Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the NCVO

Executive Summary

NCVO represents the interests of the voluntary sector in England. We are actively involved in national policy development in the areas of Welfare to Work, social exclusion and partnership development.

This paper focuses on the role that voluntary organisations can play in the SWFG. It examines issues of design, scope, quality and evaluation. NCVO concludes that the establishment of a SWFG will be an extremely complex process involving the management of a diverse network of organisations and information sources. The process by which this network is established and the role and responsibilities of the Personal Adviser in maximising the benefit to be gained from its existence are key areas to be addressed at the levels of both policy and implementation.


The process of partnership development should be addressed at an early stage in each SWFG area. Voluntary organisations must be enabled to participate in this process.

Time should be allowed for partnerships to develop before they are required to meet appropriate performance criteria.

Capacity building resources should be available at an early stage of development in SWFG areas to enable voluntary organisations to work effectively in partnership.

The relationship between Orientation Advisers and Personal Advisers should be clarified in each SWFG area.

A "virtual" one-stop-shop is a more appropriate model for the SWFG than a single physical entry point.

Performance indicators should cover more than simple outputs and should measure performance within specific local contexts.

Local partnership members should be consulted on the development and implementation of performance and evaluation criteria. Voluntary organisations are potentially key access points for many unemployed people. These organisations' experiences must be included in the consultation process.


NCVO champions the cause of the voluntary sector. It believes that the voluntary sector enriches society and needs to be promoted and supported. NCVO works to increase the effectiveness of the voluntary sector, identify unmet needs and encourages initiatives to meet them. Established in 1919 as the representative body for the voluntary sector in England, NCVO now has over 1200 members ranging from "household" name charities to small organisations involved in all areas of voluntary and social action.

NCVO's Interest in the Single Work-Focused Gateway

NCVO is extensively involved in Welfare to Work policy development. It is a key representative of voluntary sector opinion. Chief Executive, Stuart Etherington, is a member of the Advisory Group to the Government's New Deal Task Force and NCVO staff are members of a number of Employment Service and Home Office advisory groups relating to the New Deals for unemployed people. NCVO has recently published a number of policy reports on Welfare to Work, social exclusion and partnership development more widely1, from which much of the evidence for this submission is drawn. Copies are available on request. As a membership-based organisation, NCVO is continually developing policy to reflect information provided by members. Relevant issues arising from this ongoing communication are reflected in this submission.

1. Introduction

1.1 NCVO welcomes the introduction of the Single Work-Focused Gateway (SWFG) as an attempt to provide intensive, individually-focused support to unemployed people. The SWFG has the potential to simplify the relationships between the confusing array of institutions and services with which unemployed people come into contact. Furthermore, we welcome the specific requirement for four pilot SWFG areas to be led by voluntary or private sector organisations.

1.2 NCVO believes that the involvement of voluntary organisations in the strategic development of locally delivered policy initiatives is critical to their success. NCVO's experience of other government programmes, particularly the New Deal for Communities, suggests that partnership initiatives led by voluntary sector organisations are effective in addressing the needs of individuals within a specific local context. They are better able to provide independent, "joined up" access to local services. In essence, the value that the voluntary sector adds to services is its ability to be flexible, responsive and focused on the needs of the individual.

1.3 This paper focuses on addressing some of the key issues identified by the Employment Sub- Committee and Social Security Committee from the perspective of the voluntary sector. The main issues we consider are:

  • design (including the scope of SWFG); and
  • evaluation and quality.


1.4 NCVO sees 4 key factors in the design of the SWFG:

  • partnership;
  • location;
  • the role of the Personal Adviser; and
  • access to information

(i) Partnership

1.5 NCVO welcomes and promotes the current emphasis on partnership working across government. The focus on partnership within the design of the SWFG is thus encouraging. However, we recognise that true partnership is difficult to achieve. Recent practice has highlighted a number of barriers to partnership working which may reduce the impact of policies to the extent that partnership can fail to produce effective outcomes, in the short-term at least.

1.6 NCVO's experience of recent partnership-based initiatives demonstrates that the process of partnership working is critical to the outcomes that partnerships can achieve. Specific issues of process must be addressed at an early stage. This will be particularly true of the SWFG which, by necessity, will be a complex network. At the very least it will involve staff from, and the expertise of, the Benefits Agency, Employment Service, local authority and local voluntary organisations. It will thus involve a number of inter-related organisational and individual relationships. This is an issue for national policy development as much as local delivery because each SWFG will be developed within a national policy framework which will be critical in defining the shape, activities and, ultimately, effectiveness of the partnership.

1.7 National policy measures which could encourage the development of effective partnership arrangements include:

  • allowing time for SWFG partnerships to develop before they are required to meet appropriate performance criteria (see paras 2.1-2.3 below). Initially short reporting timescales push partners away from an emphasis on the necessary primary work of developing relationships. This is particularly important in the SWFG because the Benefits Agency will be a new partner to many other organisations;
  • the development of evaluation criteria which reflect the partnership process;
  • making clear in the policy framework that the evaluation of the SWFG will reflect the extent and quality of partnership working in an area; and
  • improving the capacity of partners to work together. The voluntary sector tends to have poorer access to capacity building resources than other sectors. A lesson from the whole range of Welfare to Work initiatives is that the availability of capacity building resources at an early stage of partnership development significantly increases the chances of voluntary organisations assuming a leadership role and, thereby, provides access to the benefits provided by voluntary sector leadership. Capacity building measures with particular benefits to voluntary organisations include:

      —  secondments between organisations;

      —  holding meetings at times when voluntary sector staff can attend;

      —  underwriting the costs/risks of participation; and

      —  providing open access to information.

1.8 In summary, the development and operation of the SWFG will be extremely complex partnership operation which will require much attention to be paid to joint working arrangements.

(ii) Location

1.9 NCVO welcomes the SWFG as an attempt to provide an integrated benefit, training and employment service. However, we question whether a single physical point of access is either desirable or possible.

1.10 A number of young people are deeply suspicious of the Employment Service and Benefits Agency who are often associated with the role of policing benefit rather than providing access to support. NCVO believes that it is important that the SWFG is seen by clients as a welcoming, supportive and individually-focused service. For this reason, we believe that the SWFG should be accessible to unemployed people in familiar locations within their own community. A number of remote access points to the SWFG should be available in any particular area. These should all have access to the same resources. It is likely that many such sites would be run by voluntary organisations. It may ultimately be that this role becomes the main form of voluntary sector involvement with the SWFG.

(iii) The Personal Adviser and Orientation Adviser roles

1.11 The question of how the SWFG Personal Adviser (PA) service is provided is critical. The emphasis on PAs within the New Deal programmes has been welcomed by many, including NCVO. However, the new responsibilities placed on ES employees in the PA role have proved demanding and, in some cases, Advisers have tried to fulfil too many roles, including both case manager and specialist counsellor. The distinction between different advice, counselling and support roles in the New Deals has often been unclear, resulting in an inefficient service provided to the client.

1.12 The use of both a PA and an Orientation Adviser (OA) in the SWFG creates the potential for a further blurring of responsibilities. It is essential that the relationship between these two roles is clarified in each SWFG area.

1.13 Voluntary organisations, with their roots in local communities, will often provide the most appropriate PA or OA service for the most disadvantaged people. However, there is a danger that the compulsory nature of the SWFG will cause the PA or OA to be seen by clients as a benefit policemen. This may discourage voluntary organisations from performing the PA/OA function. It will need to be made clear that the PA/OA is not the person that assesses benefit claims or determines when sanctions should be used.

(iv) Access to information

1.14 The use of the PA and OA roles in the SWFG, and the need for remote points of access will create huge demands on the information provision function. At the very least, PAs will require access to information on benefits, local labour market conditions, employment initiatives, counselling and social support services, and education and training services. NCVO believes that PAs will need to access a number of agencies to gain the information required for many clients. At the same time, PAs and OAs will need to hold a certain level of knowledge in order to have credibility with the client.

1.15 PAs will require a greater awareness of local information and advice sources than has been displayed in the New Deals. This, in turn, will require the operation of a sophisticated network of advice, information and support as well as open information sharing between organisations. The involvement of many voluntary organisations with SWFG is likely to be as specialist service providers for individual clients and, thus, the relationship between voluntary organisations and PAs is central to enabling clients to access appropriate individual packages of support.

1.16 The wide range of information and support needed by many clients further militates against the SWFG being seen as a single physical place. The model of a "virtual" one-stop-shop may be more appropriate.

2. Evaluation and Quality

2.1 The areas in which voluntary organisations may be most effective in their involvement with SWFG are where problems of unemployment and related deprivation are most acute These are also the areas where, by definition, there are the fewest employment opportunities. Historically, output—related funding mechanisms—which Employment Service information indicates will be put in place to quality control the SWFG in pilot areas—have discriminated against such areas. Given many voluntary organisations' low levels of financial reserves and subsequent difficulty in supporting risk, output—related funding mechanisms are a disincentive to voluntary sector involvement.

2.2 Also, a focus on outputs can hinder partnership development. It draws attention away from shared objectives and centres on control relationships. That is not to say that outputs are not important. Indeed, evaluation of the work of partnership is essential to its effectiveness. However, in developing relationships, process is as important as outputs.

2.3 Therefore, evaluation criteria need to be broader than simple outputs and to allow for evaluation of performance within the specific local context. Local partnership members should be consulted on the development and implementation of performance and evaluation criteria.

3. In conclusion

3.1 The SWFG is a welcome attempt to rationalise and simplify the interplay of benefit, training and employment services. However, its success will rely on the effective management of an elaborate network of organisations. Establishing this network will be a time-intensive process, the outcome of which will have a direct impact on the quality of the SWFG in any single area. The policy framework must allow for the development of an effective network and this should be reflected in the evaluation of the SWFG.

NCVO Policy Team

April 1999

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