Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by ECOTEC Social Policy Group (OP 23)

  Subsequent to the oral evidence, ECOTEC has provided the Committee with the following supplementary information. These notes should be read in conjunction with ECOTEC's responses to questions, the numbers of which are indicated below.

  Q206. Our research, and the validity of its findings, certainly benefited from our ability to revisit our methodology once the study had commenced. So far we have completed three rounds of fieldwork. The first round was somewhat exploratory in nature—because we were the first researchers in any part of the overall evaluation of ONE to go into the field. For this reason we talked to clients about their experiences of the ONE service (delivery) as well as the outcomes of the service, and this is reflected in the tone of our first report. What this first round of fieldwork very clearly did was to highlight the very considerable variation between client groups (that is client groups as defined by the benefits being claimed) in terms of their attitudes and behaviour in relation to the labour market both before and after contact with ONE. With the benefit of this knowledge, in rounds 2 and 3 of our fieldwork, we introduced purposive sampling, that is we identified certain key typologies of clients and undertook to interview certain numbers in each group. In this way we could assure ourselves of a strong evidence base, rather than potentially ending up with very small numbers of clients experiencing certain outcomes. So yes, we do feel our qualitative research provides reliable evidence as to why things happened the way they did across a range of experiences/outcomes.

  Q207. The Committee may like to note that the Employment Service is commissioning a range of relevant research. ECOTEC is involved in some of this. Studies upon which we are currently reporting are:

    —  An evaluation of Jobcentre Plus

    —  Research into the labour market attitudes and behaviour of partners of non-JSA claimants (who may or may not themselves be claimants. The research is intended to inform the development of Work Focussed Interviews for this group, and Jobcentre Plus.

  Q210. To expand on the answer provided:

  From what clients said, there seems to be an element of chance in ONE that very much influences their experiences of the service and the outcomes. Some clients had a very positive experience and moved towards the labour market, and very much because their PA just so happened to have a previous background that gave them detailed knowledge of the benefits available to that particular client, and other means of help. Equally, there were clients for whom the opposite was true - they felt the PA had no knowledge or understanding of benefits and their home/work situation.

  Q240. The objectives of Jobcentre Plus, as set out in the vision, are more general than those specified for the ONE pilots but they also adopt a wider focus, encompassing more elements of the benefit system such as the nature and purpose of employer services and the role of support services. While these seem, to me, to reflect the wider cultural changes required within the service to bring about improvements in the delivery of work-related services and establish Jobcentre Plus as an intermediary in the labour market for all benefit recipients, I am concerned that there is a lack of definition. From our experience in evaluating ONE, clients' perceptions of service objectives are meaningless if they don't relate to their own personal experiences, and so I think this is a clear gap at the moment.

  Having said that, the broad objectives do appear to take on board some of the key findings from the ONE evaluation, demonstrating progression in the transition to Jobcentre Plus. Key examples include: (a) the priority afforded to accessing benefits by clients; (b) the improved understanding and awareness amongst clients of the work-related services and support available from the benefit system as a direct result of introducing work-focused discussions for all; and (c) the need for Personal Advisers to take a more active role in helping clients secure and sustain employment to ensure that Jobcentre Plus makes a clear, distinct impact from other pathways into work.

Clare Johnson and Vicky Davies

February 2001

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