Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 69)



  60. To give you an idea where I am heading, one of my concerns about the list you have got here is, for example, there is no reflection of London, apart from Walthamstow which is quite outside the main stream of London. For example, the problems we have in London include the very high staff turnover in the agencies, the much greater dependency on housing benefit because rent is so much higher, the way in London we have pockets of deprivation. Obviously one of the great strengths of the City is we have pockets of deprivation cheek by jowl with more affluent areas which often distorts the way that is approached for all sorts of benefit purposes. You have the huge range of ethnicity, which shows itself in problems including language, asylum seekers, you have got problems which that causes within ethnic mixes in the area, we have language difficulties that come up with those problems as well. Karen Buck mentioned earlier on the problem of homelessness and temporary accommodation. All these are very important factors which to my mind, having previously been a councillor in Inner London now representing an outer London constituency as an MP, are the factors of the client which may make them difficult to place through Jobseeker's or the other benefits. If those are not reflected in your pool within the pilot areas I question to what extent that evaluation is going to be valid. If you have effectively picked areas where you have Jobseeker's, lone parents and disabled not having that multiplicity of additional overlay problems I question to what extent that evaluation is going to be valid for wider areas?

  (Ms Duncan) If I have understood you correctly, I think I can answer your point. The areas as a whole reflect a balance of types and the different levels of unemployment so it is not just the fact that there are enough people for us to be reliable, we are looking at other things too. Inevitably when you have got a number of areas to select there is only a limited number of variables you can look at and still come out with a workable scheme so I agree there are other things we could have put into the list as things we are selecting from.

  61. I do not want to pursue this too far. To come back to my original point, are you putting the cart before the horse? You have decided these are the benefits you want to monitor rather these are the clients you want to help. What I am trying to identify in that little list are people who are potentially particular disadvantaged when it comes to trying to get back into work whereas the list you have given me is more focused at the benefit end rather than the client end. You find you have a list of benefits, this is how it works against those benefits rather than how does it keep helping these particular disadvantaged groups get back into work.

  (Ms Duncan) I think that will come in at the later stages of the evaluation. Inevitably within those client groups there will be people of varying levels of disadvantage.

  62. If you have not got the numbers how can you do the comparison?

  (Ms Duncan) I think we probably will have the numbers given the range of areas that we have.

  63. That is what I am questioning. I am yet to be convinced that the range of areas we have got actually are sufficient to replicate that list of particularly hard to place criteria. For example, this is where I come back to my problem, there is no reflection as an example of inner city London which has all those criteria as a multiplicity and even outer London areas, such as my own area, where we have got schools with 40 or 50 first languages spoken in them, as an example, when they are coming through at the other end. Those are the sorts of difficulties we have to cope with. Karen Buck mentioned earlier on the tremendous problems of homelessness in terms of accommodation in central London. Because we are in the same Employment Service area and we have got the same employment district and we are dealing with the same people and we have been consulted on the same issues together, I know from the feedback I have had the huge problems there are to place people who are homeless or people in temporary accommodation who are feeding through the New Deal process. I am questioning whether this is going to produce a meaningful evaluation of those problems.

  (Mr Brown) We have Lea Roding which whilst not inner London is one of the suburbs towards the east of London which has some of the characteristics you have mentioned because of its location and the level of staff turnover in the agencies. It also has large ethnic minority populations around places like Ilford and the particular issues there. The difficulty is when you look at the other criteria that we needed to use, the types of things you have mentioned that you would like to explore that complex range of social issues and problems tends to attract other pilots so that there is a range of pilots going on in many of those locations. It would, therefore, be difficult to distinguish what the Single Work-

focused Gateway was achieving compared to the achievement of another set of measures that was taking place.

  64. When you get into a national roll out that is going to be position anyway and my concern therefore is when you say one of the criteria we are looking for is areas where there are good joint working arrangements between the various agencies, how typical is that compared to areas where there are not, effectively I suppose wrapping all this up, giving you a relatively easy job than the real problems you have got to crack?

  (Mr Brown) If only I had given myself a relatively easy problem. It has not seemed that way. The areas we chose finally when you looked at the balance and weight of each of the criteria meant that in a number of locations there were not fully formed relationships between the various partners that needed to be brought together. The other aspect of it was that there were complex social problems in other locations that we will be able to explore in the later variants that we move on to. A place like Leeds has the inner city problems that you have mentioned and the variety of ethnic groups who will be going through the Single Work-focused Gateway needing particular types of help. We have had to get a range of labour markets that reflected as broadly as possible as well as in specific instances the Great Britain picture.
  (Mr Barnham) To pick up the point you made about national roll out, if there were to be a national approach on the Single Gateway model, I think the point is more about evaluation than implementation. Of course, we are not saying that the Single Gateway conflicts with a range of other initiatives. Indeed, you could have an approach like this alongside other programmes to help particular disadvantaged groups like the New Deal. The point is, if you have particular pilots in one place and not in the other, you are trying to evaluate the effect those pilots have in order to make decisions. We are also trying separately to evaluate the effect of the Single Gateway in order to make decisions. It is for the purity of the evaluation, not that you could not run the programmes alongside each other.

  65. I understand that point, but if all the areas of greatest deprivation have all sorts of other projects going on anyway that then must raise questions about the validity of your exercise in transferability to the areas of greatest deprivation in the conclusions that you may come to. I can see why you are trying to get a pure comparison but that in itself may be perhaps self-defeating in that the real test for this process is not in the areas which by definition I suppose have not had the attention so far. The real test for the project will be in those areas of greatest deprivation, the extent to which they can complement other projects that may be going on.

  (Ms Duncan) Perhaps I can come back here because I would like to reassure you. I accept what you say but within the areas where we are conducting the evaluation those problems will be identified. For example, in the operational evaluation, if those cases take a particularly long time or are particularly difficult we will pick that up. If there are particular cases where advisers find that they need particular skills, we will pick that up in the interviews with staff—with personal adviser and registration and orientation staff. We will also pick that up from the client survey where we will be asking people if they felt that they had got the help they needed and were treated in the way they would expect to be treated. We will pick up those clues which will guide a larger scale initiative should it go national.

Mrs Humble

  66. Can I go back to the beginning in a way and just clarify a few things about objectives? The Government has listed its highly commendable objectives for the Single Work-focused Gateway but have you set targets and, if you have, what sort of targets have you assigned to each of the stated objectives?

   (Mr Groombridge) I think we need to understand that there are already targets in the agencies that are dealing with the Gateway. We are not setting new targets for the purpose of these pilots because they are, by definition, pilots and we are trying to understand therefore what is going on in them and that is why we have the process of evaluation. Obviously the agencies in the areas concerned still have the various targets to which they are committed by their clearance times and accuracy and so on. Also there is a commitment to conduct the work assessment interview within three days but we are not adding a new set of targets or over-laying them on pilots.

  67. But there are some new targets in the sense of the objectives that have been set for the independent sector, private sector and voluntary organisations that get involved. I understand what you are saying about the departmental structure. Certainly the TUC has expressed some concern about what sort of incentive regime there will be for private contractors involved in this. Can you tell me something about what sort of outcomes will attract this output-related funding for the private and voluntary sector?

  (Mr Barnham) At the moment Ministers are considering the details of what the output-related funding will be. What they have said is that there will be output-related payments in the four pilots where there are to be private or voluntary sector lead. We are now at the stage of a short-list of interested organisations and consortia and we are within a period of discussions with the agencies and with the Single Gateway Project as a prelude to the bidders submitting their final proposals. So the output-related funding will have to be based to a certain extent on the sorts of things that are agreed in that period of negotiation and Ministers have not yet made a final decision on it.

  68. I want to talk in detail about the role of personal advisers because it is the key to the whole caboodle but I have just had a note passed to me by the chair to stop now.

  (Mr Barnham) You had only just started.

  Mrs Humble:I know. Each of you has mentioned the role of the personal advisers and as far as I am concerned it will succeed or fail on that, but I am going to have to stop.


  69. We are in danger of running out of a quorum and the rules of the House mean we have to at 6 o'clock bring proceedings to an end. Joan is quite right to say that there is a series of detailed questions that she has still to ask. Indeed there are one or two other things on evaluation strategy and future developments and the use of IT. I wonder if you would consider answering those questions in writing if we send them to you and we can then add them to the transcript. Honestly, that is the only option available to me as Chairman because if the Committee goes inquorate we have not got the advantage of being able to pursue the line of questioning. Can I say thank you very much again and apologise for keeping you waiting? I guess we all have this difficulty of trying to be in two places at once. The session insofar as we have been able to complete it has been extremely useful. It is proving to be a very important inquiry for us and I hope you do not think that because of the difficulty with the timing it is a sign in any way of disinterest. Thank you very much for your attendance this afternoon and thank you very much for providing your memorandum. We anticipate some further correspondence by way of further written questions and answers.

  (Mr Barnham) My colleagues will probably throttle me outside for saying this but in the time we had available the memorandum did not fact cover all the questions that you asked us so we do need to provide you with more information anyway. We were intending to do that so there is no problem in adding to it.

  Chairman:The dialogue continues. Thank you very much.

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