Select Committee on Work and Pensions First Report


The work first agenda

The wider context

12. The new 'work first' approach tried out in the ONE pilots, and now extended to Jobcentre Plus Pathfinder areas, is an important element in achieving the Government's targets on employment. The headline target is that, taking account of the economic cycle, by 2010 at least three-quarters of the working age population will be in work.[18] In order to achieve this target, the Government has turned its attention both to long-term unemployed adults and to economically inactive groups - working age people claiming benefit but who are not classed as unemployed. Thus a separate target is that, by the same date, 70 per cent of lone parents will be in work.[19] Three year Public Service Agreement targets require that, by 2004, there is an increase in the employment rates of disadvantaged areas and groups - disabled people, lone parents, ethnic minorities and the over 50s, and the thirty local authorities with the poorest initial labour market position.[20] Other measures to achieve these targets include the various New Deals for both unemployed people and for the economically inactive; area-based initiatives such as Employment Teams and Action Teams for Jobs; and major tax and benefit reforms aimed at both easing the transition into work and ensuring that people are better off in work.

The employment effects of ONE

13. Three of the four objectives of the ONE pilots are concerned with work, of which two are fairly specific: to increase the level of sustainable employment by helping more people into work; and to put more benefit recipients in touch with the labour market. For the ONE pilots to be shown to be succeeding in meeting these objectives, more benefit claimants in the ONE pilot areas should have moved into work, compared to the matched control areas. Similarly, there should be some evidence that, as a result of Personal Adviser interventions, more benefit claimants in the ONE pilot areas were seeking work more readily or sooner; seeking work more resourcefully; adjusting their expectations in ways that improved their chances of work; or generally seeing fewer barriers to paid employment.

14. In fact, the evaluation results to date show very little difference between the pilot and control areas in the proportions of benefit claimants either obtaining work or seeking work. Quantitative research shows that for Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) claimants there was no difference in the numbers going into jobs between the ONE pilot and control areas.[21] In the case of lone parents, there did seem to be an early positive effect during the voluntary phase of ONE.[22] However, this effect has not continued. Both in the later stages of the voluntary phase of ONE and four to five months after the full participation phase, lone parents were no more likely to enter employment in the ONE pilot areas than in the control areas.[23] In the case of sick or disabled people, the latest results dealing with the compulsory phase of ONE, do show a higher proportion entering work in the ONE pilot areas compared to the control areas.[24] The difference - a gain of 3.4 per cent more sick and disabled people in work - is regarded as statistically significant, but does still seem small. Even here, the researchers caution against drawing any firm conclusions that the ONE experiment assisted more sick and disabled clients into work until their final report, tracking this group over a longer period, is completed.[25] Indeed, Professor Alan Marsh of the client survey research team suggested that there was a "novelty" effect which might wear off over time: "this is the first time that sick and disabled claimants were being required and confronted with an interview, and that may have had a kick-start effect."[26]

15. A separate strand of evaluation has been looking at the employment effects of ONE by analysing administrative benefit records.[27] Interim findings from the full participation phase of ONE (based on the first nine months) found that, for jobseekers and sick or disabled people, ONE had not changed the probability of leaving benefit for work. For lone parents, the results suggested that ONE did have a positive effect on the numbers leaving benefit for work - but in the Basic Model pilot only. The researchers did point out that the findings are based on a very limited sample of participants; less than 100 lone parents from the basic ONE model were included in the sample.[28]

16. In comparing the proportions of jobseekers, lone parents and sick or disabled people who appeared to be looking for work and engaged in jobsearch activity, the most recent quantitative results examining the full participation phase of ONE has so far found no statistical differences between the pilots overall and the control areas for any group.[29] The researchers also questioned benefit claimants about the sort of work they were looking for or hoped to get. The intention was to establish whether having a compulsory meeting with a Personal Adviser led to increased flexibility in the kinds of work sought, or the terms of work thought acceptable. In fact, none of the hopes or expectations held by the respondents about their prospects of work differed between pilot or control areas. Moreover, the experience of meeting a Personal Adviser failed to raise the optimism of ONE participants that they would find their preferred kinds of work, compared to people in the control areas. The researchers commented: "the minimum outcomes from the ONE service really ought to be a more cheerful view of clients' chances of getting the kind of work they want."[30]

17. It is fair to point out that the research conclusions made available so far concern evidence from the first nine months of the full participation phase of ONE, in a project with a further fifteen months to run. The Minister of State for Work, Mr Nick Brown, told the Committee that it was "too soon to draw firm conclusions as to whether ONE has made a difference [in getting more people into work]."[31] Nevertheless, all the evidence appears to point in the same direction. We are very concerned at the uncertain employment outcomes emerging from the ONE pilots - a state of affairs which raises worrying questions about the effectiveness and timing of the strategy being rolled out in Jobcentre Plus. If, in the words of the Minister, it is "too soon" to draw firm conclusions as to whether ONE has made a difference to employment outcomes, it may also be too soon to announce plans to extend a similar approach across other parts of the country. We accept that all the results from the ONE pilots are not yet in and that it may eventually emerge that, as the ONE pilots have evolved and the approach has been refined, it has made a difference to employment outcomes. Despite the hard work and commitment of many involved, our inquiry suggests that at present there exists an 'implementation gap' between the aspirations of policy makers and delivery on the ground. Indeed, the uncertainty of the achievement of the objectives of ONE raises a question over the timing of the announcement of Jobcentre Plus before the final results of the ONE pilots were known.

Making work the focus: first contact

18. In ONE, as in Jobcentre Plus, first contact with the welfare system for new benefit claimants is through an information gathering stage, called a "start-up interview" in the ONE process.[32] In the Basic and PVS models, this takes the form of a face-to-face interview. In the Call Centre model, adopted for Jobcentre Plus, it is done by telephone. This first encounter with the system is obviously crucial in conveying key messages concerning the 'work first' approach of the new system, and the attitudes and behaviour expected of the individual.

19. The research suggests that, when attending their initial Personal Adviser interview, few benefit claimants had advance expectations that they were there to discuss work.[33] This suggests to us that Start-Up advisers are failing to communicate the new approach, and to prepare people for their initial work-related interview. The researchers carrying out the delivery evaluation confirmed our impression: "One of our observations was that ONE was never really adequately explained to clients, so there was no real attempt to, in a sense, recruit the interest and participation and collaboration of the clients...There was no kind of explanation of both clients' rights and responsibilities and the expectations of the system in terms of the requirement for a work-focused interview."[34] What tended to happen, they said, was that the Start-Up Adviser would say that the Personal Adviser would fully explain the ONE approach; and the Personal Adviser would assume that the client already knew about it.[35] It is our view that more time and effort needs to be put into communicating the new work-focused approach to benefit claimants at the point of their first contact with the system. In the Jobcentre Plus process, only fifteen minutes is allotted for the initial information gathering stage.[36] In this time, a customer service representative is expected to collect basic information necessary for identification; to make an initial decision about a person's job readiness; to help the person find a job, if appropriate; and to assess benefit needs.[37] No time appears to have been allowed to give clients an explanation of the new approach of Jobcentre Plus, and to prepare them for their first work-focused interview. We recommend that the time allocated to the 'information gathering' stage of the Jobcentre Plus process be reviewed to include time for information to be given regarding clients' rights and responsibilities and the expectations of the system in terms of the requirement and purpose of work-focused interviews.

Making work the focus: the role of compulsion

20. A contentious feature of the ONE pilots was the introduction, in April 2000, of compulsory work-focused interviews for benefit claimants, such as lone parents, sick or disabled people and carers, who are not required actually to seek work as a condition of receiving benefit. Despite the fears expressed at that time that the people affected might feel pressurised into taking work, or that vulnerable people might unfairly be penalised for failing to attend, our predecessor Committees concluded that: "the requirement to attend an interview is not onerous in itself; but the element of compulsion may well be necessary to bring along those people who are demoralised, isolated, or lacking in confidence, in order to connect them to the help and encouragement which is available."[38] It is encouraging to note that the fears expressed before ONE was introduced have not been realised in practice. Mr John Wheatley of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (NACAB) told us "within the ONE pilot, advisers and staff working there have been very conscious that they need to use this tool in a sensitive manner. It has not been bandied about without care."[39] The Committee supports the use of compulsory work-focused interviews for all claimants of working age, to enable people who have been disconnected from the labour market to learn through a face-to-face meeting of the active help which is available to support them in returning to employment. We welcome the sensitive manner in which the compulsory nature of the interviews has been handled within the ONE pilot areas.

Making work the focus: the initial Personal Adviser interview

21. The work-focused interview lies at the heart of the ONE process. In the course of an interview, scheduled to last around 45 minutes for new claimants, Personal Advisers are expected to:

22. In reality, the research suggests that it was benefit-related matters which dominated the initial Personal Adviser meetings for all client groups, with the work-focus taking second place: "priority, in the sense of coming first, was always given to ensuring that claim activities were covered. After that, staff had to judge what work-related element they would address in the time left...benefits activities tended to overrun."[40] For example, in the case of JSA claimants, the work-related part of the interview tended to be based almost entirely on the adviser looking at a computer screen, briefly checking types of work the person wanted to do, travel to work distance and pay level preferred, followed by a job search using the Labour Market System.[41] Observers noted that "typically, there was little discussion: clients were not encouraged to explore their work experience, aspirations or ideas - or lack of these."[42] The researchers noted that an essential part of the initial meeting is the signing of a Job Seekers Agreement, but found this could only be tackled once the key benefit claim issues had been dealt with. As a result, the Agreement "tended to be drawn up quite quickly and according to a formula."[43]

23. The same research identified "a fairly low key approach to work" in initial Personal Adviser interviews with non-JSA claimants.[44] There is some evidence that non-JSA clients tended to be referred by Start-Up advisers to see a Personal Adviser with a benefits background. In this situation, particularly with the more complex claims, the focus would be primarily on benefits, although the work orientation would be acknowledged.[45] This low-key approach to work advice is reflected in the small proportion of lone parents, and sick or disabled people who said they had received advice about jobs and training. 27 per cent of lone parents and 21 per cent of sick or disabled people told researchers they had discussed methods to finding work or training, while 12 per cent of both lone parents and sick or disabled people reported they had received advice about actual jobs. Although this compares favourably with people in the control areas, the researchers comment "we might have expected a higher proportion to have discussed such issues, particularly as the work-focused interview is a central feature of the service."[46]

24. The dominance of initial Personal Adviser meetings by discussions concerning benefits, rather than work, goes some way to explaining why the employment outcomes in the ONE pilots to date are so disappointing. In retrospect, it seems unsurprising that new benefit claimants' first priority is to get their benefits sorted out. In the words of Mr Christopher Melvin from Reed in Partnership: "when people walked through the door of the ONE office, what they wanted was to know that next week someone would pay their rent and that they would get some money to buy food and the basics of life. Once that was out of the way, then they were very happy to engage in a discussion about how they got back into the labour market."[47] We are therefore pleased to see that, in order to 're-focus' the initial Personal Adviser interview on work, in Jobcentre Plus Pathfinder offices an interviewee will first be seen by a benefit financial assessor, who will check their claim form and make sure all the relevant information is included. The work-focused interview with a Personal Adviser will follow, to be rounded off with a final session with the benefit expert.[48] This will allow the Personal Adviser to concentrate more exclusively on work-related issues. Personal Advisers will also be allocated more time to deal with non-JSA clients: 60 minutes, as opposed to 45 minutes.

25. These measures are sensible and are to be welcomed. However, whilst they may allow Personal Advisers more time to discuss work-related matters, they do not deal with a more fundamental problem; staff found it difficult to approach the subject of work with non-JSA clients for whom work was not a priority. Researchers found that some Personal Advisers were reluctant to broach the subject of work with non-JSA clients, especially those on Incapacity Benefit, unless the client brought it up themselves or had been in employment recently. This was because they felt they lacked the skills and expertise to have a work-related discussion with these clients, and felt the subject was a sensitive one.[49] As a result, non-JSA clients who might have benefited from such a discussion lost out. As an obvious example, researchers identified certain people claiming sickness benefits who perceived themselves as job-ready, and who felt that work was an immediate priority. Most were unsure about what work they were able to do, particularly where their illness or disability prevented a return to their previous employment. Because these claimants saw ONE as being primarily about benefits, few of them had raised their aspirations to return to work with their Personal Adviser.[50] Tellingly, their Personal Advisers had clearly failed to instigate pro-actively with them a discussion about work. For those non-JSA clients, who were not immediately job-ready but who might be able to work in the future, Personal Advisers' reluctance to raise the subject of work meant that they did not get the opportunity to explore their options, build their confidence, and generally start on a journey towards work.

26. How are Personal Advisers supposed to talk about work to someone applying for Carer's Allowance or Incapacity Benefit? Or mothers or fathers whose partner has recently left the family? These were questions raised by an American 'welfare to work' expert, Ms Julie Kerksick, who spent six months working with civil servants implementing the ONE pilots.[51] Her answer was that Advisers needed not only initial training, but ongoing follow-up both on an individual basis and through mutual learning to develop the complex skills needed to take on board the wider goals of ONE and to translate those into practical strategies for dialogue with clients on the ground. We were advised by the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Mr Leigh Lewis, that more information had been provided for Advisers on handling sensitive issues and barriers, and that every Adviser in Jobcentre Plus had been through a three day programme called New Beginnings, aimed at giving "a better understanding of what we were trying to do."[52] We welcome these measures. However, we consider that the provision of information and an initial three day training course are not enough. We recommend that Advisers participate in on-going training, including individual feedback, in order that they can develop, consolidate, and pass on the complex skills they need to engage in a work-focused dialogue with the wide range of Jobcentre Plus customers.

27. The research evidence also found that Personal Advisers were not good at identifying barriers to work. For example, in the case of JSA claimants, the delivery evaluation found that the issue of whether they were actually ready for work was not really tackled, unless there were obvious health problems. After an interview, Personal Advisers might express their doubts to the researchers, but these were rarely voiced to the client. "In many cases," the researchers said, "clients' work preferences appeared unrealistic but the Personal Adviser did not challenge these at the first meeting."[53] Dr John Kelleher, responsible for the delivery evaluation, commented: "we have seen people identified by PAs as effectively workshy, when to our observer they were clearly depressed."[54] The conclusion reached was that Personal Advisers did not necessarily have all the skills required to uncover and address underlying problems such as mental illness, substance abuse, literacy/numeracy problems, social skills, confidence or motivational problems.[55] Instead, Personal Advisers were found to be assessing clients' ability to work informally, based only on their own impressions of the client's willingness and abilities, on their previous employment history, qualifications and 'body language' which, it was said "lets you know whether they want to work."[56] This 'impressionistic' approach is manifestly unsatisfactory. We recommend that more training - not simply information - is given to Advisers to help them to identify barriers to work.

28. In addition to greater training, we have concluded that there is a need for a more systematic approach among Advisers in general to identifying barriers to work and distance from the labour market and awareness of services available from other agencies, schemes and voluntary organisations including those at a local level who can assist in taking forward that person's case. This conclusion is based on the visit the Committee paid to The Netherlands, where, in a parallel development to Jobcentre Plus, 'Centres for Work and Income' (CWIs) have been established. One of the tasks of CWI staff is to assess claimants' work readiness - described as their 'distance from the labour market'. Using a systematic questionnaire, advisers class claimants in one of four groups ranging from Phase 1 - people who were immediately job-ready, to Phase 4 - people who were furthest from the labour market, either because of lack of education and skills, personal problems such as addiction or poor health, or caring responsibilities. Phase 1 and Phase 2 clients - seen as likely to get work within a year, if supported through an action plan - were taken on by CWI advisers, who would offer active job assistance and advice through weekly or monthly contact. Phase 3 people - defined as those where it would take longer than a year to find them work, and Phase 4 people, were referred on to specialist programmes, coordinated by the local authority of the area.[57]

29. When asked whether Advisers had been equipped with appropriate diagnostic tools to assess degrees of distance from the labour market, Mr Lewis assured us that this was the case in Jobcentre Plus: "drawing on experience, not just from ONE pilots but from the New Deals where we have introduced something called the 'client progress kit', we are trying to equip our advisers with the ability to be able to ascertain people's needs they can make better informed choices and give better advice to people as to how they maintain their missions forward."[58] Worryingly, however, Employment Service research found that the client progress kit was almost universally disliked by staff, and that the level of dislike was often quite intense.[59] They saw it as of little or no benefit, excessively bureaucratic and time consuming. Given the strong antipathy to the client progress kit among New Deal staff, we suspect this is unlikely to become the successful way forward for Jobcentre Plus advisers.

30. As a Committee, we were impressed by the evidence of Mr Kelleher, the chief author of the delivery evaluation. He stressed the value of protocols - "how do you handle particular situations, what is the routine you run through and what do you do, contingent upon that?" - as a useful tool for advisers.[60] We welcome the commitment within Jobcentre Plus to improve the ability of Advisers to identify barriers to work. We believe diagnostic tests, such as those used in the Netherlands, are worthy of consideration. We recommend that protocols be developed to assist Personal Advisers to explore in a more systematic and consistent manner a person's work readiness and the barriers they face.

31. We have concentrated in this section on the steps which need to be taken to improve a Personal Adviser's knowledge and skills in dealing particularly with those with barriers to work. Another factor, however, is the willingness of Personal Advisers to engage with the less job-ready, within a culture where the overwhelming priority is job placement targets. The role of targets in influencing behaviour is discussed below.

18   See United Kingdom Employment Action Plan 2001, section 2 Employment Policy Framework. Back

19   See Towards full employment in a modern society, DfEE, DSS, and HM Treasury, March 2001, Cm 5084, page 2. Back

20   Ibid Back

21   Short term effects of compulsory participation in ONE, Green Marsh and Connolly, DWP Research Report No 156, 200l, para 5.6.4. Back

22   First Effects of ONE, Part ONB; Survey of Clients, Green Smith Lilly and Marsh, DWP Research Report No 126, 2000. Back

23   See The Medium-Term Effects of Voluntary Participation in ONE, Green Connolly Marsh and Bryson, DWP Research Report No 149, 2001 and DWP Research Report No 156. Back

24   See DWP Research Report No 156, para 5.3.1. Back

25   DWP Research Report 156, para 5.6.3. Back

26   Q. 203. Back

27   The employment effects of ONE: Interim Findings from the full participation phase, DWP In-house Report 88, 2001. Back

28   Ibid, section 4.3. Back

29   DWP Research Report 156, para 5.7. Back

30   DWP Research Report 156, para 5.7.6. Back

31   Q. 310. Back

32   See DWP memorandum, Ev 103, para 43. Back

33   See ONE year on: clients' medium term experiences of ONE, Davies, Sirett and Taylor, DWP Research Report No 154, para 7.1. Back

34   Q. 277. Back

35   Ibid. Back

36   DWP written evidence, Ev 135, box 1. Back

37   DWP memorandum, Ev 100. Back

38   The One Service Pilots, Seventh Report of the Social Security Committee and Sixth Report of the Education and Employment Committee, Session 1998-99, HC 412, para 21. Back

39   Q. 14. See also the National Council for One Parent Families, Appendix 7, para 34. Back

40   Delivering a Work-Focused Service: interim findings from the ONE case studies and Staff Research, Kelleher ,Youll Nelson and Hadjivassiliou, DWP In-House Report 84, 2001, page 53. Back

41   Ibid, page 47 Back

42   Ibid, page 43 Back

43   Ibid, page 43. Back

44   Ibid, page 46. Back

45   Ibid, page 54. Back

46   DWP Research Report No 156, page 5. Back

47   Q. 140. Back

48   See DWP memorandum, Ev 100, para 22. Back

49   DWP In-House Report No 84, 2001, page 46. Back

50   DWP Research Report No 154, para 3.2. Back

51   Julie Kerksick, Atlantic Fellow in Public Policy, Appendix 11. Back

52   Q. 320. Back

53   DWP Research Report No 84, page 43. Back

54   Q. 257. Back

55   DWP Research Report No 84, page 4. Back

56   DWP Research Report No 84, para 4.8.3. Back

57   See Appendix 16 for a note of the Committee's visit to The Netherlands. Back

58   Q. 390. Back

59   Evaluation of New Deal for Long Term Unemployed People Enhanced National Programme, Employment Service Research and Development Report ESR 82, July 2001. Back

60   Q. 269. Back

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