Select Committee on Social Security Seventh Report


Seventh Report

The Education and Employment Committee and the Social Security Committee have agreed to the following Report:—



1. The Prime Minister first announced the Government's plans for ONE, under its original working title, the Single Work-focused Gateway, at the Labour Party Conference in September 1998.[1] The following month, the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) and the Department of Social Security (DSS) jointly published a White Paper, A New Contract for Welfare: The Gateway to Work, which set out the proposals in more detail.[2] The Government's long-term intention is that new claimants of working age will be given a personal adviser when they enter the benefits system, who will conduct an interview as early as possible to assess the potential for employment and explain the help available in planning a pathway to independence.[3] ONE represents the bringing together of the Employment Service (ES), Benefits Agency (BA), local authorities and other welfare providers to provide a more seamless and coherent service for claimants. It is central to meeting the Government's promise of "work for those who can, security for those who cannot".[4] The Government is investing £112 million in twelve pilot schemes, £79.5 million from the Treasury's Invest to Save budget.[5]


  2. ONE will initially be tested in twelve pilot areas. The first four pilots have just started and the remaining eight will begin in November 1999.[6] We hope that, by producing this Report at such an early stage in the life of the Project, we will be well placed to influence its further development.

3. ONE could be a test bed for future service delivery initiatives through a one stop approach. In evidence, both Ministers concerned in delivering the pilots, Angela Eagle, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Social Security and Andrew Smith, Minister for Employment, spoke with enthusiasm for this concept. At this stage, they argued, we have to learn to walk, even crawl, before we run,[7] but we would recommend the government give serious thought to future delivery opportunities such as one stop shops.

4. Other countries have adopted an approach of delivering a wide range of services through one stop shops and internet links.[8] We believe there are great potential benefits to both the community and the government to be obtained from such an approach.

5. This Report is the conclusion of a joint inquiry by the Employment Sub-committee of the Select Committee on Education and Employment and the Select Committee on Social Security: an exercise in joint scrutiny which is appropriate to the cross-departmental nature of the Project. As well as more than 40 written submissions, we took oral evidence from the officials involved in implementing the Service, organisations representing the various client groups concerned, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents ES and BA staff, representatives of the local authorities involved, and from Ministers.[9] We held an informal seminar with academics and Government officials and we visited Huddersfield Jobcentre in the Calderdale and Kirklees pilot area and the ES headquarters in Sheffield.[10] We were also given a presentation by Wolff Olins, designers of the ONE brand. We are very grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry, and in particular to our specialist advisers, Mr Dan Finn, Reader in Social Policy at the University of Portsmouth, Mr Michael O'Higgins, Director of PA Consulting, and Mr David Webster, Chief Housing Officer of Glasgow City Council. We record our special thanks to the ONE Project Team, who gave up a great deal of their time to assist us in this inquiry while working to very challenging deadlines for the implementation of the pilots.


Stage one: the start-up meeting

  6. ONE will be a service for people of working age who are not working or work fewer than 16 hours per week on average and who are seeking to claim one or more of the following benefits: Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Incapacity Benefit, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and Widows and Bereavement Benefits. The first stage of the process is known as the start-up meeting.[11] At the start-up meeting, a member of staff will establish the client's personal details and decide which support is likely to be appropriate in their particular circumstances. The start-up adviser will collect the basic information necessary to process the client's benefit claim; where it is appropriate, advise the individual of any job vacancies which they might pursue immediately; allocate the client to a personal adviser and arrange the initial adviser meeting (including provision for meeting any of the client's special needs such as an interpreter or a home visit); establish which benefits the client might be entitled to and issue the appropriate benefit claim forms and advise the client of what additional evidence or information might be needed to support their claim.

Stage two: the adviser meeting

  7. The second stage of the process is the adviser meeting itself. Meetings will normally be conducted within three working days of the start-up meeting, but in cases where an immediate interview would be inappropriate (e.g. somebody who has recently been bereaved), it will be deferred. The meeting will consist of an in-depth investigation and analysis of the client's personal circumstances and an exploration of the ways in which they might be able to overcome any barriers to work. It might include, for example, an explanation of the advantages of working and a personalised calculation of potential in-work income; advice on suitable job vacancies and job search training; advice on support or specialist services that are available and benefits advice. For JSA claimants, the Jobseeker's Agreement will be made during the meeting. For other clients, a personalised action plan, aimed at improving the client's employability, will be developed.[12] Clients may also receive advice on setting up their own business and becoming self-employed. Experience of the New Deal suggests that the full potential of this option, added at a later stage in the development of the programme, has not been fulfilled. This is perhaps because of a tendency for the Employment Service to think in terms of employment rather than self-employment. While not appropriate for everybody, we recommend that Ministers should consult with organisations such as the Prince's Trust to ensure that self-employment is offered as a real option for clients under ONE.


  8. In ONE's initial stages, only the start-up meeting will be compulsory. Participation in this interview will be part of the process of making a claim to benefit, so a client who does not participate in the interview will be deemed never to have made a claim and be in a similar situation to a client who, for example, did not complete and return the relevant claim form. The Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill which is presently before Parliament will allow the Secretary of State to make regulations imposing, as a condition of entitlement to a benefit, a requirement to take part in a work-focused interview.[13] The Bill will also require a claimant, as a condition of continuing to be entitled to full benefit, to attend further work-focused interviews at certain trigger points, for example, when the youngest child of a lone parent reaches school age. Subject to the passage of the Bill, the Government intends to make such participation in the adviser meetings compulsory within the pilot areas, for all new claims to benefit, from April 2000.


  9. From November 1999, pilots operating two variants of the basic model will begin. In the call centre variant, initial contact with the system will be via a call centre and the start-up meeting will be conducted over the telephone. Clients will be sent a copy of the appropriate benefit claim forms pre-printed with the details which they have provided, together with advice about what to do next. One office in each of the four call-centre pilot areas will be set up as a call centre site and will be linked to form one "virtual" call centre covering all four sites.

10. For the second variant, private and voluntary sector organisations have been invited to advance innovative proposals for the start-up and adviser meetings. This is the minimum requirement for bids, and proposals have also been encouraged for:

11. ONE is a major development in the delivery of Government services. Where clients previously had to deal with a range of institutions—the Employment Service, the Benefits Agency, local authorities and the Child Support Agency—they will be given a single point of contact with the system.[15] Where clients previously had brief contact with a number of different officials, they will have a dedicated personal adviser who will be familiar with their circumstances and needs and working in partnership with them. Where much of the benefits system was previously focused on benefits, it will be focused on the individual's broader needs and on helping them to move from dependency to independence. We commend the Government on the ONE initiative, which we welcome as a big step towards a more integrated, efficient and customer-focused service.


  12. In mid-February 1999, the Government instructed Wolff Olins, a firm of brand consultants, to devise a brand identity for what was then known as the Single Work-focused Gateway. As well as the title, ONE, Wolff Olins advised on the design of ONE centres, the kind of vocabulary that should be used by advisers (e.g. referring to "meetings" rather than "interviews" and "clients" rather than "claimants") and the titles of the two stages. The start-up meeting was originally known as the registration and orientation interview and the adviser meeting as the work-focused interview (the description given in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill). The Minister told us that this branding exercise would cost approximately £240,000.[16]

The Choice of Pilot Areas

13. The twenty-four Benefits Agency areas involved in the ONE pilot are shown in Table 1. Twelve are action areas where the ONE Service will be piloted and twelve are control areas.

Table 1: ONE pilot areas




Essex South East




Clyde Coast and Renfrew


Lea Roding

Greater Manchester Pennine






North Nottinghamshire

North Staffordshire



North Cheshire






West Sussex



Gwent Borders


Calderdale and Kirklees


Source: Ev. p. 13.

These areas were chosen to meet a number of criteria. They have a sufficient number and range of clients to allow for meaningful evaluation, a range of labour market types and good joint working arrangements between local authorities, the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency. Areas which were operating "competing" pilot schemes which might influence the local labour flows were excluded from the scheme. Because the pilot areas are based on Benefits Agency boundaries, most of the pilot areas include all or part of several ES districts and local authority areas. For example, the Suffolk area contains nine local authorities and the Somerset area contains three ES districts.[17]

14. Benefits Agency Districts are categorised into six geographical types: London Areas, Northern City, Medium Sized City Area I, Medium Sized City Area II, Older Home Owning Areas and Rural Areas. This classification is based on the percentage of the population aged 18-24, the percentage of households with dependent children, the percentage of residents from the New Commonwealth, the percentage of owner occupied dwellings and the percentage of the population aged over pension age. Neither of the first two categories, London Areas and Northern City, are represented in the pilot or control areas.[18] Of the 50 local authorities covered by the pilot areas, only nine feature in the list of the 100 most deprived local authority areas and only three (Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham and Leeds) contain areas of severe deprivation.[19]

15. Mr Lee Brown of the ONE Project Team told us that although none of the pilot areas were classified as London Areas, some of them shared some characteristics with London Areas, such as high staff turnover in the agencies involved and large ethnic minority populations.[20] He also suggested that areas of high deprivation tended to attract Government pilot schemes and many of them had been excluded on the ground that other schemes might interfere with the evaluation of ONE.[21] The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities thought that the pilot areas chosen were "pretty representative" of the varying conditions that could be seen in different parts of the country.[22]

16. While we recognise the need to eliminate confounding factors in the choice of pilot areas, this must be balanced against the need to provide a sample of areas which are representative of the different conditions prevailing in different parts of the country. Although there are pockets of deprivation in some of the pilot areas, we are concerned that areas such as the inner cities of Birmingham, London and Manchester have not been included in the pilots. These areas display high levels of unemployment, economic inactivity and deprivation, as well as the challenges associated with a diverse ethnic population, high levels of homelessness and high refugee populations. We were told by officials that, when the selection criteria were considered together, a number of areas were chosen where relationships between the various partners were "not fully formed", but we have reservations about the use of good working relationships between the different agencies as a selection criterion.[23] The danger is that the areas selected will be the ones in which there are prima facie reasons for supposing that ONE is likely to be a success. We understand the reasons why the present pilot areas were chosen, but the Government will need to bear in mind during the evaluation the fact that the pilot areas are not fully representative of the country as a whole. In particular, when ONE is implemented nationally, it will need to work in areas of high deprivation, areas where working relationships between the ES, BA and local authorities are not as well-developed as they might be, and areas where competing Government projects are operating. We recommend that, even at this late stage, the Government should give consideration to adding a pilot area which covers a predominantly London Area or Northern City geographical type.

Impact on Core Services

17. The Government is to conduct an impact analysis of ONE on Employment Service core business in the basic model pilot areas. Assessing any impact (especially any negative impact) is obviously important, but it is also essential to recognise that the interaction of ONE with the core business of the ES will be a key determinant of the success of the Service. The objectives for ONE at a local level are:

Of these objectives, two are concerned with improving the employment opportunities of clients and the other three are concerned with improving the administration of the claim procedure. Ministers told us that speed and accuracy in the payment of benefits, the rate of movement into jobs, client satisfaction and cost effectiveness would be the key measures which would determine the success or failure of ONE.[25] Improving the quality of the administration of the claims process is an objective which is largely dependent on internal factors. However, moving people into sustainable employment is dependent on factors which are external to the ONE service and more difficult to control. Under these circumstances it is important to ensure that administrative reform does not take precedence over the need to enhance individuals' employability.

18. Developing an understanding of the strengths of clients and the barriers they face in obtaining employment is only one of many factors involved in improving their rate of movement into sustainable employment. Focusing on the needs of clients in isolation will only have a limited impact, as placing clients into sustainable employment will also depend on the ability of the ES to develop and maintain better relationships with employers, by increasing the quality of the service provided and instituting more effective marketing. Keith Faulkner of Manpower plc told the Employment Sub-committee during its recent inquiry into the performance and future role of the Employment Service that the ES had been largely reactive in its approach to marketing its services to employers.[26] Furthermore, there remains a perception among employers that the ES only deals with vacancies at the lower end of the market, which has the effect of "ghettoising" its clients.[27] Services to clients and employers need to develop in tandem if the objective of increasing the rate of movement into sustainable employment is to be met. We recommend that the Government should publish its strategy for developing relationships with employers and improving the range and quality of vacancies, particularly in the context of the new client groups being targeted by ONE.

1  Ev. p. 1. Back

2  A New Contract for Welfare: The Gateway to Work, Cm 4102, DfEE & DSS, October 1998. Back

3  Cm 4102, p. 7. Back

4  Ev. p. 1. Back

5  Ibid. Back

6  For details of the pilots, see paragraphs 6 to 16. Back

7  Angela Eagle, Q. 256. Back

8  First Report of the Education and Employment Committee, Session 1998-99, HC163, Active Labour Market Policies and their Delivery, Lessons from AustraliaBack

9  Published as HC412-i to HC412-v, and reprinted in this Volume. Back

10  Presentations in the seminar were given by Mr John Atkinson of the Institute for Employment Studies, University of Sussex; Mr Lee Brown, Head of the ES Single Work-focused Gateway Working Group; Mr Michael O'Higgins, Director of PA Consulting and Professor Robert Walker, Director of the Social Security Unit and the Centre for Research in Social Policy, Loughborough University. In Sheffield, we also met Professor Steve Fothergill of Sheffield Hallam University and Dr Roy Sainsbury of the Social Policy Research Unit, York University. Back

11  The working title for this stage, as it was mostly referred to in the evidence, was "registration and orientation", or "R&O". Back

12  For a more detailed description of the start-up meeting and the adviser meeting, see Ev. pp. 3-4. Back

13  Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill [HL Bill 62], clause 52. Back

14  Both variants are described in more detail in Ev. pp. 5-7. Back

15  A New Contract for Welfare: The Gateway to Work, Cm 4102, DfEE & DSS, October 1998, p. 1. Back

16  Q. 229: "The cost is something like £60,000 a month. We anticipate the equivalent of up to four months' work". Back

17  Ev. pp. 17-18. Back

18   Ev. pp. 13-14. Back

19   Index of Deprivation, Regeneration Research Summaries No. 15, 1998. Back

20   QQ. 63-64. Back

21   Ibid. Back

22   Q. 248. Back

23   Q. 64. Back

24   Ev. p. 2. Back

25   Q. 241. Back

26   Minutes of Evidence taken before the Employment Sub-committee, 4th February 1999, Q. 152. Back

27   Minutes of Evidence taken before the Employment Sub-committee, 4th March 1999, QQ. 324 & Q333. Back

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