Select Committee on Work and Pensions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Julie Kerksick (OP 20)


  Between September 2000 and June 2001, I had the privilege to study in the UK under the auspices of the Atlantic Fellowships in Public Policy program, sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I was situated within the Welfare to Work Strategy branch of the former Department of Social Security, and studied the ONE program in particular.

  My focus was implementation issues, because my American experience administering a pilot employment support program has persuaded me that how public policy is implemented directly affects not only the success of intended policy, but also whether policy is actually given a chance to be realised. I was allowed to study the implementation process from the policy level to the operations level, by observing claimants' interviews, conducting interviews with a wide variety of stakeholders, attending meetings and, when requested, conducting training sessions with front-line field staff.


  ONE represented a number of pivotal culture shifts within both the former departments and agencies that handled benefits claims and employment services. ONE's goal was to realise a political commitment to increase the number and proportion of adults working, reduce poverty, reduce benefit rolls, and foster a culture of economic productivity and independence. Combining functions within one office-hence the program's name-required the Benefits Agency administrators to understand and implement employment goals and programs, and required Employment Service administrators to understand benefits claims and procedures. It also required Personal Advisers to learn how to broach the subject of employment with clients who are under no obligation to be available to work as a condition of receiving the benefit-but who may wish to do so. It intended to provide ongoing help in finding work to those who wish it-caseloading, in the parlance of ONE.

  ONE intended to improve the delivery of service to claimants by creating a single gateway, and providing more individual attention through the work-focussed interview.

  ONE was also intended to reduce fraudulent or erroneous claims through the use of face-to-face interviews.

  Jobcentre Plus reflects many, if not all, of the above goals. It is now running, in pathfinder offices, as of October 2001.

  Many individuals within the former Department of Social Security (DSS) and Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), and now the newly formed Department for Work and Pensions, have worked long and hard to pull out lessons from ONE and the New Deals, to make sure that Jobcentre Plus benefits as much as possible from earlier investments by the government. Many of the lessons of ONE have, hopefully, been incorporated into the design and implementation of Jobcentre Plus.

  So I am not trying, from the distance of several thousand miles, to duplicate or ignore the work of those who have day-to-day responsibility for designing and implementing Jobcentre Plus. However, I would like to make two suggestions that focus on the role and development of front line staff, particularly Personal Advisers. (I apologise in advance if these ideas have already been addressed in Pathfinder offices. I have not been able to follow the unfolding of Jobcentre Plus plans from the US.)


The vision:

  Jobcentre Plus is a modern service for people of working age who are claiming benefits. It's there to give people help and support to find work and become independent.

  Jobcentre Plus is at the heart of the Government's strategy for welfare reform. It will dramatically change the way we help people, providing a more proactive service to all our customers of working age . . .

  Jobcentre Plus will provide a work focus for everyone of working age, who is claiming benefit . . .

  Anyone who needs long-term support will get a high quality of service and access to other relevant sources of help. And we will make sure that our customers receive the benefits they are entitled to.

  (Quoted from the Department for Work and Pensions' website)

  The following is a description of ONE, taken from one of the handouts available in the ONE offices:

  ONE is a new way to claim benefit and find work a radical new service which gives people of working age real help with jobs and benefits . . .

  The government is modernising the welfare system to help people become independent, and get away from dependency on benefits. The aim is to find a fair balance between what people put into the system and what they get out of it. Everyone who can work will be given help to find a job, and those who cannot will get the support they need.

  ONE gives people in-depth, individual help from a personal adviser, and encourages them to make the best use of their skills and abilities.

  Obviously, there is a good deal of overlap in the vision statements of both ONE and Jobcentre Plus. It should be instructive, therefore, to look at ONE's experience in successfully translating the vision into operations, with an eye toward implementation of Jobcentre Plus.


  As of June 2001, ONE had not produced significant impact on employment outcomes for currently economically inactive (non-JSA) clients. (There were many reasons for this, including time constraints. My focus here, however, is on what I believe is an underlying problem.)

  Policymakers expressed disappointment. They had hoped to see more non-JSA clients move into work, as neither anti-poverty goals nor improved productivity goals can be met if the current number of "workless households" holds steady or grows.

  This lack of outcomes is not completely surprising, however. Contained within the clear vision statements are multiple policy goals, some of which represent significant shifts in the social contract. The underlying terms of the social contract have not changed; ie the fundamental rules about who must work have not changed.

  But there has been a shift toward encouraging people who are not required to work, to consider it. There has not been an abandonment of the economic safety net of assured income. There has been, rather, an effort to shake up the way that safety net has come to mean growing numbers of people of working age see no connection between themselves and the labour market.

  Yet these intended shifts, while seismic in some ways, are also quite delicately nuanced in the translation from policy to operations. How are Personal Advisers supposed to talk about work to someone who is applying for Carer's Allowance? Sickness benefit? Mothers or fathers whose partner has recently left the family?

  In the actual operations, many ONE advisers found themselves confused or uncomfortable with the brave new world of a work-focus. Not because they disagreed with the policy goals; but they were uncertain about how to marry the goals of helping people get their benefits and steering them in the longer-term toward work.

  There are many other factors involved in the success or lack of success of ONE. This point does not ignore those. Helping front line staff fully comprehend the policy goals and potential contradictions is necessary, but not sufficient, for ultimate success.


  The first step toward successfully implementing the multiple policy goals embedded in both ONE and Jobcentre Plus is to ensure that front line staff fully understand these goals, and how they affect their daily interactions with clients/customers. This requires engaging staff members in discussions, not just as they begin their term of employment, but over time as they acquire experience.

  Managers and policymakers sometimes confuse their delivering information with a discussion. They are not the same.

  I noticed one very interesting phenomenon regarding ONE. Everyone I met could tell me the basic policy intentions of ONE: "Work for those who can; security for those who can't" was the shorthand. But it was only policy-level staff, managers and trainers who ever stated the link between the work-focussed policy and the larger goal of reducing poverty. I never heard front line staff make this connection. Yet this link is critical to the ultimate success of encouraging non-JSA clients to move toward work.

  Advisers can make this link, of course. But it requires time and dialogue to do so. It also requires opportunities over time to think about how the policy is working on the ground. How are the policy messages delivered?

  Quarterly or semi-annual discussions of larger policy goals provide staff and managers with the chance to match their experience with their theoretical expectations. Such sessions, which can be done in as little as a few hours, can provide mutual learning between staff and managers. They can also allow people to step back and look at larger patterns and see how their individual efforts fit in, or fail to contribute to the larger goals.

  Such sessions can be facilitated at the local level, or can involve regional managers or trainers.


  Work was already well underway to re-design training for Personal Advisers at the time I completed my fellowship in June 2001. By now, much of what follows may be moot. But in the event that the work is ongoing, I offer the following thoughts on the role of staff and how their training should be delivered.


  Front line staff have traditionally administered comparatively clear procedures with clear goals. Clients claim benefits, qualify for them, and secure them or not. Clients seek work, find out about job openings, and attempt to secure work.

  A work-focussed system requires a fundamentally different role of Personal Advisers. Interactions with clients may lead in very different directions, based on clients' situations, needs, limitations and prospects. Interactions between Personal Advisers and clients that start with job searches may encounter some barrier to work that was not at first obvious to either staff or client. Clients who did not at first appear to seek work at all may, in fact, want work or job training once someone makes it available.

  Personal Advisers, whether they deal with a very general population or specialise in a particular sub-group, must understand how to develop very different plans, and implement very different requirements, among clients who may neither know or realise what is available to them, how benefits can help them develop and implement work plans, or even what they want.

  Jobcentre Plus is focussed on work, but acknowledges that not all clients will be appropriate candidates for work at the time they come into the office. Even with those who are immediately available for work, there may be significant challenges that must be understood and addressed.


  Training for Advisers is not now, and should not be, seen as something that is completed within the first few months of employment on the job. The skills required are complex, and must be built on over time through a variety of methods.

  In the experience of ONE, there were many criticisms of the training from staff, managers and trainers themselves. Many of these criticisms may have been addressed in the next generation design of Jobcentre Plus.

  There are many possible ways to deliver training, and not just one right one. However, one bottom-line requirement in my experience is to consolidate what staff learn by providing individual observation and feedback. While managers might do this, and should do some, they might not be well suited to this kind of individual feedback. Trainers might be better suited to it. Yet most people I interviewed in this area felt it was not realistic to have such labour-intensive training.

  But whatever changes are made in the content, it is imperative that training and management structures be in place to consolidate Advisers' learning over time. This should include individual feedback that builds on Advisers' strengths.

  Learning to talk about work, or explore personal circumstances with a wide variety of individuals, is more likely to be accomplished with one-on-one critiques. It is difficult to imagine building a substantial corps of competent Advisers without some investment of training resources. Itinerant trainers could provide the right balance of support and criticism. Managers/on-site supervisors may be equally well suited to provide this, though they themselves must have good skills in effective feedback and teaching.

  Whether it is done through supervisors or trainers, it is Priority One to provide staff with training that includes follow-up on an individual basis, using the actual interviews to help the Adviser get better.

  Thank you for your consideration of these ideas. I am grateful for the opportunity that allowed me to learn so much of your systems, and am applying much of what I learned to my work here in the US. I would be happy to answer any questions or provide additional information if requested.

Julie Kerksick

The New Hope Project

12 November 2001

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