Select Committee on Work and Pensions First Report


(a)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 (paragraph 17).
(b)If, in the words of the Minister for Work, 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 (paragraph 17).
Making work the focus
Initial contact
(c)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 (paragraph 19).
(d)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 (paragraph 20).
Identification of barriers to work
(e)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 (paragraph 28).
(f)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 (paragraph 30).
(g)We believe that caseloading has not worked within the ONE pilots, principally because of time constraints, with new claims work being given top priority. Greater targeting of caseload help with Jobcentre Plus may assist; but we are still not convinced that Personal Advisers will be able to devote a sufficient proportion of their working week to ongoing employment related activity with clients (paragraph 35).
(h)The evidence from the Minister of State for Work and the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus does not reassure us that caseloading will receive the attention it deserves within Jobcentre Plus. We recommend that:

  • Personal Advisers have a clear allocation of at least a third of their time to devote to ongoing work with clients and employers, with this time allocation built into the costings for Jobcentre Plus;
  • all non-JSA clients should be required to undergo a second work-focused interview, 8 weeks after the start of their claim, to review their personal circumstances and the support, if any, which they need to increase their independence and ability to enter the workforce in the future (paragraph 35).

(i)We recommend that the Government clarifies the relationship which will exist between the caseloading activities of 'front line' Personal Advisers within Jobcentre Plus and the work of the various New Deal programmes in respect of lone parents, Incapacity Benefit recipients, and unemployed people. Protocols should be developed to help Personal Advisers know how and when best to refer their clients on to other schemes and agencies (paragraph 36).
(j)We recommend that the Government should consider awarding Jobcentre Plus areas a specific budget to contract out their caseloading activities for groups who are furthest from the labour market to local public, private or voluntary organisations which have the commitment and specialist skills to move these people closer towards employment. In return, the organisations which contracted with Jobcentre Plus would be required to fulfill targets linked to job placements and moving people closer to the labour market (paragraph 40).
Sick or disabled clients
(k)We recommend that the Department publish its plans for how the Disability Service Teams will work within Jobcentre Plus, including the role of DEAs in relation to the work of 'front line' Personal Advisers (paragraph 43).
(l)It is very disappointing that the Capability Report has so far failed as an effective tool to assist claimants and advisers in discussing work capabilities. We recommend that the Government publish the steps it intends to take, in the light of the findings of the evaluation report it commissioned, to ensure that Capability Reports are practical and useful documents for claimants and their employment advisers (paragraph 44).
(m)The failure of Personal Advisers to engage with Incapacity Benefit clients is a major shortcoming of the ONE pilots. The solution lies partly in ensuring that Personal Advisers are given sufficient time for caseloading activities; partly in ensuring that targets are set which give incentives to Advisers to work with long-term sick and disabled clients; and partly in building up specialist support services to which Personal Advisers can refer claimants. But it also lies in giving Advisers the proper training - in motivating people and in confidence building - for them to begin to engage with this group (paragraph 46).
(n)We consider that within Jobcentre Plus caseloading should be used to work with Incapacity Benefit clients to build confidence and motivation and to assist them to begin to take steps towards employment (paragraph 47).
Working with employers
(o)We recommend that Personal Advisers are encouraged to work closely with local account managers and local vacancy service managers in ' selling' clients to employers and vice versa (paragraph 48).
(p)We recommend that, within Jobcentre Plus, job-entry targets are set for non-JSA clients which reflect the greater or lesser difficulties which the different client groups face in entering the labour market, and which will reflect the varying efforts which will be needed by Advisers to assist them (paragraph 84).
(q)We recommend that the Government seeks to develop and pilot a new range of targets aimed at measuring the 'distance travelled' towards labour market participation by clients who are not immediately job-ready. These targets would aim to measure improvements in employability achieved by the intervention of Jobcentre Plus, either alone or through referral to external agencies. Key measures might be improvements in work skills, attitudinal skills, personal skills, and practical skills - as steps along the way to more tangible targets such as qualifications and jobs (paragraph 85).
Quality of Service
Service to ethnic minority clients
(r)We recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions commission further research to examine the quality of its own service delivery to ethnic minority clients compared to white clients (paragraph 52).
(s)It is disappointing that the ONE pilots have not succeeded in improving the time taken to process benefit claims. We are encouraged that Jobcentre Plus still has the ambition to seek to speed up the benefit claim process, through its use of benefits experts when clients first attend the office. We intend to monitor the progress of Jobcentre Plus in improving benefit clearance times (paragraph 55).
(t)The Committee regrets the decision that all Crisis Loans applications, whatever the circumstances, will require applicants to be dealt with separately in a screened environment, often requiring clients to travel to a different office to receive payment. We are particularly concerned that this blanket rule will apply to applications for alignment payments, which are fairly routine payments and largely uncontroversial. We urge the Department to reconsider its position, and reinstate the original intention that alignment payments are dealt with as part of the normal claim taking process at Jobcentre Plus (paragraph 56).
(u)We recommend that:
due recognition should be given to the specialist skills and expertise of benefits advisers within Jobcentre Plus. Their expertise must be supported by regular, ongoing training to reinforce and update their knowledge, particularly of disability benefits and the complex rules surrounding the transition from benefits to work.
Jobcentre Plus benefit experts should be given a role, alongside Personal Advisers, in advising clients who are worried about the financial 'risk' of moving into work (paragraph 59).
(v)Meeting processing targets must not overshadow the major policy re-orientation which ONE represents: to deliver a work-focused service tailored to clients' needs. But it is not an 'either/or' situation. We are concerned to see that benefit claims are determined swiftly and efficiently. The answer lies in ensuring that there are sufficient resources to carry out both activities - assisting clients to work and processing claims - without the two coming into conflict (paragraph 81).
The relationship with local authorities
(w)We recommend that the Government publishes the strategy Jobcentre Plus has adopted to build close working relationships with local authorities over the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Benefit, including the systems it intends to put in place to ensure that:

  • Jobcentre staff are properly trained in these benefits in order to advise clients who are considering employment;
  • that staff identify and notify local authorities promptly of relevant changes of circumstances;
  • that liaison with local authorities features in the key work objectives of Jobcentre Plus managers; and
  • that management information is collected and monitored at Agency level to ensure that the strategy is being implemented consistently across the organisation as a whole (paragraph 66).

(x)We recommend that, in the near future, the Government tries to devise jointly with local authorities a strategy for ensuring that the DWP and Jobcentre Plus work with local authorities on the wider agenda of economic regeneration (paragraph 67).
(y)We recommend that Jobcentre Plus develop and publish a strategy for working in partnership with local authorities to identify and support employment-focused services for disabled people (paragraph 68).
The role of the private sector
(z)The private sector does not appear to have been particularly well used in the ONE pilots, where they have been over constrained by contract limitations linked primarily to the need to ensure that benefit payments are paid swiftly and accurately. It is disappointing that the potential of the private sector to bring innovation to the ONE pilots was not properly harnessed, and that its future contribution to Jobcentre Plus appears to have been ruled out. We were not convinced that their contribution in dealing with job-ready clients was particularly effective or had much potential to add value to the 'in-house' provision of services. However, we believe that within the field of welfare to work, private sector companies may have a greater potential to be used in the area of re-integration of people at some distance from the labour market where diversity of supply, innovative thinking and an element of competition might be constructive if clearly linked to outcome rather than process (paragraph 75).
(aa)We recommend that the Government consider what greater role Private Employment Agencies could play alongside Jobcentre Plus in placing unemployed people into temporary jobs which can then enhance their chances of moving into permanent employment, whilst continuing to support clients in their efforts to achieve permanent employment (paragraph 76).
Staffing and Infrastructure issues
Information Technology
(bb)Jobcentre Plus lies at the heart of the Government's strategy for tackling long-term unemployment and joblessness. If it is to succeed, it must have the tools to do the job. We would urge the Government to do all it can to expedite the modernisation of IT systems within Jobcentre Plus. As the modernisation of IT systems in the DWP gets underway, we intend to monitor its progress closely (paragraph 86).
The role of managers
(cc)A key lesson from ONE is that exploring and developing how the overall vision of a work-focused, more integrated service is applied in practice is an essential element of making it work. This is not a one-off exercise, but must be constantly renewed in the light of experience. Managers have a key role in ensuring that the overall vision and goals of Jobcentre Plus are translated into all aspects of the design, systems and practice of the new organisation (paragraph 89).
Senior Advisers
(dd)We recommend that Jobcentre Plus give consideration to the appointment of 'Senior Advisers', to work not as managers but in a mentoring role alongside front line Personal Advisers similar to the arrangements already in place within the New Deal (paragraph 91).
Sickness absence and turn-over levels
(ee)We also recommend that internal management performance measures are put in place to monitor sickness absence and turn-over levels, with a view to ensuring a year-on-year reduction in levels (paragraph 91).
Balance of staff to workloads
(ff)As a measure of the demands on staff, it will be important to monitor whether the time allocations for financial assessor and initial Personal Adviser interviews are adhered to within Jobcentre Plus. We recommend that the Government publish its working assumptions regarding the size of caseload which individual Personal Advisers will be expected to carry (paragraph 92).
(gg)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 (paragraph 26).
(hh)We recommend that more training - not simply information - is given to Advisers to help them to identify barriers to work (paragraph 27).
(ii)We recommend that, within Jobcentre Plus, new forms of ongoing training be devised to enable staff and managers to mutually consider their day-to-day work in the light of wider policy goals of Jobcentre Plus, and their own first hand experience (paragraph 94).
Staff safety
(jj)We suggest that risk assessments must be carried out on a joint basis between management and the Union if the process is to command the confidence of staff. We welcome the absolute assurances given to us by the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus that every recommendation of each and every risk assessment will be implemented in full (paragraph 99).
(kk)As the service is rolled out across the country, we believe it is it is important that all offices offer a fully integrated service and have the same high standards of appearance and access. We therefore seek confirmation from the Department that the roll-out of Jobcentre Plus will take the form of fully integrated, refurbished offices with the Pathfinder offices as the model (paragraph 102).
(ll)We recommend that the DWP undertake a full scale estates review to ensure that Jobcentre Plus is delivered from accessible offices which reflect the new ethos and culture of the organisation (paragraph 103).
(mm)We commend the Department for the quantity and quality of research which it has commissioned to monitor the effects of the ONE pilots. We recommend that the same elements of research are continued in order to monitor the impact of Jobcentre Plus, particularly the effectiveness of Jobcentre Plus in improving labour market participation (paragraph 11).

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