When you embark on any major reform, be that in small or larger organisations, national or local, the key to success is the collaborative working with those who understand the issues and their community.
If you can garner support from the people who are implementing the change, your reform is more likely to succeed.
Five years ago we started on a journey to revolutionise this country’s welfare system.
Our aim was to create a benefit that not only supported people during difficult times, but fundamentally changed people’s lives for the better.
We wanted a welfare system that rewarded those who wanted to get on in their lives and jobs and recognised the damaging dependency trap that has held back thousands of people from reaching their full potential.
This was the basis of bringing in universal credit. But this journey would have been far tougher if it wasn’t for the expertise, enthusiasm and backing from local authorities across Britain.
We could never have delivered reform on the scale of universal credit without the free and frank exchange of ideas and willingness by local authorities to test aspects of the policy during the early stages of the programme.
It is this ‘test and learn’ process that has been the secret to the success of universal credit
In April 2013, we launched our pathfinder initiative in the north-west with Oldham, Wigan, Warrington and Tameside local authorities to test the new system in a live environment.
This was a gradual process to ensure we got it right.
The pathfinder was created to trial specific aspects of universal credit policy, such as direct payment of housing support, monthly payments, online benefit claims, and budgeting support, with the trial results feeding back to the department.
To support this, we developed the universal credit delivery partnership which built on local partnership principles.
It ensured that extra support was available for vulnerable claimants during the trials and provided assistance locally to those who needed help, to make their universal credit claim online or had difficulty managing a monthly budget.
The partnership also created a forum for landlords and local officials to discuss policy details and share results from the trials with the department.
Once the pathfinder initiative concluded, we were able to draw on the existing relationships established within local government to help design and deliver universal credit to the rest of the country.
Local authorities involved in pathfinders hosted events for other local government officials to see first-hand how universal credit worked and what preparations were needed prior to introducing the reform.
We continue to use feedback from local authorities and national working groups established with the Local Government Association, to refine and improve universal credit as a whole.
The co-operation we’ve had at all levels of government in designing and delivering universal credit has been unprecedented and has been vital to the reform’s continuing success.
The information received during the pathfinders was indispensable to ensuring that universal credit could be delivered in a safe and secure way.
That listening process, which allowed local stakeholders and local authorities to shape overall reform, represents a cultural shift for the department in designing and implementing policy.
This culture of working alongside local government has continued as we look for their input and expertise in designing the next phase of universal credit.
The department and local authorities are currently trialling aspects of universal support – delivered locally, which will ensure that support for claimants goes beyond simple help with job seeking. It will encompass three core elements, triage, financial inclusion, and digital skills.
Reforms must be implemented by working alongside local government if they are to be truly successful.
It is that collaborative approach that has been the key to the success of our welfare reforms and it is that approach we must adopt if that success is to continue in this parliament and beyond.
Lord Freud, minister for welfare reform
Lord Freud: Collaboration is key to delivering reform