Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 158)



  140. I accept the Government's line that the fifth Option should not be remaining on benefit and not doing anything and has been cut off but in my own area I have the impression that there is a much larger grouping of youngsters than I would wish to see who have been successfully forced off Jobseeker's Allowance, but they have not gone into the programme, they have just vanished. They have gone into crime, they have gone into a whole number of other areas of economic activity and I am not clear what is being done either to follow them up or try to attract them in some meaningful way.
  (Mr Wells) That is one of the reasons why there were these big surveys of the unknown destinations. The results from the unknown destination surveys do not suggest that there are substantial numbers who are being lost to the system.

  141. If it is not substantial numbers across the UK as a whole, is there not evidence that there are substantial numbers in particular locations, the inner cities in particular?
  (Mr Wells) It is true that inner cities and some of the ethnic minority groups are more prone to unknown destinations. If there were the same proportion who were obvious then they would tend to be concentrated on.

  142. What schemes do you have to address this difficulty?
  (Ms Lomax) We do do some things which are not confined to people who are on benefit, for example, Action Teams for Jobs which operates in the most deprived labour markets, and is about getting people into work, whether they are on benefit or not. We also have Employment Zones. We have 15 of those around the country. There is an increasing number of things which do not focus on people who happen to be on benefit.

  143. With the best will in the world the answers are a bit weak there. That is an area where I would certainly want to see some more activity. I am conscious that I am aware of two groups: those who drop out and turn to crime and a whole range of other options; the other is the comfortable middle class youngster who just goes off and is supported by his parents and is going to have difficulty at some time further on down the road coming back into the job market since, as far as I am aware, parents are generally not willing to support them for life. There will come a point when they have to re-enter. May I pick up the point that not only do we have geographical divergence not covered adequately here, we have touched on race, we have not touched much on gender? I am not sure whether the figures are different by gender and also by social class. It has been my impression, as with all schemes, that the nice white middle class boys find it easiest just to work their way through the system and all other groups do not. I am not clear the extent to which you have overcome the natural biases within the system.
  (Mr Wells) May I mention some background material on this? The numbers who get to be six months unemployed on JSA are disproportionately male, disproportionately in disadvantaged areas. Therefore the groups of people who are affected by the New Deal and their characteristics tend to be people with the most disadvantages.

  144. I understand that. Those who are then placed most easily, those who are skimmed off the top, are those who are the most attractive to employers, least money needs to be spent on them and as you go down in terms of difficulty it goes back to some of the points about the emphasis on easy targets. I must confess I do not have all that much confidence in the Employment Service. My constituency is in the worst 25 in the UK, third worst employment in Scotland and we have no Job Centre. Everybody has to go quite some considerable distance to find the opportunity for work. That does not seem to me to be a focus on those in greatest need.
  (Ms Lomax) May I say that what we are about to do is close the Employment Service and create Jobcentre Plus. Jobcentre Plus is in a sense taking this all a stage further and will be serving both the sorts of people you are talking about as well as the JSA people you regard as easy targets. It will be looking right across the whole working age population, including all those much larger numbers of people who are on inactive benefits like income support and incapacity benefit.

  145. In my constituency unemployment has fallen substantially but it has fallen less quickly in the more prosperous areas. As soon as there is a recession unemployment goes up faster. Not having a Job Centre and having these youngsters who are slipping through the net for one reason or another, does not give me the confidence that you are actually focusing on those in greatest need in the way that I would wish.
  (Ms Lomax) You do have a Benefits Agency though, do you not?

  146. I have.
  (Ms Lomax) That will become part of Jobcentre Plus.
  (Mr Lewis) I should welcome the chance outside of the Committee to discuss those specifics. One thing which has changed, which goes slightly wider than the New Deal but I think it is directly relevant, is that we used to provide our services only by people walking through the doors of the Job Centre. That is no longer the case.

  147. I do understand that. There is the question of being in your face, as it were, being there, having a presence. It just raises the profile. May I turn to page 38 and the chart about expectations? I am conscious here that in terms of the low expectations it reminds me a bit of late movie-going where all the children were above average. The number actually below expectation is really very small. I wonder how fair it is to have this extended version when you are measuring variations in performance. It seems to me, coming back as well to paragraphs 4.10, 4.11, 4.12, that sort of area of variation, that some of these are alibis rather than explanations. I can understand what affects delivery and I can understand that some areas are more difficult than others but what I find difficult to believe is that funding should not then follow in order to tackle the hardest targets and spending more in the areas of greatest need to compensate for disadvantage. It seems clear that is not being done.
  (Ms Lomax) May I repeat the unsatisfactory answer I gave before. This is not the only way in which we take action in the areas that have the most problems. There is a range of things we can be doing in these areas and the conclusion of the NAO Report, which is basically that we have driven out the differences which can be driven out through this programme, really points in the direction of saying you need to be thinking of different ways of tackling these problems, you need to be improving the offering. That is roughly what we are trying to do and that is part of the rationale for Jobcentre Plus, it is the rationale for some of the new things Mr Nicholas was talking about earlier such as Progress 2 Work and Step Up and all the rest of it. We need to vary the offering to be appropriate to the sorts of area you are worried about.

  148. I am just anxious that I have not detected so far sufficient urgency from my perspective.
  (Ms Lomax) I hope you will see a change.

  149. So do I. May I ask about outputs? Part of the outputs of the scheme is obviously the number of youngsters getting jobs and achievements and so on. When we look at the activities undertaken by youngsters who are on environmental task forces and who are in the voluntary sector, I think that my constituency and a number of others in Glasgow, which are amongst the worst environments, are probably getting the least put into them in terms of the projects undertaking activities there. Why is that?
  (Mr Lewis) At the risk of saying much the same thing, there is a whole range of other initiatives and other programmes, for example Glasgow has one of the Government's employment zones, Working Links, which is actually a public/private partnership, working there and working there very successfully. Through the Wise Group and other organisations which you will know better than I, we have worked with a whole range of partners to try to ensure that some of those very special needs are met.

  150. Yes, but in terms of having an assessment of the work which is actually done by the youngsters on these schemes, unless I am mistaken, you do not have any objectives which would make sure that the work was done in the areas of greatest need. Are your environment projects done predominantly in the areas which have the worst environments or are they, as I tend to think, in the areas which have nice middle class youngsters, a decent environment, but they are just tarting things up a bit? A yes or no would suffice.
  (Mr Wells) These projects are for the individual. There is a difference between where the individual works and whether they are on the New Deal or not. Even if the environment task force is in a particular part of Glasgow it is for the purpose of improving the employability of the young person.

  151. That is a "won't tell" really, is it not? I appreciate it is for improving the employability of the young person, but undertaking an environmental improvement project in a poor run-down constituency is probably of more social benefit than undertaking it in an already prosperous reasonably well maintained constituency. There seems to be no perspective from yourselves about measuring that as one of the possible outputs.
  (Mr Lewis) Ministers were always clear at the outset of the New Deal programme that it was not an environmental improvement programme as such, it was a programme about helping young people into employment.

  152. Yes, I do understand that but environmental schemes are being undertaken.
  (Mr Lewis) Indeed they are.

  153. Are they being undertaken in the context of the Government's social inclusion strategy or not?
  (Mr Lewis) Increasingly the answer is that they are, through strategic local partnerships and a whole variety of other means. It is perhaps just worth saying that the whole of New Deal has not been delivered simply by the Employment Service as a stand-alone public sector organisation. For each unit of delivery there has been a delivery partnership and that has typically had the local authority and a significant number of voluntary environmental groups.

  154. So it is somebody else's fault.
  (Mr Lewis) No, I was not saying that for one moment. What I was seeking to say was that in judging, for example environmental programmes round the table, in units of delivery typically are a lot of organisations who have exactly those concerns in mind.

  155. If they had those concerns in mind about the Government's social inclusion strategy and the projects followed those social objectives I would not be raising this point. It is because they do not that I am. May I turn to paragraph 2.7 which talks about 18 per cent having gone round more than once, if only briefly in some cases. Do we have any statistical information about where those are, coming back again to gender, race, class, geographical basis of that?
  (Mr Wells) We can provide the information. I do not have it to hand.[5]

  156. Do you have a feel for it at all?
  (Mr Wells) No, is the answer.

  Mr Davidson: I would have thought that if, as I suspect, it is the poorest areas and the youngsters with most difficulties who are repeating, the fact that no response is coming back to that is an anxiety.


  157. I must put this to you so you can answer your critics. Did you concentrate on the easy cases in order to meet the Government pledge?
  (Mr Lewis) No.

  158. Thank you. May I thank you for coming here today? We have to put tough questions to you about targets and money and the rest but could you pass on our thanks to your staff? You will know that I did six years hard labour with the Social Security Select Committee and I was putting forward a constant theme on that Committee that we had to stop viewing people on benefit as numbers. I know that your staff at the front dealing with people are actually taking enormous care in a very difficult area to help people with their personal problems. Can you pass on our thanks to your staff?
  (Ms Lomax) Thank you very much, that will be very welcome and very well received.

  Chairman: The session is closed.

5   Ev 25-26, Appendix 1. Back

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