you think it is that lower grade staff, such as work coaches or local managers who are involved in this process, do feel free to feed back their real experience and the real issues they are facing?

Dr Brien: I think in a programme of this scale it is absolutely critical that all layers within the system are free to raise issues and to challenge the situation on the ground.

We have had some good examples of that. For example, in 2016 there was a question over the number of cases of habitual residence test coming through, which caused a pause for a certain group of claimants as that was sorted out. The SRO always told us he is happy to listen to the situations and to have an ear to the ground.

Our view was that it would be helpful to have outsiders coming in and to help create that culture where others, who are perhaps less in the chain of command, are raising questions about claimant experience and creating the space as well for the more frontline workers to feel that the issues that they are spotting are a legitimate part of the conversation.

Q64            Chair: If I remember my history right, this was a big problem earlier in the programmethat people on the senior level were not being told how badly it was going until it all went horribly wrong. Do you think that culture is still a problem or is it much better than it was in the early days of this now?

Dr Brien: It is much better than it was in the early days. A lot of lessons were learned in the first few years of the roll-out. Charlotte, do you want to add?

Charlotte Pickles: Yes. Pre-pandemic the committee visited various jobcentres, in particular, in that slightly earlier phase of Universal Credit. We were quite struck that on most occasions we received very positive feedback from work coaches, and those in jobcentres, about the test and learn process and the feedback loop that was in place. I think work coaches did feel that there was an opportunity that probably in pre-UC programmes had not been there for them to flag things that they were concerned about.

The challenge we have at the moment is that, while there was clear evidence of that willingness to pause several years ago when UC was being rolled out, and we had seen evidence of that feedback loop, because of the pandemic and because we are so at the very start of this migration process, and as has already been noted by my colleagues, this is a very different set of people and a very different challengemigration versus new claimsthat we just do not know yet how well that feedback loop will operate. To reinforce what our main message here is, that is why it is so important that the Department is significantly more transparent and open about the process than it currently is.

Q65            Chair: Do you think some kind of external assurance programme is the way to fix this? Dr Brien, you just mentioned that but do you think having some external people come and monitor what is going on and provide information back to the top is the way to achieve this, or is there a way that it can be done internally that can be as effective?

Charlotte Pickles: I was going to pick that one up. Our view is that external scrutinyso independent, transparent and open scrutinyis absolutely essential to the success of the programme. That is for two reasons that I think we made clear in our report.

First, that sort of scrutiny will support an effective programme. If the only thing the Department can rely on is internal management data and that feedback loop that should be, and we hope will be, very effective, they are going to have gaps in the insights. They are going to have gaps in their understanding of how it is landing with claimants and the different groups that we have already discussed this morning. If you want to be as successful as possiblewhich the Department does want to beexternal scrutiny and input is an important part of delivering a successful programme.

Secondly, why it is so important is because we are all very aware that for some groups, in particular, UC is quite a scary proposition. If you are sitting on a legacy benefit or you are a tax credit claimant, you possibly, likely, in certain groups, are very nervous and possibly reluctant to make that move to UC. By having the external input, you get a greater public assurance that the system is working and operating and it does have the best interests of claimants at heart. Both for effectiveness and public confidence in the programme, that external input and oversight is important.

We recommend two specific things in our report. We are open minded as to exactly how the Department feels it should implement those, but the first was the idea of some sort of star chamber-style forum that enabled a range of external stakeholders plus direct insight from claimants. We would encourage the Departmentand in fact we have in other reports encouraged the Departmentto be much better at using, for example, user-led organisations rather than necessarily the very large charities. You have people who are impacted directly feeding into your process.

Therefore, some form of star chamber-type forum with those external stakeholders to get that greater, richer insight of both lived experience and the sector that is supporting these claimants outside of DWP are seeing on the ground.

Secondly, which Stephen mentioned, was an expansion of attendance to the monthly show-and-tell sessions that the Department delivers. Again, we think there are trusted constructive stakeholders that the Department could bring in to those sessions, again to provide a little bit more depth of insight to make sure that they are very aware of how this process is playing out with the different groups that we have mentioned.

Q66            Chair: From your experience on the inside of the Department, is that something that Ministers would be more willing to do than officials, or do you think there is no difference in who may not be quite so keen to be this open?

Charlotte Pickles: I think on both the official side and the ministerial side there will be ultimately an overriding desire to see a successful programme, because both Ministers and officials will be held to account by you and by others for whether this works and whether they can meet their deadlines.

There is always a balance between creating too broad a process and needing to have a managed and implementable stakeholder engagement plan. What we have tried to do is recommend quite specific, and we hope constructive, ways of bringing a greater set of experiences and insights in that can then feed into that successful programme without necessarily creating—it is probably the wrong term to use—a kind of free-for-all for everybody that may well slow down and impact the ability to do the migration in a managed way.

Dr Brien: There is one important observation that we have made, which is that, while Ministers may or may not be terribly keen to have lots more transparency—there is always tension there—for this particular programme at this point in time, given what Charlotte has said about certain apprehensions of certain groups to move across, transparency can provide greater confidence for where the programme is going well. Success stories are probably an important part of ensuring successful delivery. It is not just that transparency gives better scrutiny and technically improves things. Credible transparency then allows the public and certain claimant groups to feel, “This thing is actually going okay. There aren’t all those horror stories. People are being able to move across and those who get the transition protection benefit from it,” and so forth. That credible narrative can go a long way to making sure the programme succeeds.

Our take on this is that good-quality and credible transparency can be a big bonus to the programme’s success rather than a stick to beat the programme up with.

Q67            Neil Coyle: Thanks, Chair; I assume your knighthood is pending. Thank you to the witnesses for being with us. It is good to see you all.

The point you make about this star chamber and the use of experts by experience sounds fantastic. Is this on top of, or separate to, the wider support that the committee has had previously with the 10,000 cap and a report to Parliament after 10,000 people go through the process? Is it both or is it either?

Dr Brien: We are pretty pragmatic at this stage. Our sense is that the 10,000 cap is highly unlikely to survive ministerial reviews. The view has been taken that they do not want to apply the 10,000 cap. Hence, our recommendations have been in the spirit of: if the 10,000 cap goes, these are—as Charlotte said—the specific ideas we would recommend and, as your advisory committee, put in place for the good of the programme. I think it is an “or” rather than an “and”.

As we have spent time with some of the experts and spent time with the programme, we have a better understanding of the fundamental challenge of how you govern an agile process. We do have a clash of history and legacy approaches. Parliamentary scrutiny has been established over the years in an environment where most projects are done waterfall, you do a lot of testing and checking the plans upfront and then you let go, whereas in agile it is very much an iterative discovery process.

Therefore, we feel that a governance system, which reflects the nature of the programme and the discovery and iterative processes that are going on, is probably far better than one fire-and-forget check at 10,000 and then there is no further scrutiny. This is about an ongoing dialogue with the programme, so that there is a degree of public transparency to it, and accepting the fact that lessons will be learnt and changes will be made to the plans as the result of those lessons. It is much better to make sure that is happening well than having everything perfect at 10,000 and then not looking again at it.

Q68            Neil Coyle: As things stand the 10,000 is not happening. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Department’s response to your report is to note the recommendations, or have you been informed that there is going to be some implementation of the ideas?

Dr Brien: The only correspondence we have had with the Department has been that that was published. We have been told it has been noted. We encourage the Department—we have a new set of Ministers in with new responsibilities—to have another review of that and consider whether our recommendations can be implemented. Obviously, today’s discussion is another opportunity to explore what opportunities there may well be with you as well.

Q69            Neil Coyle: Lets hope that the Department shifts and the new ministerial team is able to ensure some progress. However, this does sound like the committee is worried about it. Previously you were adamant you needed the 10,000 check. You have dumped that because the Department has resisted. You have put forward some recommendations and the Department has said, “Thanks” and has so far indicated it will do nothing with them. What do you think explains the departmental bunker mentality?

Dr Brien: It is not for us to get into the heads of Ministers. What I will say is that we have been invited by the SRO to come to Bolton to review the process there to understand it better. We are definitely staying on top of this with respect to our role. If we feel in time there is need for us to conduct another report into this area, we will do so.

However, at this stage, we are waiting for the Department to respond further. We are going to go to Bolton to see what is going on there. We hope we will learn and we have learnt a lot through this process. If there are positive things going on in Bolton, we will be delighted to share our perspective on those. If there are things we think need to be improved, as and when we do another report on this, we will bring that out. We are an advisory committee. As the phrase goes, advisers advise and Ministers decide. Unfortunately, we are not able to push much harder than we have.

Chair: We know the feeling.

Q70            Steve McCabe: Thank you, good morning. I want to ask a little bit about some of the support and safeguarding mechanisms for claimants. Obviously, the Help to Claim service is scheduled to end next March, just before a fairly major acceleration of the migration programme. How do you think that is going to affect the way the migration programme is managed?

Dr Brien: The Help to Claim work was outside the scope of our report, so we did not look at it. It will be important for the programme to make sure there are lessons learnt from Help to Claim, and that they incorporate whatever they think is necessary into the migration process. However, we did not specifically look at How to Claim, so I cannot offer you much further on that.

Q71            Steve McCabe: Help to Claim is, in itself, a fairly limited service, as I understand it. It simply helps people with the initial stage of making a claim. I am not aware there is any other support available for people who are trying to claim. You say Help to Claim itself is outside your scope. Are there any particular groups that you think are disadvantaged in terms of the lack of support available to help them cope with these changes?

Dr Brien: I refer back to my earlier response. This is exactly the sort of question the discovery phase needs to be working out. It is not for me to opine from a distance and from a limited knowledge of the details. It is for the programme team to work that out by engaging with those claimants.

It is worth reflecting on the fact that, at one level, one of the key metrics for the move to UC part of the programme will actually be the number of successful claims made. They are sending out the notices. The most important thing that they have to achieve in the short run, on the back of those migration notices, is a successful claim.

Therefore, it is incumbent on the team to work out—in the different circumstances we have discussed, and indeed many others—what it will take for each of those people who have been given a migration notice within the time period allotted to have successfully made a claim to UC. It is up to the programme team to work through the different segments and the different routes in, because they will have to make sure that they have a very, very high success rate within that time period to get people successfully on to UC.

Q72            Steve McCabe: You mentioned in an earlier answer people who might struggle to provide evidence with regard to the habitual residence test. The National Audit Office also said it was concerned about the ability to successfully complete a claim for people who have limited proficiency in English because they might not be able to complete the form, people with learning difficulties or people with low digital skills or maybe even problems with access to digital technology. Is it your judgment that these are things the Department really needs to look at and address seriously?

Dr Brien: I would expect the Department, and the programme team in particular, to be working through exactly these types of issues in the discovery phase. When you send out the migration notices a certain group will respond pretty quickly, another group will take longer to do so. You work out what follow-up is needed and—on the second, third or fourth follow-up—what the barrier is, “Can I identify a barrier? Ah, this is potentially a member of the community where English is not the first language. Do I need to do something else?” That is the discovery process that is needed.

We are probably a little premature to be second-guessing that. However, these are exactly the questions that I think a good scrutiny of the programme team, when it has achieved a degree of scale, are absolutely appropriate. Charlotte, do you want to follow up?

Charlotte Pickles: Yes. I want to add that they are some of the groups that we are deeply concerned about, given some of the vulnerabilities that we know claimants who are going to be migrated will have. Let’s be clear, the risk of not successfully migrating is very adverse impacts on vulnerable claimants.

It is also worth mentioning that this is precisely why we have also called on the Department to publish its metrics for success. We do not even know at the moment how it is going to make a decision about moving from one stage to the next, so what are the exit criteria and what does success look like?

This is part of our frustration. If the Department was more transparent, published what those criteria were and then demonstrated how it is assessing performance against that, I think we all would have vastly more confidence in the programme. However, because we cannot see that, it creates a greater level of anxiety both for those of us who are concerned about whether it will have adverse impacts but also for the claimants themselves.

We are trying to put pressure on, but the Committee and Parliament can also apply pressure to say, “You need to publish those metrics. You need to explain to us what will be the triggers for moving from one phase to the next”. That is the definition of a successful agile programme.

Q73            Steve McCabe: The ambit of Help to Claim was rather limited, in that it only provided support to make the initial claim. As I understand it, that means tax credits or help with housing association rents. Therefore, that would not necessarily be addressing changes in circumstances. I understand the Department’s proposal at the moment is to offer a telephone helpline. Would that be sufficient for the kind of people you have just been talking about?

Charlotte Pickles: I can only respond on behalf of what SSAC collectively has looked at and what our view is. Historically, through all the work that we have done—not just on the migration question but originally with UC and, indeed, on any aspect of the Department’s work—we are very clear that there need to be multiple channels because for some groups a telephone support service might be better. Perhaps going in face to face is not possible because of a disability or something and going online is not possible, so telephone can be ideal. However, clearly, that is not going to be the case for everyone. Therefore, our general view as SSAC is that the Department needs to provide sufficient support to meet the very variable needs that its claimant base has.

Dr Brien: The committee’s first report on managed migration in 2018 laid that out and included telephone. Even home visits were suggested as maybe being necessary for certain categories. Very definitely a multichannel approach is our recommendation.

Q74            Steve McCabe: I am very conscious that when the Committee took evidence from Iain Duncan Smith, the original Secretary of State, he stressed that universal support was part of his intention in creating Universal Credit. What do you think would be the main components of universal support?

Dr Brien: For what purposes are we referring?

Q75            Steve McCabe: For helping people to move successfully, claim and manage their Universal Credit experience and ensure that we do not have massive delays or people falling through the net.

Dr Brien: As Charlotte outlined, it is going to need to be quite a segmented, multichannel approach where for certain groups of people a light touch, easy, convenient online approach is the right one. Then for others it is going to need telephone support, text messaging, hand holding and even home visits.

What we need to do is to say that goal No. 1 is to ensure that the process from when the migration notice is sent out to a successful completion of claim and, indeed, award is close to 100% within the time period that we are allotting for it, then to work out, segment by segment, what support is absolutely needed to get them over the line as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

I hesitate to give you lots of specifics. It is more to say that there is a very clear goal that we must not lose sight of, which is the expeditious, smooth, convenient, safe and effective migration from the notice that gets sent out to successful award. We are going to have to break the steps down to make sure that when the migration notice is sent out, people are able to respond using the means most appropriate for them.

Once the programme team has made contact with the individuals, it is providing them with the clarity and confidence they need and whatever support they will then need to make the claim. Once the claim has been submitted, again, whatever hand holding is needed to take people through to award, and making sure that, if they need an advance payment, it is coming through, and making sure that the timings of when payments are coming through is really clear and that the handoff to the job coach for those who are under the earning threshold is managed smoothly.

That is a process that we need to recognise will be quite different for different groups of people. Rather than laying out one approach, we need to hold the programme team collectively to account for working out what is needed for different groups such that that goal—that common goal for everybody—is achieved in the most expeditious manner.

Steve McCabe: I may be labouring this a little but the reason I am doing so is that I am reminded of two cases I came across in my own constituency quite recently. One was a woman who had a series of illnesses and was awaiting the result of various tests. She was both physically in a very bad way and psychologically quite distressed. At that point, she failed to respond properly to a migration notice. She did not have a computer at home. She attempted to phone the Department. She could not get to speak to anyone. She sent a recorded delivery letter, but Department thinks it did not receive it. She went weeks and weeks without money.

The second was a 19-year-old boy who had severe learning difficulties and autism. After he left school and his tax credits and disability element ended, he was required to apply for Universal Credit. His mum attempted to register him. That seemed to take several weeks. They omitted to tell her that she needed to complete a work capability form. That resulted in a further 16-week delay. Then the staff at the DWP insisted on speaking directly to her son on the phone, except he is non-verbal. Surely, we need a better service to cater for these kinds of eventualities.

Carl Emmerson: It is absolutely the case the service needs to work well for all claimants and, in particular, those at the most risk of being vulnerable. That is exactly why the discovery phase needs to start with very small numbers. There are bound to be some mistakes. That is what test and learn is all about. It is important that when those mistakes happen the programme is then able to adapt and adjust. When you do small scale, you might not pick up some of the examples you are talking about. You might not pick up certain types of people. When you start to scale up it is going to need constant monitoring.

I suggest we need to look at the key indicator of: how many people are safely landed on Universal Credit within x weeks of sending out a migration notice? We need to look at how that breaks down by lots of different characteristics, making sure that there isn’t any one group that is being left behind. Maybe the Department will be able to proceed with some types of claimants much more quickly. Maybe with other groups there will be much more of a pause and the system will need to reflect on that and get it right before it can really start scaling up.

That is the approach we need to see being taken. That is why we are pointing to much more transparency and the kind of approach we are suggesting to governance, which we think could help the process work much better. As Charlotte said, it would not only help the Department get this right but also help the Department demonstrate widely that it is going well for the groups where it is going well.

Steve McCabe: Thank you very much.

Q76            Neil Coyle: I want to ask about process and priorities. Thank you, again, for being with us this morning. On the first point about the process, and linked to the point you just made to Steve, do you think it is clear enough to claimants, at the point that they are asked to move, what things like transitional protection will mean and what will happen to things like existing benefit debts? Do you think it is made clear enough to the individual going through this process?

Dr Brien: I am afraid I am going to sound a bit like a scratched record on this. These are exactly the questions the discovery process needs to work out. It needs to test different letters and look at different response rates on the back of those. It needs to spend time interviewing those early movers to work out from them what they understand from the letter, what prompted them to act, did they feel they had all the information and so on. These are exactly the sorts of questions the discovery process needs to be addressing.

To pick up on Carl and Charlotte’s earlier point, this is why we are so keen for there to be transparency. I expect that the programme team is thinking about the vast majority of these issues. It would be really helpful for all of us to see the first 10, the first 100 criterion issues it is addressing as far as its success rate is concerned. If we saw all those questions laid out there and being addressed by the programme team, we could all rest easy until the next phase. Without that knowledge of how they are thinking about it, these questions will continue to be raised. That is the loop we have. We have to close this loop somehow or another.

Q77            Neil Coyle: How would that data be picked up in anything the Department was expected to report on, on like a monthly basis, whether people felt they had the process explained to them fully? What would that look like in practice?

Dr Brien: Again, far be it for me to second-guess how the programme team will operate this. However, if I were thinking about this and was dealing with small numbers of people—the hundreds that we have—I would be keen to ensure that some of the caseworkers are contacting these individuals, separate to the migration process, interviewing them, asking questions and working it out. As you scale up to thousands, conduct regular surveys of, “What did you know?” so the programme team is able to get inside the heads of different types of claimants and anticipate the issues they are dealing with. Again, it is for them to work out how to do that.

Charlotte Pickles: Coming back to this point about whether it is a kind of star chamber”-type forum or whether it is expanding the show-and-tell stakeholder group, it is clearly not just the Department that will be hearing where there are issues and problems, whether that is the user-led organisations—things like Citizen Advice—where, if these things are not being explained properly, they are going to be inundated by questions from claimants who have not properly understood the process.

That is why you want those people built in to the whole of the migration timeline, so that you are not relying on a particular point in time—as I think you are alluding to—where you say, six months down the line, “Gosh, have we not picked up that this thing was going wrong?” You want the ability, at whatever the appropriate regularity is, for those external inputs to be fed into the process so the programme can adjust in real time what it is doing.

Q78            Neil Coyle: We have heard from some of those organisations already. My understanding is that they have been in contact with you as well. It is trying to think ahead in terms of what it is you are recommending the Government avoids happening by improving the transitional protections. Let’s not wait for those experts by experience to be negatively impacted, let’s try to get ahead of the curve. What are you recommending in terms of improvements to the transitional protections, for example?

Dr Brien: We are not recommending in the report any specific improvements. We all can recognise there is room for improvement but—

Q79            Neil Coyle: You recognise there is room for improvement. What are the improvements that you would like to see?

Dr Brien: I am not going to volunteer specific improvements. Quite seriously, the report was around the governance of the programme, the right way to make sure those improvements are identified and acted on and that transparency provides public confidence.

In a separate place and separate time all of us, I am sure, have ideas about how to improve it, and we may be the right people to suggest those improvements to the programme team. However, the key thing we have been focusing on is to set up the system of processes, such that those improvements that are needed can be identified and acted on rather than to come out with a list of specific improvements.

Q80            Neil Coyle: I think there is widespread disappointment that the committee has not been firmer on, for example, the timings of the Government’s approach. If the Government rushes this now—even the IFS has pointed out that many people will be disadvantaged because of the time at which we expect the benefits uprating—the more people the Government push through this now the lower they get overall. Is this not a concern of your committee?

Charlotte Pickles: There are lots of separate things going on. The report that we are discussing today was obviously the product of our scrutiny of the regulations that the Government put forward. It was not focused on whether benefits were going to be uprated at any particular point or not. We do not know what is going to happen with that. It was not regulations focused on changing transitional protection or any other aspect.

Obviously, we wrote our very comprehensive report on migration back in 2018 and we raised many of the operational concerns and policy concerns that we have touched on tangentially today. The focus of our report that we have been invited to discuss—within the remit of what SSAC does, and us individually, being here with our SSAC hats on—is the migration process and how we ensure that, if that is the policy, it is implemented in a way that will not lead to adverse impacts for claimants. That is our primary concern.

Part of that is ensuring transparency and the right governance. It is not just us, because clearly, we not the only organisation that can highlight where we think things could be improved or where things are not going as effectively as possible. The Work and Pensions Select Committee, Parliament itself and individual MPs can be raising these questions in the usual business of Parliament. We very much hope they will be. Our specific focus today is on the regulations that were put in front of us, and we had concern enough about to take those on referral.

Q81            Neil Coyle: You make a slightly contradictory point. People do not go through these processes because they enjoy they process. They go through this in order to secure some support, ideally. You are saying you do not know what will happen when. We do know what is going to happen, in terms of when benefits are likely to be uprated and we do know there is a direct financial impact in the context of rising inflation and prices and the cost-of-living crisis.

Charlotte Pickles: We do not know what the uprating will be. That was my point. I am not for one moment suggesting that there is some kind of intrinsic value of going through a migration process. What I am suggesting is that, if you are going to do a migration process, it would be helpful and in everyone's interest to make that as smooth and undisruptive as you possibly can.

Dr Brien: I would also note that the scale of numbers of claimants who are likely to go through in the next six, nine, 12 months is still pretty low and, therefore, it is not likely that there could be any real choice about serious volumes and cost savings as a result of trying to pre-empt an operation. There is a timing issue here, which is perhaps being conflated unnecessarily.

Carl Emmerson: This is why many of those on tax credits will find that their award is higher when they are moved across to Universal Credit. For many of the tax credit claimants in particular, the sooner they move across the financially better off they will be.

Q82            Neil Coyle: This is the point about priorities that I wanted to come on to, so thank you for making that link. It seems strange for the Government to choose to push 2.6 million through this if, according to the Government’s own figures, 1.4 million will be better off, potentially, 300,000 will have the same and 600,000 will have transitional protections.

How has the Department weighed up the cost-benefits when contrasted with, for example, the backlog with PIP? Why do you think the Department is choosing this as a priority, given your wider concerns about how it is approaching it, rather than addressing the disabled people who are awaiting decisions on the Personal Independence Payment?

Dr Brien: It is not something that we have looked into. We are treating this programme as sui generis with respect to its operations. Certainly, I would be keen to make sure that the pressures that there may be from the Department to speed it up are not in any way affecting the safe operation of it. That has been how we have looked at this, rather than trading off an IT backlog on various other programmes. Yours is a valid question but not within the scope of what we have been looking at.

Q83            Neil Coyle: I am confused. Given your wide advisory capacity, you must have a position on Personal Independence Payments.

Dr Brien: Our wider advisory capacity comes through two areas: one in response to specific regulations that have been proposed to us and, secondly, when we undertake independent research reports, but we do not opine ex cathedra on issues just for the sake of it.

Q84            Chris Stephens: First, should the Department for Work and Pensions be looking at the lived experience of claimants as part of its monitoring of the process?

Dr Brien: The short answer is yes, but I think that Carl Emmerson will probably provide a more substantive answer.

Charlotte Pickles: I was going to do that.

Dr Brien: Sorry, Charlotte.

Charlotte Pickles: Absolutely. As you have heard us say repeatedly throughout this session, we think that it is not enough to have ad hoc input, whether it is through a third-sector advice agency or another kind of charitable body. Nor is it sufficient, although it is very important, to be getting that experience via the frontline staff—work coaches and case managers—who should play a fundamental role in linking claimants’ experiences that they see as they process the migration claims back up to HQ to make sure that issues are addressed and problems are found.

Forgive me for repeating myself, but this is precisely why we have said we do think a star chamber-style forum, which has claimant representatives, which could be via user-led organisations—obviously, there are other options for how you would identify claimants—should be put in place, not as an ad hoc body but as a body that has a regular ability to feed into the process. That is also why we have said the show-and-tell stakeholder list should be expanded.

Ultimately, our nervousness is that fundamentally the process will impact claimants adversely and we have already had a couple of examples of that this morning. Fundamentally, if claimant experience is not built into the test and learn, you risk having what looks on paper like an effective, well-designed administrative process but not capturing how it is impacting claimants, whether they understand what is happening and what we have to do once they have been migrated. That kind of richer understanding of the impact can only be gained by listening to claimants’ experiences fed in regularly, not on an ad House of Commons basis.

Q85            Chris Stephens: The lived-experience model seems to be successful in other places, doesn’t it—health, disability—and I am thinking more pertinently in Scotland with the shaping of the Adult Disability Payment. Can you tell me if you know if anyone in the DWP has paid any heed to the successful lived experience consultation model and tried to adapt it to Universal Credit and managed migration? Has the Department gone back to the committee on that? If not, why not?

Charlotte Pickles: All we have had is what is in the public domain in terms of a response to our recommendations. It is fair to say that we are disappointed that we have not had a more detailed response to the recommendations we put forward. I cannot comment on what the Department, either at an official, political, or ministerial level, is thinking about embedding some of the ideas around ensuring the lived experience is very much a core part of test and learn.

Certainly, you are right, there are examples and we drew them out in our recent report about engaging disabled people. That is a fulsome look at how the Department can be much better—not just on migration but generally—at co-producing some of what the Department does. We looked at the experience in Scotland. You would have to ask the Department what it is learning from that and how it will be applying it to this process, but we certainly hope the Department does apply it and we strongly encourage that.

Q86            Chris Stephens: Dr Brien, one of the recommendations the committee has put forward is for a temporary extension of the DWP's show-and-tell events on managed migration to a wider group of stakeholders. Some of the concerns that the existing stakeholders have and have told the committee about are to do with the amount of change the Department makes in comparison to the amount that it consults is very limited. Is there a risk that increasing the number of organisations participating would increase stakeholders’ frustrations?

Dr Brien: It is worth differentiating that currently show-and-tell has quite small events for a quite small and narrow group and the larger consultation forums, which are very widespread and a little bit more broadcasted.

Our view is that show-and-tell, where there is the opportunity for engagement, questioning the programme team, challenging, and bringing issues to bear, is the right route. At the moment, the participants are mostly local authorities and people whoto refer back to Charlotte Pickles' phrasefocus to a great extent on the administrative smoothness, whose KPIs are predominantly on the administrative smoothness of the system.

Our view is that bringing in trusted outside parties who will instinctively be thinking about the lived experience would be of value, and complement what is there already. They need to be trusted by the Department, so the dynamic that I am more worried about is the Department clamming up and not being willing to engage.

We considered listing some examples of people who could be part of this but decided not to because we felt that, at the end of the day, there would have to be some discussion, compromise and consultation to find people who would be willing and able to be that critical friend, but who the programme team would feel comfortable listening to. I am sure many could play that role but, for us, that was the key dynamic shift, which is not to add a layer of governance but to reshape and rescope the nature of that type of oversight, to shift it from administrative smoothness to both efficiency but also the lived experience.

I am not sure that changing that broadcast model of the wider stakeholder convening is where the action is. I think it is much more about reshaping the show-and-tells.

Q87            Chris Stephens: For the army of viewers who watch these proceedings, Dr Brien, let me ask you this general question: what should be the purpose of a DWP consultation and how would you judge if a consultation is successful?

Dr Brien: There are two parts to it. One is sharing information that is not always in public documents, in the public domain, but giving the rationale, the insight behind it so that stakeholders can have a better understanding of the internal workings of the system. Secondly, on the back of that, to be able to take questions, respond and clarify and also feed back to the programme team.

The reason I am making that differentiation is, when you are dealing with a very large group, the ability to have a true back and forth and do it in a timely way is quite limited. If you can get a slightly smaller, appropriately representative group of people who can play much more of a constructive challenge role, you will get a much healthier debate and a much more useful back and forth.

Q88            Chris Stephens: Nice answer, Dr Brien, but just to develop these points, can you say what criteria are in place to judge the success of consultation on Universal Credit and managed migration? If the criteria are vague, what is the purpose of the consultation and might the public feel it is just for the Department to be seen to consult rather than do so effectively?

Dr Brien: If we take consultation on its own, we are asking a lot of it. That is why we are making a number of discrete points in our recommendations so that, in effect, the consultation process is doing less heavy lifting but the participants in the process are also aware of the critical-friend challenge that is happening within the show-and-tells.

If you want to try to get an agile process working, in a timely and iterative manner, a broad-based, wide-scale consultation process has a limited ability to effectively influence the agile process. That is why we are suggesting the broader scale one as well. I am asking less of consultation than maybe has been implied.

Q89            Chris Stephens: Thank you. The committee also suggested the Department should supplement its own performance data with an element of external assurance. Do you know if that is in place or if it is about to be?

Dr Brien: We do not know any more about what the Department is doing other than the letter we got. However, I am looking forward to going to Bolton and reviewing the process there and, in light of what we learn there, we will probably be able to give some more advice at some point.

Q90            Chris Stephens: Has the Department for Work and Pensions established the right balance between disseminating information and taking on board and acting on feedback?

Dr Brien: I would say a lot of what we are recommending in this report is to increase both: greater dissemination of information to provide public confidence where appropriate and focus the public’s mind—the Department does need to improve—and taking more feedback on board through the star chamber or the user groups and so on. For me, it is not about balance; it is about improving.

Q91            Steve McCabe: I want to pick up on another point in the transparency debate. In your evidence already, you have put a lot of emphasis on the discovery phase and test and learn and how we are going to proceed. What do you think we learned from the Harrogate pilot?

Carl Emmerson: Some of the things that we hoped to have learned from that are pretty limited now. The pilot was only in place for a little more than six months. It was for people receiving the jobseeker’s allowance, people who volunteered, I think is my understanding, to be moved across, so a selective group. That is not to say there was no value in it. It is not to say that the Department will not have learned some things. We have not received very much information from the Department on it. I do not think the Department has put anything in the public domain.

When taking evidence from the Department on the set of regulations that this report relates to, we did ask a few questions about what they learned from it, and what they found. We heard that some claimants were pretty ready and okay with the idea of moving across. Not surprisingly, some were much more anxious about it and the Department felt that personal contact with the claimant helped. I think there will be a challenge with how to move towards scaling up what they are doing and how that will work once they try to do it for much greater numbers.

The Department also told us that getting the Universal Credit claim in on the right date, so that it aligned nicely with the person’s income source and their outgoings, was also helpful for the claimant and that was felt to be quite important, so there were some things that the Department told us that sounded like they had reflected on some of the evidence.

However, as I said at the start, there aren’t JSA-only claimants moving across to UC anymore. Now it is really about people on Employment Support Allowance and people on tax credits and, doubtless, there will be a lot of challenges with those groups that will perhaps not have come up when the Department was looking at JSA claimants and, in particular, JSA claimants who were volunteering to be part of the pilot.

We do not have that much on the outcomes, which I think is not that surprising, but I do not think there is that much you could learn about what needs to happen now.

Q92            Steve McCabe: You said you had not seen the report. That it has not been published. The papers were deposited in the House of Commons and the House of Lords Libraries, but they were entirely redacted with the exception of the words “moved to Universal Credit” and “user research”. Do you think this was a helpful approach?

Carl Emmerson: I have not seen that redacted report. From what you describe, it doesn’t sound like the most helpful.

Q93            Steve McCabe: It does not seem too much like transparency, does it?

Carl Emmerson: I have not seen it but it does not sound like it. It is not what we are proposing in our recommendations.

Q94            Steve McCabe: What lesson do you think the Government should learn with the discovery phase from the way they have behaved over the publishing of the Harrogate report? Do you think there are any lessons there?

Carl Emmerson: What we want to see is the Department setting out in advance what success will look like for lots of different groups, being very clear that that is the hurdle that it needs to pass before it starts accelerating and then being very transparent about the findings in these phases, where they are succeeding, where they are ready to go ahead, and giving everybody the confidence that they are ready to ahead, but also where things have gone less well.

We should not beat them up about that, because it is test and learn—the whole point is that some things will not go well—but asking and then being very transparent, saying, “This did not go so well so, therefore, we are trying this, this and this. That is why we are going slow for this particular group and why we feel confident to faster for this other group”. Being very transparent about that, so that SSAC and you can all be confident that this is proceeding at an appropriate pace rather than one that is being dictated by a timetable.

Q95            Steve McCabe: I do not want to get into conspiracy fantasies and start accusing Ministers of cover-ups or anything like that, but what on earth can be in the Harrogate report that means that we are not allowed to see it? If that is the prevailing mentality and psychology that is pervading the Department, how will we stop that from repeating itself with the discovery phase?

Carl Emmerson: There might be absolutely nothing in that report that would be concerning, but of course what you do not want to do is create anxiety among policymakers and parliamentarians that there are problems that we are not seeing. That is why we think a transparent approach is necessary here.

Steve McCabe: Okay. I think we had better leave it there.

Q96            Chair: Do you hope that the new Secretary of State takes a little more generous approach to the publication of documents than her predecessor? We ended up having to publish some for her at one stage. It does not help to build trust and confidence if we cannot see the advice and the research that the Department is basing its policy on, does it?

Dr Brien: I concur. In several reports that we have issued recently, we have urged greater levels of transparency and more publication. It is not just for the sake of good governance, which your Committee and ours are very keen on and have responsibilities for helping to ensure that happens. However, it will help the success of a programme, like Universal Credit, and the move to it for people to be able to see the apprehensions that Charlotte Pickles mentioned being addressed. There are lessons to be learned but there are also success stories that, in my view, are not getting out either. Therefore, people will be concerned for good reason if they cannot get the assurance they need.

Q97            Chair: This is a final and general question, Dr Brien. It is a while since we have seen you before the Committee. Do you feel that the Department listens to and values your committee’s advice and that you are serving a useful function? Or do you feel that you are shouting in the dark at times?

Dr Brien: I am sure all advisory and scrutiny committees go through that questioning process at various stages. We have good relationships with the Ministers and officials. There are plenty of health conversations. I do wishand I am sure all committees wishthat Departments would take on more of our recommendations more readily, but we are also pragmatic. We have an advisory role. We are not decision makers, and we are keen to make sure that our advice is impartial, independent and public, so that people can see what we are saying and allow others to hold the Government to account, as well, on the merits of our advice in the first place. In general, I think we are doing a pretty good job.

Q98            Chair: Do you think the structure is the right one? After your years of experience in chairing it, are you not thinking there should be some tweaks that you would recommend? Do you think what you have is about the best you could have?

Dr Brien: At one level, what we have has been set up by Parliament. We are a statutory body so we work very much within the basis of that authority. If that is the remit, I think broadly it works. What the remit should be is a separate question for Parliament but, in the context of the remit Parliament has given us, I do not see the need for any particular major surgery.

Q99            Chair: Would you like a different remit? Here you are, talking to the parliamentary Committee and we will have some scrutiny of that. Are you suggesting we should try to change the remit or do you think it is about right?

Dr Brien: I used a phrase earlier about not opining ex cathedra and I think I will use it again here.

Chair: Thank you all for your time. Your input has been very helpful. Thank you.