Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 27)



  20. Is it primarily an issue of perception or is it the actual quality of the schemes, or a mixture? Are the young people getting it right in preferring other options?
  (Professor Millar) It is probably a mixture. I certainly do not want to sound extremely negative because I think there has been a number of very, very good schemes. Both the environmental and the voluntary sector options have been the places where innovation has been possible and there have been some excellent schemes within that. I do not want to condemn them all out of hand. I think there is an issue of perception here but I also think that getting the training part of those and paying people better for being on them would be important parts of improving and strengthening those options.

  21. It is training, pay, but it is also perception?
  (Professor Millar) Yes.

  Chairman: Interestingly enough, I think it was one of our recommendations in a previous report, probably 18 months or more ago, that we drew attention to exactly this point about pay in particular. Thank you very much.

Mr Allan

  22. If I can come back to the issue about the most disadvantaged clients more substantially and really draw attention to the fact that a lot of the research has shown that those who feel they have gained least from the New Deal are often those in the disadvantaged groups, thinking of ex-offenders, those with mental health problems, those who are substance abusers, etc., and also the employers, perhaps not surprisingly, are least interested in those individuals. As the New Deal is potentially more successful and as the number of people at the more employable end of the spectrum fall off, the New Deal is increasingly going to be dealing with these individuals as their primary clients. Do you have any analysis as to why the New Deal has not been more successful with these groups, because that was one of the key elements that was sold at the beginning, that the Gateway will help people overcome drug and alcohol problems and get them into work? Do you know why that has not happened so far? Do you have any indication that there are going to be changes to enable that to be the case?
  (Professor Millar) Why has it not happened? When we are talking about the most disadvantaged and, in particular, people with specific problems like drug and alcohol abuse, we are talking about people with really quite specialist needs and the extent to which personal advisers have the resources and training and background to be able to deal with these issues that have caused the problem, and even to uncover them. Even to find out about the nature and extent of problems requires quite a bit of skill and quite a bit of time. I think the capacity of the Gateway and the personal advisers to really get to grips with understanding the extent of these problems and then knowing what to do has been difficult. Part of the knowing what to do concerns issues about referral to other agencies, and that is not something that has figured very largely amongst the personal advisers' work. I think the personal advisers need to know about where they can refer people. I do not think it is their job to solve these problems, it would be quite something to add that to the duties of the personal advisers, but I think they need more knowledge about specialist services that they can refer people on to. I think that they need more time, and there is some evidence as schemes get up and running and caseloads increase that spending time with clients becomes more of a problem and that is always a danger, that you are forced back into just ticking boxes because you really have not got time to do the proper work. I think more intensive work is sometimes needed. Part of uncovering problems and understanding people's situations involves not being too work focused too quickly. Immediately talking about the better off calculations or vacancies and so on may not be the best way to get to grips with what people really need. There has to be a recognition that although the Gateway and initial interviews in the other programmes where the Gateway does not exist are about finding out people's positions, the likelihood of obtaining jobs in the labour market and possible job matches and so on, has to be tempered by trying to get to grips with understanding other things in people's situations and especially for the most disadvantaged groups. One of the things that there is increasing support for is really the notion that you are going to need some sort of intermediate labour market support, that there is some way in which you can help people over the longer term to get back into the labour market, so you might require an intensive period of job placement and support during that placement before people can go off by themselves into employment.

  23. Do you think there has been any evidence that, whatever the good intentions of the people doing the placements were, that when confronted with people who have got some of these difficulties, they have found the environmental and voluntary task force options an easy way of getting someone placed within the timescales and within the workload that they have got?
  (Professor Millar) I am sure there is lots of pressure at the ground level and the pressure comes other ways in terms of targets that people have to meet. Undoubtedly if we got in really close to what was going on, those sorts of pressures definitely exist.

  24. Can I move on to the cost per job question which, as you will be aware, has caused some debate and is one of these great political "lies, damned lies and statistics" arguments about what it does and does not cost. How would you judge the cost-effectiveness of the New Deal? Do you have any idea to advise us on how we should be looking at cost-effectiveness rather than throwing figures at each other?
  (Professor Millar) Cost per job is a nice headline figure of course and it is a nice simple figure, but it does not capture very much. There are lots of different ways of calculating it that leave lots of scope for lots of arguments about what you might put in and how you count start-up costs and over what sort of period you are going to count them. I am sure you will hear evidence from people much more expert than I on those sorts of issues. One of the main problems with cost per job goes back to what we were talking about earlier, how does that in any sense capture employability? It does not. It is not capturing anything about what is the central goal of these programmes, which is to improve employability, and not simply to get people into jobs but to improve their position in the labour market and improve their capacity to move between jobs, so the fact that someone has a job and then changes jobs may also be a success of the programme. I think it comes back to the points I was making earlier about can we find better measures of employability and things that we can put numbers to because some of these things are soft things that it is harder to measure in pound costs. As I said earlier, I think that is pretty difficult but we ought to be thinking about things like people's job search, about their qualifications, about their orientations and attitudes to work, and so on, as well as just simply moves into employment.


  25. Just to pursue that a little bit further on what might be called the success rates, which is over simplistic I know. By most calculations the New Deal has been successful in helping people into employment, but you referred yourself earlier to the natural tendency of the programme to place the easy to place first of all. Can we be confident that the success that has been achieved over the past two years will continue over the next two years, for example?
  (Professor Millar) I do not know. There are a lot of people that the programme has not yet touched. There are many people in the voluntary part of the programme who have yet to come forward and take part, so I think there are still people out there who can be helped by the programmes and will be helped by the programmes. I think there are people we have not yet seen. I am not sure that the programme can help people once, and then they disappear. I think the other point is we know that a lot of unemployment is recurrent, that people lose jobs and come back again, and one of the things we would want the programme to be doing is not necessarily putting people through the whole set of options that the programme has got to offer, but people may be coming back into it as well. We have to recognise it is not a one-way thing where people go through it once and come out the other side. I think that is also part of it. I also think that if we do begin to focus much more on harder to help groups then we are likely to see less immediate moves into employment although more perhaps of the other sorts of outcomes that I have been talking about. I think it is partly right to assume that we perhaps will not see such high moves into employment but we will nevertheless continue to see people being helped by the programme if it continues to work satisfactorily. Can I say another thing I should have said in reply to the last question. I think the other thing about how we value these programmes, and we do have to think of value-for-money obviously in the context of these programmes, is these programmes are investment programmes. They are not simply about getting people off the unemployment or income support registers and into work, they are also about investments, in the same way that education or transport or health can be about investment. We need to bear that in mind when we are thinking about the cost of these programmes and their value-for-money, that what these programmes are looking to do is create people who are more able to support themselves through employment.

  26. I agree with you entirely about investment, but is it not true that this investment is all too easily dissipated if it does not result fairly quickly in a job at the end of it for most people? Does this so-called improved employability not disappear into the ether?
  (Professor Millar) Yes, it is tricky. I do not know whether I would say it disappears entirely but we have got to look at the balance between these objectives. It is not either/or, I do not think, it is both, and striking the right balance is the key.

  27. Can I thank you very much indeed, Jane, for the research that you have done and the very clear and comprehensive way in which you have dealt with our questions. It has been most useful. Thank you.
  (Professor Millar) Thank you.

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