Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Unemployment Unit & Youthaid


We believe that the Single Work Focused Gateway (SWFG) should be the future shape of social security administration. It is a welcome effort to provide claimants with a simpler, seamless service, integrating the activities carried out by the Employment Service, the Benefits Agency and by local authorities' Housing Benefits administration. It is intended to build on the principles pioneered in the New Deal and provide the guidance needed for employment, training or rehabilitation.

Most importantly, the SWFG aims to re-orientate the benefit system towards labour market engagement. Over many years the benefits system itself has contributed to the growth of economic inactivity and long term detachment from the labour market.

If undertaken well, the SWFG should blend the best of the Benefits Agency (its attention to identifying needs and ensuring correct calculation and take-up of benefit) with the best of the Employment Service (understanding the labour market and providing job relevant advice and services). The Gateway also gives Government a chance to dramatically improve the erratic and widely diverging service standards for Housing Benefits administration which might involve adoption of common working practices, IT applications and client-centred culture.

JSA Claimants

Considerable attention has been given to the SWFG involvement of claimants for whom JSA is not the currently claimed (or right) benefit. In the pilot areas, an initial interview will be offered to all new claimants in these categories followed by continuing help on a voluntary basis.

However, at least 3 4 of all participants in the SWFG are likely to be JSA claimants who are unemployed and want work. They will have to meet the JSA labour market conditions and take particular courses of action to remain eligible for benefit.

For these claimants, the SWFG should represent a step-change improvement in the assistance they currently receive. It is an opportunity to offer to all JSA recipients the range of personalised help that—through the New Deal—has so far been concentrated on two categories of longer term unemployed claimants. It also gives the Employment Service the chance to re-design aspects of the New Deal Gateway which will otherwise be the adopted model for the guidance, counselling and provision of specialist help. In particular, we recommend a re-assessment of the role of Personal Advisers.

Lone Parents and Disabled People

The continued growth in economically inactive benefit claimants have been surprising against a backdrop of falling unemployment. But in many regards, the increase in ICB claims seems to be a form of benefit substitution. There are incentives for claimants to switch from JSA to ICB. On the long term rate, Incapacity Benefit pays more money than JSA. And for many claimants it means that Jobcentre staff no longer make them engage in often pointless jobseeking activity or force them to consider unsuitable or badly paid jobs on pain of benefit sanction.

As a result, the number claiming incapacity or disability benefits rose to just over 23 4 million people despite significant improvements in the general health of the working age population. Whilst many recipients of these benefits have serious disabilities which prevent them from work, others do not.

We believe that the previous Government cynically encouraged this wholesale transfer of hundreds of thousands of claimants—mainly older men—off mainstream unemployment benefits and onto disability related benefits. Whilst many of these claimants had work related medical conditions which limited their ability to work, many did not. Yet the benefit system treats them all the same. It incorrectly assumes they do not want to work.

Similarly, Lone Parents receive a benefit—as of right—which excludes them from the regular job seeking assistance provided by the Employment Service. Individuals who are in work or who want to work represent a clear majority of Lone Parents and it is perverse that they receive a benefit under conditions that encourage economic inactivity.

Data from the Labour Force Survey in 1998 reveals significant numbers of people who are lone parents or who have health problem which limits their ability to work.

For lone parents it shows that there are 1.175 million individuals with children over the age of five. Of these 55 per cent are in work, 18 per cent do not want employment whilst 24 per cent (284,000) want to work. This latter group represent over half of those who are not in work and have varying degrees of labour market attachment—those who are "ILO unemployed" as well as those who are not immediately ready to start a job. Even amongst the 711,000 with pre-school aged children, 27 per cent are employed. Whilst 32 per cent do not want employment, 40 per cent (287,000) do want to work. So in total, 571,000 lone parents want to work—which is 55 per cent of the non-employed lone parent population.

For disabled people, the LFS shows that 4.3 million people have a work restricting health problem. Of these, only 5 per cent are in work, 44 per cent (1.9 million) do not want employment whilst 27 per cent (1,157,000) want to work.

In total, 1,728,000 lone parents or disabled people are not employed but want to work. Not all of these will be benefit claimants of course, but the vast majority will be. This is a sizeable population group who will welcome the services that the SWFG could offer.


There is a perception—especially when viewed alongside cuts to disability benefits—that the Government wants to impose JSA-style work availability and work seeking tests on non-JSA claimants. Ministers have repeatedly stressed that there "is no question of forcing lone parents and disabled people into work" and these assurances are very welcome.

In practice, the Government proposes that from April 2000 non-JSA claimants will be required to attend SWFG interviews. Because this requires legislation, there is also a perception that these claimants are being asked to do something which imposes new obligations that are onerous and unreasonable. However, non JSA claimants already have obligations. They need to apply for benefit in the first place. They have to fill out forms, furnish evidence and, for incapacity related benefits, they are subject to medical tests. Their claims for Housing Benefit require further evidence and claimants can be subject to home visits and investigated for compliance.

The SWFG—at the very least—offers claimants an opportunity to meet all their existing obligations at one place at one time.

The Role of the Personal Adviser

Experience from the New Deals indicates that the allocation of a Personal Adviser, offering advice, guidance and signposting to training and specialist support, can greatly enhance employment prospects for the unemployed. Firmly rooted in a client-centred approach, the Personal Adviser should act as the single point of contact with the social security system and provide continuity for the claimant throughout the SWFG.

One success measure of the SWFG will be a positive change in the relationship between benefit recipients and the Government Agencies they come into contact with. In recognising that there is considerable scope for improvement upon current relationships, particularly between claimants and the Benefits Agency, the Personal Adviser must move the emphasis away from purely benefit administration to one of support and empowerment. This will be achieved through the dual focus of the adviser: providing access to and advice about appropriate benefits; and improving employability through access to training, specialist support and intense jobsearch.

The ES evaluation of the New Deal Gateway recognises the value of the relationship between the young person and their Adviser and says that it is of "key importance irrespective of time on the programme".1 With such an important role, the environment and parameters in which the claimant-adviser relationship occurs needs to be established and made clear to all concerned. What the claimant can expect from their adviser, together with an understanding of the boundaries in which they operate, will add greatly to the process of building trust between not only the claimant and their adviser, but also between the claimant and the State.

In the past, those not in receipt of JSA have not been able to benefit from the more individually tailored approach practised by the Employment Service. Extending this approach to all SWFG participants is one of the most significant aspects of the programme and is greatly welcomed.

Case Management

The current focus and emphasis of the Personal Adviser is somewhat inhibiting as there will be the expectation that they will be "all things to all people". Creating a system where there are numerous advisers all providing the same generalist advice may lead to a dilution of support and advice services. We believe that a radical re- design of the personal adviser system is needed, and the SWFG provides the most appropriate opportunity to do this.

Personal Advisers should be Case Managers, in much the same way as General Practitioners act as case managers within the health care system. Our suggestion is that a number of highly skilled and trained Personal Advisers would always act as the point of contact and oversee the gateway provision. Working with them would be a support team who would undertake much of the administration, claim checks and day-to-day operation of the case. This would then free-up the Personal Adviser to dedicate time to the claimant and build a relationship of trust, as well as managing every aspect of their progression through the SWFG.

The adviser does not need to provide all of the support and guidance, particularly where there is a more appropriate agency or team available, but they should have an overview of the claimants progress. To reduce the levels of duplication the adviser will be able to co-ordinate the provision and draw together all of the agencies working with the claimant. This is a much more radical approach and will require a substantial investment into the skills and knowledge base of the advisers. It will add considerable value to the programme and maintain continuity and provide a single reference point at all times for the claimant.

The capacity of the SWFG to operate such a holistic approach is an important consideration. Resources, in the first instance, should be targeted towards Personal Advisers to ensure that they are well trained, resourced and supported to undertake the multi-functions required. They must be equipped with appropriate diagnostic tools, and trained in the use of these tools, to undertake a thorough assessment of need and ability at the interview or subsequent stages. They should have access to a wide range of information and become proficient in the application of benefit regulations and be able to undertake better-off calculations. They should also have a knowledge of the local labour market and know how to access training, programmes, and specialist support. Knowledge of forthcoming programme developments, such as Individual Learning Accounts and Employment Zones, is also essential.

"Routing"—The Low-level Design

There are a number of junction points in the low level design of the Gateway which need some adjustment. Essentially the routing of claimants is heavily borrowed from the current JSA design. But there are points where diversions and short-cuts have been introduced mainly to help non-JSA claimants.

The first is the decision whether to refer a claimant to a Gateway interview at all ("stage 8"). The Adviser may decide that an interview is not required or appropriate at that point.

However, the claimant should be given the opportunity to do so and not be automatically removed from the process. They may wish to discuss future strategies, the opportunity of training whilst labour market inactive, or just talk about their benefit claim and what they are entitled to.

The second points ("stage 13 & 15") are at the Gateway and Caseload interviews. Diagnostic testing must be built into the process at these stages. The testing must be relevant and produce meaningful results. Multi- method approaches should also be used in order to avoid the inherent short-falls of any one method. Personal Advisers, or whoever undertakes this testing, must be adequately trained in the use of these tools.

At the Gateway interview, there is a danger that too much is loaded into this one event. There are also contradictory functions which are starkly exposed in relation to disabled people. At the Gateway interview, ICB or SDA claimants must prove they are incapable of work in order to qualify for their benefit. However, they will be doing this at an interview which seeks to explore their potential ability to work.

We regard one point of diversion as unnecessary ("stage 13.1") where a claimant is referred from the Gateway interview to "specialist provision" and then back to the Gateway interview. If specialist help is needed, then automatically the claimant should move onto Caseload.

Training & Jobsearch

There is an implicit assumption that jobsearch will always be carried out in the first instance. For some this will be of no use as this will mean undertaking meaningless jobsearch when the need may be for training or work tasters. Whilst jobsearch is explicit in the design their is little mention of access to training.

There should be a move towards establishing entitlement to training from day one of the claim to avoid meaningless jobsearch which only disenfranchises further the claimant from the system. There is no reasoning behind making someone wait 6 months until they can access training when that need can be identified at the beginning instead of waiting for the jobsearch to weed-out the bad from the good. A speedier process will further encourage confidence and trust between the claimant and the state.

The SWFG pilots is an opportunity to re-cast the entitlement rules for adult training or other ES products and help non-JSA claimants become labour market active. We recommend a waiver of the six month entitlement rules and to extend eligibility beyond JSA claimants.


Reforming the benefit system in itself is not enough. To be worth the name, a "strategy" has to include other essential elements: imposing minimum standards in the labour market so that work is better paid and more secure; promoting jobs growth so that good vacancies exist for the marginalised groups that all these labour market "activation" measures are designed for; and encouraging training—particularly at the bottom end of the labour market so that people with precarious work history or poor skills stay in work after the "re-entry" jobs that the Government's programmes help them into. Lastly, employers have to reconsider the employment practices and assumptions in order to employ more people that they regard as "problems" to recruit and retain.

May 1999

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