Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 117)

MONDAY 10 MAY 1999


  100. Finally, clearly we need to see how the role of the registration and orientation officer links into the role of the personal adviser, but are there any particular aspects of those two roles which you would like to see drawn out of the pilot projects, the evaluation of the pilot projects? Clearly the Government has listed the aims it has for the Single Work-Focused Gateways and the evaluation will be testing those aims, but are there particular areas of the roles of those key staff which you would also like to see evaluated?

  (Ms Whitworth) One of the things we would like to see measured out of it is whether or not there is more effective take-up of benefits and more focus on that area in the evaluation. As I said before, we would also like the evaluation to move outside the projects to look at those people and talk to those people who chose not to go through the pilot as carers and to explore with them why they did not. I think this would deal with some of the areas which John Healey raised about carers on Invalid Care Allowance and why they may not be able to work, but to explore that with them because one of the problems is that it will not be looking at them. I think too there should be more focus on the local information that is available and support links in with voluntary agencies who will be able to provide that sort of information about what services are available locally, what employers locally are providing, carer friendly employment policies or can provide suitable employment, there should be more focus on that.

  Chairman: Can we move on, the time is fleeting? I want to bring in Andrew and then Candy.

Mr Dismore

  101. I would like to talk about claim benefit and what problems the people you deal with have when they try and claim benefit in the first place and then in subsequent claims.

  (Mr Findlay) If I can kick off with that. One of the big concerns that we have got just now is that when you go to registration and orientation there will be a three day gap before you go to your work-focused interview and there are potential delays in getting benefit paid to you. There is a whole range of different issues like housing benefit, council tax benefit, Child Support Agency, income support, which will have to be dealt with. We are concerned this process may well delay the payment of benefit.

  102. I am talking about the problems you are experiencing now.

  (Mr Findlay) Yes, sure. I thought I would put that in.

  103. I want to know what the problems are now.

  (Mr Findlay) The problems now that we have tried to identify in our paper are for a lone parent to take part in some of the New Deal initiatives, like under 24, they have to transfer from income support to Jobseeker's Allowance and that is supposed to be a seamless transfer between the two benefits where they get the same amount. We have detailed in our submission that for many lone parents that has not been the case, people have gone two weeks or more without any benefit. On the transfer between benefits, the way it works just now in Glasgow, we have an employment zone and that same process has to happen just now, the transfer from income support to Jobseeker's Allowance. There is a big issue about if you are trying to get into certain employment related schemes and if you have to change benefit. I think in terms of claiming income support at the minute people are making that benefit claim and our experience has been that if they fill in the form properly they get a visit in the home and then they get the benefit, there is not a huge difficulty.
  (Ms Whitworth) Can I say on benefits that the biggest problem with benefits for carers now is that the level of Invalid Care Allowance is too low at £39.95 a week for a minimum of 35 hours caring a week. We are concerned also about the gap between the Invalid Care Allowance earnings limit of £50 and the lower earnings limit of £66.

  104. I was not asking about the levels of benefit, I was asking about the mechanisms and processes which is what the Gateway is about.

  (Ms Whitworth) I can say information. Can I just say that one of the benefits of this system, and inevitably we are concentrating on the problems, one of the things which we have welcomed is the fact that this process will bring together a lot of information at one point and it is very welcome for that reason. Many of the people who are carers are not heavy end carers and will benefit from that.

  105. Do you want to add anything, Natalie?

  (Ms Cronin) I just want to add to the point you made about having the right information. The experience of somebody who came to one of our projects who was a lone parent who managed to get back into work. She did not know about the New Deal. When she was given the New Deal information leaflet it did not have the most crucial point for her, which was about needing to activate a claim within seven days of starting work to get an extension on housing benefit and council tax. That illustrates for me quite clearly the need for information and how missing a very basic point of information like that meant that for four weeks she missed out on her housing benefit and council tax and that made an enormous difference. Also the cycles of being in and out of work and getting back into the benefit system should be better linked in and the Single Gateway could be a good way of doing that.

  106. You think the Single Gateway can make a contribution towards that sort of problem?

  (Ms Cronin) Yes, but I think that it has to be really well carried out in the detail.

  107. What about take up of benefit, can the Single Gateway help with that or are there take up of benefit issues that you come across generally?

  (Mr Findlay) I think the Single Gateway could provide great assistance for claimants in that way if it was to look at maximisation of benefits, or access to things like Disability Living Allowance, things you probably do not usually get when you make a claim to benefit. I think if it was to do that it could be very beneficial.
  (Ms Whitworth) I agree, and since one of the problems that carers have is that there are not as many of them or they are not dealt with as often by officers very often people dealing with them at the Department of Social Security do not recognise them and what the benefits are that they are entitled to. We would expect the quality of service for them to be improved.

  108. You mentioned earlier on the point about information in advance, what are the main criticisms you have with the system at the moment?

  (Ms Whitworth) It is an extremely complex system. A carer may need to claim several benefits. Invalid Care Allowance is the one that we have been talking about but they may be entitled to income support or housing benefit which come from a different source. Of course they will be entitled to a council tax allowance following the National Carers Strategy. There is a whole range of sources of help available to them. Our Carersline is one source of good information on that. It would certainly be a huge improvement if that information was available from Government office.

  109. Anything you want to add?

  (Ms Cronin) Just a very quick one about the perverse incentives. Some of our projects advisers who work with young people who are not in employment education and training say the young people they speak to do not like to go to New Deal work-focused interviews. They do not want to go to them because they think that there are incentives for the people who are interviewing them to get them off benefit. They are wary of going down that track because they fear loss of benefits as being the motive for the interview rather than getting them into work because there is not any work in their area.

Ms Atherton

  110. Following on from that, people's concerns, do you think the atmosphere in the building and the environment in which they might be interviewed is a key factor in the success or otherwise of the interview with the personal adviser? If you could do a changing rooms of Benefit Agency officers or job centres, what would you do in that half an hour or two days!

  (Mr Findlay) Probably create mayhem, I think! Interestingly enough in reading the idea is to have a more user friendly environment which is open plan. I think that would be important to create the atmosphere of trust and communication but also as part of these interviews lone parents are going to be asked to provide some very difficult or confidential information, ie about the Child Support Act, about the absent father who may or may not have been violent, so there should be an area where confidential information can be given as well as having an open plan touchy feely area.

  111. You like touchy feely?

  (Mr Findlay) Yes.

  112. Not on computer screens or on computer screens?

  (Mr Findlay) Personally I would prefer it without computer screens but I am a bit of a technophobe.

  113. The others?

  (Ms Whitworth) I would echo all of that. I suppose I would add that a lot of the interviews will of necessity perhaps need to take place in the home because carers will not be able to leave the person they are caring for behind or, if not, they will have to pay for appropriate respite care for that interview to take place. There are some other wider issues. Clearly proper facilities for child care. I think my colleagues are much better able to talk about those than I am.

  114. Natalie?

  (Ms Cronin) About child care, the people who use our projects tell us they go into Benefit Agency offices and there is nowhere for people to go, there is no loo, there is no privacy, they are made to feel a millimetre high, that kind of thing. If those basic things can at least be got right that would be a start.

  Ms Atherton: Thank you.


  115. Thank you very much. I think we would like to keep you rather longer but we have got a couple of other witnesses waiting for us. I have got the impression that you really have got a lot of goodwill towards the concept of the Single Focused Gateway but very much you were telling us that the relationship of trust is the one which is going to be absolutely crucial if it is going to assist the people that you represent and perhaps there may be a difficult period whilst that trust is being established. Do you think that is about right?

  (Mr Findlay) I think so. I think also that it has to be widened out from work-focused to client-focused, taking account of the needs of the client and their family.

  116. Say that again because I think that is absolutely crucial.

  (Mr Findlay) I think it needs to be client-focused rather than work-focused and take into account the needs of the client and their family.

  117. There was a very important piece of evidence which struck me where it seemed to be suggested that we may be suggesting by over-focusing on work that extremely crucial jobs like caring were not the best, not the thing which really people should be doing, but they should be trying to get into work, whereas you would want to say that caring in itself is a good job, perhaps the best, for that particular person?

  (Ms Whitworth) Yes.
  (Mr Findlay) Yes.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

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