Select Committee on Work and Pensions Third Report


IV. Contribution of other Government Departments and Co-ordination of Policy

35. If ever there was an example of the need for joined-up Government it is in the policy area of employment. Although the DWP was confirmed as the lead Department[29] as far as the Government's Employment strategy was concerned, many other factors, responsibility for which rests with other Departments, have a bearing, to a greater or lesser degree, on the success or otherwise of the policy initiatives aimed at assisting people into work.

36. For example, the policies concerning neighbourhood renewal, business support services, anti-crime initiatives and offender rehabilitation, skills development (particularly of literacy and numeracy), infrastructure (including transport) and childcare are all policy areas the responsibility for which rests partly or mainly with Government Departments other than the DWP. Lack of effective policies in these areas can exacerbate, or lead to, discrimination, stigmatise or deter those who might otherwise wish to look for a job and lead to low motivation in others. We therefore invited officials from three of the Government Departments most closely involved with the Government strategy to give oral evidence. We asked most of the other witnesses for their views on these associated policies, the co-ordination of them (or the lack of it) and the resulting complexity.

37. Ms Bridget Rosewell of the British Retail Consortium said that:

    "there are places where co-ordination appears to be sometimes almost negative in the sense that the things required to fit one set of criteria are entirely different from the things required to fit another set of criteria. You almost feel that policies are working in opposite directions",[30] and added that:

    "our members experience problems with what can be called the red tape issues: regulation, lack of flexibility."[31]

Mr Nathan of the Work Foundation agreed[32] as did Mr Faulkner of Working Links.[33] Mr Hawkhead of Groundwork was even more outspoken:

    "We reckon that we have to use ten programmes or more to fund our employment schemes. At any one time, one of the people we employ to deliver projects on the ground is spending 30 per cent or more of their time simply filling in the forms that funders need. That is bonkers. That is a generic problem across government that we have to face and one of the reasons we argue that there needs to be much more considered thought as to how you blend innovation and mainstream together."[34] - a view shared by Ms Scott of Tomorrow's People.[35] Mr Hawkhead added that:

    "It is extremely difficult to have joined-up government when life is so complicated. There is quite strong evidence that there is a lack of a joined-up approach."[36]

38. We put these points to the officials and the Minister. Mr Lauener of the Department for Education and Skills highlighted the difficulties of co-ordination and the way they were being addressed:

    "I think with the split after the last election we all realised in both Departments [the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions] that we would need to work harder to make sure that the links were maintained. Obviously we did want Departments' links to be maintained through natural day-to-day contact. We have looked harder at some of the regular groups that we have to make sure that we have got colleagues from both Departments, where that is right, represented.... We need to look quite hard at that kind of thing across the piece to make sure we are not just keeping together on the basis of something like a clock that is gradually winding down, we are always putting new things in place to keep liaison refreshed. I think with that realisation the two Departments have worked pretty well together over the last year and a bit."[37] ...Any major reorganisation, and clearly the formation of DWP and Jobcentre Plus is a major change, puts pressure on an organisation but I have to say I have not found difficulty in securing the co-operation and the involvement of Jobcentre Plus colleagues or DWP colleagues in things that we are taking forward....I recognise the strains on any organisation but I have not found it a problem."[38]

Mr Riddell of the (then) Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions concurred:

    "we have always found the Employment Service very good at joint working and what is happening now is it is bringing the wider Benefits Agency into that. We would expect an improvement."[39]

39. The Minister added his layer of co-ordination by saying that co-ordination meetings were held...:

    "quarterly at ministerial level, but of course there is an enormous amount of follow-up by officials. It is a new formal arrangement within Government and I think absolutely necessary, not least because the drawing together of the Employment Service and the work of the former Benefits Agency has necessarily fractured that working within a single department between the Employment Service and those with responsibilities for skills. That is not all there is to it. There are regular bilaterals between myself and Lord Falconer as it was, looking at the regeneration programme, the single regeneration budget, and those important mostly urban initiatives focussed on areas of deprivation. Although the initiatives are area-based, whereas the service we offer is of course people based, we are focussed on making sure that where the need is the greatest we have the programmes in place to meet that need. We are also looking at rehabilitation, reaching out to those who feel they could do some work, if the necessary support were available. That involves meetings at ministerial level between myself, the Department of Health and the responsible Minister in the Department of Health and the responsible Minister from the Department for Local Government and the Regions as the sponsoring Minister for the Health and Safety Executive. We are looking at that range of issues as well. Underneath this ministerial structure, there is a whole network of officials who are working alongside each other to prepare papers for the meetings and also to make sure that where we have a joint interest we are making representations within government jointly."[40]

40. Answering the allegations of complexity Mr Leigh Lewis, the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus said:

    "It has been a common complaint since the New Deals were introduced that there has been too much bureaucracy associated with them and too much of the time and effort of our providers, and indeed our own staff will make the same complaint, has had to go into the administration of those programmes rather than their delivery. We had several goes at this and as a result of this we have cut the bureaucracy and the form-filling back very substantially indeed, though not yet to the degree which all of our providers would want or all of our staff would want. Further down the line, one thing which will help is much more electronic transmission of information both ways, which will be coming."[41]

41. Witnesses were almost unanimous in their view that the current system is too complex and we welcome the initiatives which have been, and are being, taken to simplify it. While accepting that there is no easy answer we would urge the Government to increase its efforts to simplify the system by reducing the number of schemes, simplifying conditions for qualification and devolving more discretion to front-line DWP staff and to recipients of funding.

Barriers to work - Transport

42. We heard from several witnesses that some areas of responsibility of other Government Departments were crucial to helping people return to the jobs market. As Mr Westwood of the Work Foundation told us:

43. Mr Reeves of Tomorrow's People, referring to the situation in London, suggested that there was an under-estimation of the importance of transport on unemployment: "There are opportunities in one place and people in another".[43] The Minister agreed that "Transport is part of the issue. Travel to work and the cost of travel to work and the time it takes are part of the issues which need tackling."[44]

44. This view was confirmed during our recent visit to the United States where it was pointed out that changing trends in industry would frequently result in different locations for available jobs. Unless the public transport system reflected that changed pattern it was well-nigh impossible for applicants to travel to work.[45]

45. We urge the Departments responsible to take account of the effect of transport on employment when considering their policies, and recommend that the DWP reviews its programmes to see whether individuals' transport needs are being adequately addressed.

Barriers to work - Childcare

46. Throughout our US visit there was a common thread running through the varied schemes and initiatives: the provision of appropriate childcare was considered to be a vital part of the overall package of assistance to a parent seeking work. For example, The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) in Philadelphia provided funding for childcare provision for low-income families. The Regional Workforce Partnership established by TRF had concluded that one of the main regional challenges in Greater Philadelphia in terms of developing the labour market was the provision of sufficient good quality childcare. In Oregon, great emphasis was placed on childcare, with participants in jobs programmes getting 100% of the childcare costs up to a maximum. Even after entering a job, childcare support continued on a decreasing scale as earnings increased. In Oregon, expenditure on employment-related daycare for welfare claimants undergoing training had risen from 9.9 per cent of the budget of the Adult and Family Services division in 1993-95 to 23.2 per cent in 2001. Expenditure on support for people actually in work (of which 60 per cent was childcare) had risen from 11.5 per cent to 34.2 per cent during the same period. In the WorkFirst programme, which the Committee saw in Washington state, there was income-related help in paying for childcare whilst participants looked for jobs, or received training, as well as once they were in work. More funds were now spent on childcare for people in work than on allowances for families claiming welfare.[46]

47. In the UK, the provision of childcare is not the direct responsibility of the DWP. It is our belief, however, that affordable and available childcare is crucial to raising employment levels and lifting individuals, particularly lone parents, out of poverty. Mr Richardson of DWP summarised both the problems and DWP's proposed solution:

    "We start from a very poor base in this country and one of the main reasons why the rate of employment of lone parents is as low as it is, although it has improved, is because of poor childcare facilities and in particular affordable childcare facilities. What the DfES-led national childcare strategy is attempting to do is to remedy that situation overall. It is tilted towards trying to remedy it in deprived areas first as part of the national picture. [DWP's] role is to try to ensure that the development of that strategy takes account of the actual needs of our clients and in particular in areas where there are high concentrations of lone parents. The availability and promotion of childcare places and data on what is available is the responsibility of the Early Years Partnerships in each local authority. They are the main hub of expertise with which we need to connect. We announced in the Budget the appointment of childcare co-ordinators in Jobcentre Plus who would be appointed and are being appointed in each district to hook up with the Early Years Partnerships. We also have an internet based site which links jobs with skills opportunities, access to childcare data through a clever window. What we are monitoring is the way in which childcare opportunities are being built up in areas where we want to get more lone parents into work commensurate with their needs."[47]

48. In connection with the childcare target, Mr Lauener of DfES said that "pretty good progress has been made in terms of the overall provision of places against the national target of a million extra places by 2004. The latest figures show that we are over half way there and that is accelerating reasonably and we do expect to reach that target."[48] Since Mr Lauener's evidence, the 2002 Spending Review has promised to more than double expenditure in real terms on childcare by 2005-06 to support the expansion of childcare places across the country.

49. The 2002 Spending Review announcement is a welcome acknowledgment of the supply problems which currently exist in relation to childcare. However, we would caution against using targets based simply on numbers of childcare places as a measure of whether parents wishing to work have access to affordable childcare. We do not believe that the number of childcare places is an adequate measure of whether working parents can meet their needs for childcare. A working parent may require pre-school care for young children and care for older children before and after school and during school holidays - up to three or four places for one family. For children with special needs, there may not be adequate provisions in schools. We recommend that the Government develops a new measure, related to working parents' needs, and reviews its policies and funding commitments to meet any gaps, drawing on the example of U.S. states such as Oregon and Washington that have switched funding from welfare payments to childcare support.

50. We were also interested in charting the Government's progress in meeting the additional childcare target that by 2004, there should be a childcare place for every lone parent entering employment in the 20 most disadvantaged areas. In a supplementary memorandum to the Committee,[49] the DfES said that they were currently "at an earlier stage in meeting this target. They were now taking action to confirm statistical help them set numerical targets" for lone parents entering employment in disadvantaged areas. Officials from DfES, HM Treasury and DWP are "working together to determine how this can best be done".[50] We are concerned that figures are not yet available for the target that every lone parent in the 20 most disadvantaged areas should have a childcare place. We recommend that this data should be collected and published within a year.

51. We have concluded that more needs to be done to connect childcare provision directly to individual parents who want to work. The introduction of childcare co-ordinators in Jobcentre Plus offices from April 2003 is a promising step. But what will their role be? During our visit to the US, we were impressed by the energetic and pro-active intervention of support staff to ensure that parents participating in work programmes had childcare arrangements in place which would enable them to manage the transition to work successfully. This involved working with parents individually, if necessary, to sort out arrangements - to the extent, in Oregon, of being able to fund extra support for special needs children in school to enable their mothers to go to work.[51] In the UK, the role of childcare co-ordinators in Jobcentre Plus offices needs to be wider than simply offering lone parents lists of possible childcare places. We recommend that childcare co-ordinators in Jobcentre Plus offices be given two roles. First, as co-ordinators of more active assistance to lone parents, designed to ensure that every lone parent undergoing work-related training or seeking employment succeeds in making suitable and reliable childcare arrangements for their children. Second, in providing strategic advice to the Early Years Partnerships on the specific childcare needs of lone parents on benefit in the locality who want to work. Childcare is an issue the Committee may well return to consider in detail in the very near future.

29   Q. 283. Back

30   Q. 2.  Back

31   Q. 8. Back

32   Q. 50. Back

33   Q. 102. Back

34   Q. 120. Back

35   Q. 138. Back

36   Q. 139. Back

37   QQ. 246 and 265. Back

38   Q. 280. Back

39   Q. 280. Back

40   Q. 306. Back

41   Q. 368. Back

42   Q. 37. Back

43   Q. 130. Back

44   Q. 316. Back

45   See US visit note, Annex 2. Back

46   See US visit note, Annex 2. Back

47   Q. 377. Back

48   Q. 272. Back

49   Ev 141.  Back

50   Ev 142, para 6. Back

51   See US visit note, Annex 2. Back

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