Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)




  40. Can I just clarify a couple of things? Mr Brown referred to a conference that was happening on 15/16 June, I think, from memory. Your memorandum says that there is a training event.

  (Mr Brown) Yes.

  41. Is that what that is a reference to?

  (Mr Brown) Yes.

  42. Could you say a sentence about that?

  (Mr Brown) It is as I was describing it. We want to get together all of our personal advisers from the four basic models.

  43. Right.

  (Mr Brown) In order to make them aware of the needs of clients with special needs. The conference is being designed along with representatives from groups that represent people who have special needs. They will also be at the conference leading sessions. We have consulted around 60 to 70 organisations and those who cannot come to the conference and those that do come will be providing us with fact sheets so that advisers will be able to have a portfolio of information about the various organisations that exist.

  44. Excellent. Briefly again, two points of clarification just for our own information. Will those people who are in employment but who make repeated housing benefit claims be entitled to a work-focused benefit?

  (Mr Groombridge) The Gateway and the Work-focused interview is for people who are not in full time work.

  45. Who are not?

  (Mr Groombridge) Yes, not in full time work.

  46. Not in full time work. So if you are in full time work but you keep claiming housing benefit you do not get access?

  (Mr Groombridge) Well, certainly in the pilots it is not our intention to include those within the scope of the work-focused interview.

  47. What about those who are in Working Families Tax Credits and who are working less than 16 hours a week, are they entitled to access in future under the pilot?

  (Mr Groombridge) If they are working less than 16 hours a week —

  48. If you are working 16 hours or less you have got access but there will be people who will be working for more than 16 hours on Working Families Tax Credit, they could benefit presumably from access as well. Is there any plan in the pilot to give them access?

  (Mr Groombridge) Not in the pilot, as we have said, no, at the moment. I am not ruling out the possibility that ministers may want to think of that possibly in the future. I think if people want to come into a Single Gateway location and ask about eligibility to those entitlements then clearly we would not turn them away but the pilots are not designed to deal with people other than those who are not in full time work.

Mr Dismore

  49. Can I just pick up where Karen left off on incapacity benefit because I just want to make sure I have got this right? Supposing somebody who is entitled to Statutory Sick Pay but, I do not know, has another job, they have not got the credits or something and they suddenly have a very bad dose of flu that requires them to claim incapacity benefit for a couple of weeks or they fall over and break their wrist which lays them off for two or three months, are you saying they will still have to go through the process?

  (Mr Groombridge) When people first claim incapacity benefit what we are saying is that it will be part of the route of claiming incapacity benefit that they come through the Gateway and they participate in the Work-focused interview. However, what we are not saying is that if people have repeated short term claims for benefits they will have to come through a Work-focused interview for every single one of those occasions. Advisers will be able to defer the interview or waive it.

  50. I am not talking about repeat claims, I am talking about the first claim for somebody who just happens to have a bad illness that is going to lay them off for, say, a month or two months, bearing in mind that the first 28 weeks is their incapacity for their normal occupation. I cannot see what purpose is going to be served by an interview at that stage. I can certainly see the purpose later on after the 28 week period where it may well be that they will not get back to their ordinary occupation but I cannot see what the purpose is at that stage. If somebody has actually got an acute illness, for example, how on earth are they going to make themselves available for interview if they are hospitalised or if they are sick at home?

  (Mr Groombridge) In those kinds of circumstances one would expect the personal adviser to defer the interview until a more appropriate time. Now it may be that by the time that is reached the person is off benefit and back at work but you cannot always tell at the beginning of a period of claim the likely duration of the claim. Therefore, there may be some circumstances where it would be right to defer an interview. The normal course of events for people coming on to incapacity benefit will come through a Work-focused interview.

  51. As I say, the point I put to you is if the test is actually incapacity for your normal occupation and people are in their normal occupation I cannot see what purpose it serves. Certainly, as I say, I can see the point later on perhaps, if it is after three or four months and it is a long claim, but bearing in mind that incapacity benefit is available after only a few days off sick it does seem to me a rather draconian way of going about that particular benefit.

  (Mr Barnham) If the system is as sensitive to individual circumstances as we want it to be then the result of that initial interview might be the benefit claim is processed and the individual says "What I really want to do is to go back to my normal job", you might then leave it there and say: "That is what you want, that is what you can do if your condition improves as you hope it will, but let us see in a couple of months time." If things have changed or you have not improved or for some reason you lose your job then the Work-focused interview could just leave things since you are going to have another discussion in the future if the circumstances change.

  52. I want to move on to selection of pilot areas. Was there a short listing process? If so, how many were on the short list before you selected the final appointed areas?

  (Ms Duncan) The way that we selected the areas was according to a number of criteria.

  53. They are set out in your memo?

  (Ms Duncan) Yes, that is right. Actually what we did was look at those criteria and as far as we could we balanced those and that left a very short list. I think there were not many choices to be made.

  54. Self-selecting?

  (Ms Duncan) No, not really. As I set out in the memorandum we had a number of criteria which we needed to address.

  55. Yes, I want to explore those with you in a minute.

  (Ms Duncan) As far as possible we tried to meet all of those. Obviously there were some conflicting so we could not fill every single cell as it were. The two main ones were the sufficient number of cases flowing through into the areas in order that we could make reliable conclusions at the end of the evaluation and to try and avoid conflicting initiatives as far as possible.

  56. How many were left over after you had gone through that process that were not selected as a pilot or a control?

  (Ms Duncan) I am afraid I cannot remember. I will have to get back to you on that. A small number[3].

  57. How did you decide which were going to be a control and which were going to be a pilot? How did you match them up?

  (Ms Duncan) The pilots and the controls are not matched one for one. Again it is these four pilot areas which you look at as a whole and four control areas. What we tried to do was match on those criteria so that across the four for each type of scheme we had two areas of low unemployment, two areas of high unemployment, a balance of types, and the other criteria which I have listed which were similar across each model. One of the criteria for selecting was that we could not select an area if we could not make a balanced control area because obviously we would not be able to compare it.

  58. Can I go to the criteria now? The first study point was about sufficient members and range of clients. You give two examples, jobseekers and lone parents. What were the other significant client groups that you looked at in this context?

  (Ms Duncan) In designing the evaluation we had to weigh up what we needed to know with the costs of evaluation. There was not a limitless amount of money available for the evaluation. We decided that we needed sufficient numbers of clients in three groups, that was Jobseeker's Allowance claimants, lone parents and disabled claimants. That did not mean that we would not include the other groups but it did mean that we could not guarantee that we would have sufficient numbers that we could be absolutely clear of the outcome for those groups. They are included in every stage of the evaluation.

  59. You did not look within that at particular disadvantaged groups within those different categories? It seems to me the problem with that is that you are looking at it from a benefit point of view rather than a claimant point of view.

  (Ms Duncan) Which particular disadvantaged group?

3   Note from witness: Benefit Agency Districts were chosen as the unit of measurement because that was the basis of the administrative data on inflows. Initial sifting involved taking out areas with insufficient inflow, those where no suitable comparators were available and where possible avoiding areas with other pilots. This left 56 Benefit Agency Districts. The final choice of areas was then made by taking into account other issues such as: operational feasibility, compatibility between pilot and control areas, size considerations and the need to reflect a range of labour markets and geographical types of area. Back

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