Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2002
320. It is dramatically so. For example, my
constituency which is just on the border of the ten per cent highest
unemployment areas in the country, has one of the lowest take-ups
of the Working Families Tax Credit in the country and that is
a pattern which is very clearly represented across the rest of
the country. I am not trying to bounce a question on you, but
it would be very helpful to have a clearer steer from within Government
to address that imbalance. We are putting excellent programmes
in place but if those excellent programmes are not in areas of
high levels of deprivation and unemployment to meet the needs
as well as they might, then this is something we really urgently
need to address.
(Mr Brown) Making work pay is absolutely crucial to
the programmes we are running from the Department and the Working
Families Tax Credit is a very important part of that.
(Mr Richardson) Lone parents are easily the most significant
group who could theoretically take advantage more of Working Families
Tax Credit. In addition to the outreach activity for ethnic minorities,
last month we launched outreach activity for lone parents across
the country. Our strategy generally is to address the issues you
raised, to deliver mainstream services through Jobcentre Plus
in an ever more effective and comprehensive way, but also to reinforce
them by more targeted specific activity which Nick has described
in areas which suffer from the problems you describe. Hence the
ethnic minority outreach, lone parent outreach, the action teams
for jobs as well as working closely with local initiatives.
321. The reason we do not have WFTC take-up
is because we have a higher proportion of lone parents and the
lone parents are less likely to have informal family support,
therefore they are more likely to rely upon paid childcare and
childcare is ridiculously expensive. You have an absolutely classic
joined-up problem and I am not convinced that the joined-up solutions,
whilst they are there as programmes, are there with the resource
and intensity to match the needs.
(Mr Brown) I have to confess that the take-up point
in London is new to me and I will have a look at that myself.
It may need something simple like a take-up campaign or making
sure it is properly explained if there is an issue there with
lone parents, which is a possible explanation, then I will make
sure we have a hard look at that as well.
322. May I ask you to expand a little more on
the answers you have just given on the specific work you are doing
with the groups of people who present the most challenges to you?
You have mentioned ethnic minorities and lone parents. What about
older workers, people with disabilities, other groups like that?
Do you have similar new initiatives to help those people accelerate
the rate at which they get back into the job market?
(Mr Brown) Yes, the New Deal for 50 Plus is focussed
on older workers or potential workers. There is a New Deal for
the Disabled which is focussed on people with disabilities and
is entirely voluntary so they are reliant on people coming forward
and asking for it, though we do try to make sure it is well known
by potential applicants. There is a New Deal which is focussed
on ex-offenders and we are trying to work with the Prison Service
so that we can discuss employment prospects for an ex-offender
with them even before they leave custody if they are in custody.
Having been in custody is a barrier in the labour market. And
there is a New Deal focussed on recovering people, people who
have had problems with drugs, illegal drugs rather than alcohol.
These are the hardest to help. Some of these New Deals are very
new New Deals so we are at quite an early stage. It is too early
to start presenting evidence and saying what we have learned,
but it is this proactive approach to those who are finding the
labour market most difficult which is new and right. Just to emphasise
the point, the Government would not want to be knocked off course
in what we are seeking to do were the labour market to loosen.
323. You pre-empted my question about monitoring
the success of all these various New Deals. It is important that
people do know about them and that they are effective in targeting
those specific groups who do need the most help. May I follow
up specifically on people with disabilities? In an earlier evidence
session we were told about the importance of Jobcentre Plus working
in partnership and we have had some further information this morning
about the recognition of the importance of partnerships and local
strategic partnerships. Are you also working closely with the
voluntary sector and ensuring that those who are out there in
the voluntary sector, who are working with each of these more
challenging groups are fully involved in meaningful partnership
with Jobcentre Plus?
(Mr Brown) Yes, is the obvious answer. Am I going
to sit here and say no?
324. I guessed that one.
(Mr Brown) That is most certainly the intention. I
make every effort myself, and the other Ministers in the Department
do as well, to make sure we are meeting the key groups, both voluntary
groups and the other organisations which are delivering our programmes.
Relationships are pretty good at ministerial level; no doubt on
the ground it does not always seem that way.
(Mr Lewis) It would be a brave person who would sit
here and say every single relationship out there with every single
organisation, national and local, is perfect and could not be
improved and I would not say that. What I would say is that there
is a real intent to work with partners at national and at local
level because we need their expertise and knowledge if we are
to achieve the objectives set for us by Ministers and Government.
Secondly, we cannot possibly do all of this ourselves. People
have a huge amount to contribute. At national level we have good
strong relationships with, for example, organisations like the
Disability Alliance, Mencap, etcetera. We have set as one of our
values for the new organisation partnership, reaching out, working
with organisations. At a local level we seek to establish very
strong working relationships both with organisations which represent
the interest of particular groups of people who face barriers
to employment and also with organisations who are providers through
programmes like the New Deal for Disabled People to try to ensure
that while they are our providers and of course while we will
be expecting them to meet certain output targets, certain quality
thresholds, nevertheless we work with them in a spirit of partnership
to seek to enable them to do so.
325. Are you also listening to them when they
point out what they see as failings in the system or areas which
could be improved?
(Mr Lewis) Yes, I think we are. Whether they always
believe that we listen to them enough and react sufficiently and
quickly enough is obviously for them to say. I think we are listening
and there are lots of examples where we have changed what we do
both at a national level, for example in the New Deal for Disabled
People introducing an element of a funding advance to meet some
of the difficulties which the programme has experienced in its
early days and on a local level to meet particular difficulties
and concerns. I would not want to sit here and say there is no
possible issue anywhere which has not been brought to our attention
which we have not perfectly addressed. What is very important
in this is trying to establish a culture within Jobcentre Plus
which says two things: do we want to listen? Most certainly we
do. Do we want wherever we can to respond to real practical issues?
Yes, most certainly we do.
326. To change the focus slightly, we had earlier
evidence about the difficulty of people's perceptions. If somebody
has done a job for a very long time, they then cannot imagine
themselves doing any other job, or everybody in the street did
the same job, they all worked for a large employer. How can you
overcome people's perceptions about their own abilitiesa
lot of people have abilities which are there untappedand
that they can move out of a particular area of work or expertise
which they and their family and friends have had knowledge of?
How can you overcome that?
(Mr Brown) That is exactly where the personal adviser
comes in, why it is important to sit down with the individual
to talk about their job opportunities which are there in the labour
market, to make sure they understand how their real income is
affected by the sort of wages which are being paid and other tax
credits affect what their take-home pay would be, in other words
how they are going to sit economically, then to talk about whether
they could actually do these jobs or could train to do these jobs
or would want to do these jobs. To leave people to find these
things out for themselves is insufficient. We think it is the
role of the personal adviser to sit down with them, to talk them
through how things are. It is a shock if a community has had one
single major employer which people have traditionally looked to
as the place where one would go to work, where all their friends
and neighbours worked. When those jobs go it has a traumatic effect
on a community; I know because I represent such a community. Yet
we have to face up to change and it is the responsibility of the
state to help people through. What we do know is that the jobs
are out there. There are jobs available but often not in the same
industry and also not requiring the same pattern of work and skills
set. That means we have to face up to change and the state has
to stand in the citizen's corner and help them through that period
327. It is also sometimes simply that people
have very low aspirations and do not aim high enough.
(Mr Brown) That is all true as well.
(Mr Lewis) I know the Committee have been to our new
offices and thank you for doing that. One illustration of that,
as you may have seen, is one of our posters on the wall which
just has three words on it, "Yes You Can". Part of our
job as an organisation is to say to people who are saying "I
couldn't ever manage that. I couldn't do that. I wouldn't know
how to begin", "Yes, you can. With our help, with our
support, yes, you can". It is about helping people to recover
and restoring their confidence.
328. Minority ethnic communities. We have had
some evidence about the problems faced specifically by minority
ethnic communities in setting up in business. We understand that
there are some research projects looking at this. Are you evaluating
those research projects? Are you looking specifically at how you
can support minority ethnic groups in setting up businesses that
will then employ people within their own areas?
(Mr Brown) Is this about self-employment?
329. Much of the evidence was about self-employment
and that many people wanted to access self-employment as a route
into work rather than into employment. Are you looking at that
as a specific area and offering whatever help you can?
(Mr Brown) I know we have our own programmes if people
wish to be self-employed and it is actually quite an interesting
area all of its own. Do we have anything specific for ethnic minorities?
(Mr Lewis) Just to be entirely straightforward on
that, I do not think I have seen the piece of research you refer
to specifically, so if you can point me in its direction I shall
have a look at it. We are very much focussed on the needs of ethnic
minorities, both within our New Deal programmes and more widely.
It is an absolutely major focus of our policy and we are wanting
to support our customers more generally, those who want to make
a transition to self-employment. I have not seen this specific
piece of research.
330. I understand there are some research projects
but whether they are in general terms or about self-employment
I am not entirely sure. There is a Small Business Service/Bank
of England project in the Performance and Innovation Unit. There
may be some information there for you to have a look at.
(Mr Brown) We will check that out and perhaps come
back to the Committee. I am not familiar with the work.
331. I want to explore the relationships between
the Jobcentre Plus and the voluntary sector a bit more, particularly
with regard to New Deal for Disabled People. Whilst I accept there
are probably good relationships with the voluntary sector organisations
for the disabled helping towards being a provider, in order for
a disabled person to get that far they have to come through your
personal adviser in the Jobcentre Plus. I am not convinced that
the personal advisers in the Jobcentre Plus who are working with
disabled people are sufficiently trained or sensitive to the needs
of the disabled or in fact robust enough. In fact if anything
they are too sensitive; their sensitivity is overly sensitive.
They are frightened to suggest to disabled people "Yes, you
can", because they do not have experience themselves directly
of disability and are sometimes too tentative in their suggestions.
That is what I have seen from my own experience in visiting local
Jobcentre Plus and speaking to the personal advisers. I should
like to see, and I wonder whether it is a suggestion you could
take up, the voluntary sector, the organisations for the disabled,
the organisations who already work with disabled people, in the
Jobcentre Plus, helping, sitting alongside the personal adviser,
or indeed acting as personal advisers. That is perhaps one of
the areas you could hive off to a different organisation rather
than using your own staff, so you do have people who understand
the needs of disabled people and who are going to work in a much
more proactive way with disabled people to get them into jobs.
(Mr Lewis) If I may say so, the point you made in
your question about our people being sometimes slightly fearful
of tackling issues is right. I agree with you that there is a
major need to ensure that we do have people with the skills to
help people with disabilities professionally. As well as our personal
advisers, we have a group of specialist staff, disability employment
advisers, and they are locally based also and they are there to
give professional advice and support to more generalist personal
advisers. One thing we have done with the advent of Jobcentre
Plus is to change from separately managed centres down the discrete
management line to centres under the direct management of the
District Managers. We want to integrate that into our mainstream
precisely to ensure that they do have their knowledge and expertise
being brought to bear more widely. I do not rule out at all the
kinds of innovation you are suggesting and I shall willingly look
at that. Probably we will find in some places we have got quite
close, if not quite, to what you are suggesting, but to arrangements
in which voluntary groups working with particular groups of disabled
people are very much embedded into our delivery structure. I would
positively welcome such developments. I am happy to go away and
look at that proposition.
332. I want to ask some questions about the
New Deal options and New Deals in general. We had quite a lot
of evidence, indeed a consensus, that the five options were too
inflexible and that organisations would like to see a mixture
of those option packages designed around the individual. That
is something which was reinforced in our trip to the United States
last week where pretty much all the programmes we visited combined
an element of education, an element of personal advice, voluntary
work, placement in work. Could you say whether that is a direction
in which you are thinking of going, whether that is one of the
areas in which you aim to make the New Deal for Young People more
(Mr Brown) We are very outcome focussed. The purpose
of our programmes is to get people into the labour market and
if we can into unsupported and sustainable work so they can earn
wages and live their own lives. It does not matter how generous
the benefit system is, it is always going to be the best way forward.
That is the focus. There is no advice in front of me to reconfigure
the existing New Deals. There is no ideological opposition to
doing things in a different way.
(Mr Lewis) On New Deal we have been on a journey which
is a journey where we have been trying all the way to learn from
the experience of how it has been working to make the programme
more flexible. We have introduced changes as a result of the Government's
Green Paper. One example which picks up the heart of your question
is an initiative which we are calling Tailored Pathways, which
we are currently piloting in 17 areas, which is precisely piloting
a more flexible approach to the option period after the gateway.
That is enabling personal advisers to tailor a package of provisions
more specifically to each individual which may be of the nature
you are proposing. More radically and more widely and successfully,
one of the things which, if one is allowed to take pride in something,
I am particularly proud we have introduced and which seems to
be working well, is the Adviser Discretion Fund which is now nationwide
for people once they have been out of work for a particular length
of time. This enables our personal advisers to use up to £300
for any purpose, as long as it is a proper purpose, which in their
individual judgment will help that individual meet some of the
barriers between him or her getting into and sustaining jobs.
At the last count, we have now had 125,000 examples of that fund
being used. It is very, very popular with our advisers, precisely
because it enables them to respond immediately and very swiftly
to the actual individual circumstances of the person they are
seeking to help.
(Mr Brown) The average spend is something like £70.
(Mr Lewis) Yes, the average spend is just over £70,
which is very interesting because one of the worries if you give
people discretion is whether they will deal with it properly,
whether they will abuse it, whether they will each spend £299.99.
Give people discretion and overwhelmingly they use it sensibly.
333. That is something I greatly welcome. My
Jobcentre Plus have been using that and they can have a higher
spend if it is authorised, can they not? That is something we
welcome in terms of greater flexibility. Another suggestion which
was made to us along that vein by the Work Foundation was whether
the individual adviser should be able to suspend the 16-hour rule
in terms of learning for particular clients. I do not know whether
that is something you are looking at or a suggestion you could
(Mr Brown) It is not without its down side.
(Mr Richardson) We look at it all the time. The terms
on which people draw Jobseeker's Allowance is that they must be
actively seeking work. It is possible to combine some element
of learning with actively seeking work, but if it is a condition
of the benefit that you should be available for work and go to
work as soon as something can be found for you, then it seems
to us that should be the overwhelming principle and that we ought
to be making other arrangements if we think that people should
be benefiting from learning more generally. This is why in New
Deal people are taken off Jobseeker's Allowance if they get to
the option period and it is decided that the best thing for them
is a longer sustained period of learning and put on a Training
Allowance. If we were to develop that principle more widely, that
is the route down which we would want to go.
334. Another thing we have been struck by, both
in the Netherlands and the United States, is the effect of intensive
work on soft skills and on life skills with people who have been
unsuccessful in getting back into the labour market and very long-term
unemployment and the hardest to reach. You mentioned a number
of programmes in your evidence, Step-Up, the Intensive Activity
Period. Do you want to say something about what the Government
are planning to do in that area?
(Mr Richardson) More of the same is the answer. The
introduction of the intensive gateway to the New Deal for Young
People was very striking. You could see immediately from the outcome
figures a sharp increase once it started to cut in on the number
of young people moving into jobs from the gateway period in which
this period had been introduced. We are now going to pilot it
as a mandatory element in the New Deal for 25 Plus to see whether
it has the same effect. The Step-Up programme has just started
as a pilot for people who have been through New Deal without getting
employment and we shall see whether that works. What you imply
is right. There is scope for more of this type of activity for
people who are finding it hard to get into the job market because
of their own personal motivation or whatever. We shall seek to
do more of what appears to be a recipe for success.
335. What we found in the Netherlands was the
strong focus on what they call re-integration and going into people's
homes, getting them to start doing the washing up, start thinking
about their lives in a total way, addressing drug and alcohol
problems. Is that the kind of direction which Step-Up is going
(Mr Richardson) Not Step-Up so much. We have other
programmes called Progress to Work which at the moment are restricted
to working with drug addicts, but we are extending them on a pilot
basis in the autumn to other hard-to-help groups which will involve
that kind of activity.
(Mr Lewis) Because I had read so much about it but
not seen it, I did manage to take myself to the Netherlands for
a day and visited one of their Centres for Work and Income and
talked to the people running it. What struck me was, not that
there was nothing we could learn from the Netherlands, on the
contrary, there are always things you can learn, but just how
much we seem to be travelling in some common directions.
336. We found that as well. That last answer
prompts me to ask a more general question. Why do we have all
these different New Deals? In terms of even trying to follow the
programme, every time we discuss this and go to questions a new
one comes up. Why are there so many individual initiatives rather
than having one overall New Deal programme?
(Mr Brown) There may be a case for drawing some themes
together. The truth is that the problems we are trying to tackle
are different. The problems of a lone parent, for example, will
be very different from those of a recovering or recovered drug
addict or an ex-offender. We have tried to tailor the schemes
to the specific client groups, the more so as we have focussed
on groups of people who find the labour market the most intractable
rather than on the generality of the population for whom we think
the mainstream services we offer are the right ones.
(Mr Richardson) There is a big divide between those
who are subject to mandatory work search conditionality, who are
on Jobseeker's Allowance and on other benefits. However much you
want to try to streamline New Deals, there is a fundamental difference
in the way you need to handle people who are on JSA and other
deals. I personally think there is quite a lot of scope for streamlining
and homogenising in terms of eligibility rules and one or two
other things like that, provided you keep this divide. There will
be some advice reaching the Minister's desk very soon on what
we can do. We want above all to be able to make this intelligible
to employers. Employers get terribly muddled and in some cases
fed up with different forms with different requirements depending
on what New Deal you can get. It is worth remembering both the
hectic pace at which we implemented these initiatives and the
way, because of financial reasons and capacity constraints, they
came in seriatim. It was not practically possible to plan
a single basic programme with different bells and whistles from
the beginning, so we are having to catch up on ourselves. We are
doing that work at the moment and Nick will shortly be able to
pronounce on whether he thinks what we are proposing makes sense.
337. May I ask about the role of the individual
adviser? From our visits to Jobcentre Plus and the evidence there,
there seems to be some move away from the original intention to
have one adviser working with the client all the way through.
In the US we were struck by the follow-on period where they had
an adviser working with them during the period of training and
job placement, but then that person worked with them for another
two years afterwards, looking at job progression and whether they
stayed in work. Can you tell us whether you are moving away from
the concept of one adviser, one person? Or is that still something
which is part of the programme?
(Mr Lewis) We are not moving away from the fundamental
principle of one person, one adviser. One of the huge successes
of the New Deal, indeed now we are extending it through Jobcentre
Plus more widely, is that people have enormously valued having
an individual adviser working with them, one person who is their
guide, support, mentor through the system. No, we are not moving
away from that principle of there being a personal adviser. What
we are trying to recognise is that that adviser, no matter how
well trained and skilled and experienced, cannot be expected to
be expert in every single issue that individual they are seeking
to help may ever raise. More than ever we are saying to our personal
advisers, that they will need at times to bring in other colleagues,
disability employment advisers, organisations, partner organisations
with specialist skills in homelessness, drug rehabilitation, etcetera,
if that is clearly appropriate and needed for that individual
whom you are seeking to assist and help. No, we are not moving
away from that fundamental principle of there being a personal
adviser. It has been shown to work.
338. Are you satisfied with the quality of the
education being provided in the education option or indeed more
generally? Is that something which you have concerns about?
(Mr Lewis) It would be wrong of me to say yes, I am
satisfied that there is no possible scope for improvement. In
the early days of the education and training option, there was
not a sufficient work focus in some of the provision which was
taking place. The outcomes of people in terms of progression into
jobs were not in some casesit is patchyas strong
as we would have wished. There has been a process which has now
been going on for some considerable time of working much more
closely with our providers to ensure that the training, the education
people receive under that option of New Deal is related to their
needs as an individual and related to a labour market in which
they will be seeking to gain employment. We are making progress
but there is further to go.
(Mr Richardson) We have lost quite a few providers
on the way as the result of a much more rigorous approach to the
outcomes we expect.
339. Quite a lot of us in the US were horrified
by some of the sanction regimes which were applied in the US,
particularly by those requiring single mothers back into work
very soon after the birth of their children. On the other hand
quite a lot of the organisations we spoke to said that they thought
the existence of the sanctions was an important part of changing
the culture. What are your views on the balance of sanctions in
the system at the moment? Are you thinking of leaving them as
they are? Do you think there should be any change?
(Mr Brown) The system does require a proportionate
sanctions regime. As to how it works operationally, Leigh might
(Mr Lewis) We have moved since the early days of New
Deal. After a period additional new sanctions came into play with
a 16-week sanction for somebody who was persistently not following
through the requirements of New Deal. It is interesting when you
talk to some of our advisers about this. I find very, very few
advisers see sanctions as a weapon which they want to use in a
punitive sense: "I want to apply a sanction because I think
this individual deserves a sanction to be applied to them".
I think I find advisers who increasingly see sanctions as a way
of perhaps concentrating the mind of someone who is not seriously
addressing the fact that they cannot go on as they are expecting
just to follow their particular lifestyle through for ever more,
to get them to face up to the fact that they are going to have
to make some choices and some decisions. I see advisers using
sanctions in a rather sophisticated way, not to apply them but
just to make clear they exist and that ultimately they will come
into play if that individual is not prepared to face up to the
issues. They have in some cases quite an advantage in that sense.
(Mr Brown) I suppose the underpinning point is that:
does a citizen have the right to say, "I can work. I could
work. The jobs are there. I am not going to take any job. I just
want to live off the state"? Do people have that right? The
answer ought to be no.