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Select Committee on Work and Pensions Fourth Report


JOBCENTRE PLUS AND SUPPORT FOR DISABLED PEOPLE

24. The roll­out of Jobcentre Plus (JCP), which has merged the Employment Service and Working Age parts of the Benefits Agency, intends to provide a work­focussed service to everyone making a claim for benefit. Anyone claiming IB is required to attend a one­off 'work­focussed interview' with a Personal Adviser (PA). Any action beyond attending the interview is entirely voluntary, although there is a mandatory follow­up interview at least every three years. As well as personal advisers, Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) provide support to people who are having difficulty with their job search because of their disability, and also to employed people with a disability who are concerned about losing their job.

25. JCP is being rolled out over a five year period. 56 offices were rolled out in 2002 after the announcement of the creation of JCP in 2000 and the Department plans to open a further 225 in 2002-03.[19] The inquiry sought views on the success of JCP in helping IB claimants so far and the areas where improvements could be made.

26. The memoranda received identified several key roles which JCP should play: supporting those who cannot work by ensuring they are receiving full benefit entitlement; helping those who can work move closer to employment; and supporting employers and training providers. One of the key criticisms was that, so far, JCP is failing to provide a fully joined-up service to clients and employers, which strongly affects the quality of delivery.[20] There was concern that there do not appear to be adequate links with external statutory services such as the education system and social services and that JCP is failing to draw upon the specialism and expertise of existing organisations.[21]

27. Illustrating these views, Ms Hindle of UnumProvident said of JCP, "So far the delivery is at best patchy. For employers, certainly we are finding that it is very difficult to form any meaningful links because no sooner have we found somebody than staff keep changing. It is a constant state of flux. When you talk to DWP they will say, "Yes, this is a five­year change programme. It will be five years before that state of flux finishes"...The concept, for us at least, of a one­stop­shop, if you wish to call it that, is positive, but so far the delivery does not seem to be coming through."[22]

28. Many disabled people have had negative experiences at the hands of the Benefits Agency and Employment Service so it is crucial their first experience of the new JCP is a positive one otherwise they will not be convinced that the services provided by JCP are different or useful. Staff must be knowledgeable, helpful and non-threatening.

Access requirements

29. Scope,[23] RNID,[24] and Mencap,[25] criticised JCP for not being fully accessible and for not adequately training frontline staff to recognise people with specific disabilities and their support requirements. They cited several examples of inappropriate or discriminatory service provision. RNID also cited their own research which found that 6 out of 10 deaf and hard of hearing respondents said they were unable to communicate with Jobcentre or careers service staff and a quarter said that the service provided by DEAs or Jobcentre staff was not helpful. The Committee recommends that all frontline staff should undergo disability awareness training to prevent disabled people being further disillusioned by the service.

Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs)

30. There are currently around 650 Disability Employment Advisers working in JCP offices across the country. The work of DEAs is now coming under criticism. Many of the disability organisations who had direct experience of working with DEAs pointed to high staff turnover and over stretched staff servicing too many offices who are simply unable to keep up with demand.[26] This appears to be due to the reorganisation of the Employment Service into Jobcentre Plus which, some organisations believe, has led to a lack of clarity and confusion about the roles and responsibilities of staff, particularly DEAs. RNIB also point out that DEAs are increasingly called upon to provide non­ specialist services, which reduces the opportunities they have to build up their knowledge and skills.

31. There was also widespread recognition that DEAs, when they are properly resourced and supported, can do an excellent job in helping disabled people into work. The TUC, in particular, highly praised the work done by DEAs and were of the view that DEAs are a source of significant expertise which can be under-utilised. Mr Exell of the TUC expressed hope that the proposals in the Green Paper for an expanded disability adviser service would help to address the problem of a limited career path for DEAs resulting in many of them being promoted out of the service.[27]

32. The Green Paper proposes the development of a new team of specialist advisers with Disability Employment Advisers at their core. We believe that Disability Employment Advisers must be at the centre of the Government's strategy. We call on the Government to say how big the new team of specialist advisers will be, how their role will differ from that of the Disability Employment Advisers and what action is being taken to reduce the turnover of Disability Employment Advisers. We welcome the Green Paper's proposal that those disallowed incapacity benefits should automatically see a Disability Employment Adviser or specially trained Jobcentre Plus adviser, but we believe the Government should make it standard procedure that those moving from Incapacity Benefit to Jobseeker's Allowance see a Disability Employment Adviser.

Compulsory work-focussed interviews

33. One of the ongoing problems faced by Jobcentre Plus is how to attract disabled people into their offices. As pointed out earlier, people claiming incapacity benefits are not subject to the same job seeking activity as unemployed people. As officials at the Jobcentre Plus Office in Merthyr Tydfil pointed out, many IB claimants can be dealt with almost entirely by post and very little personal contact is made. It is therefore extremely difficult to coax disabled people into JCP offices so that they can see the range of services available to them.[28]

34. To begin to address this issue, the Green Paper has outlined plans to pilot more frequent work­focussed interviews for new and repeat Incapacity Benefit claims. Under the proposals, the interviews will take place early in the claim and will be co­ordinated with an earlier Personal Capability Assessment. The work­focussed interviews will be mandatory and a benefit sanction for non­attendance will be applied. Clients will draw up an action plan with their adviser and further support will be available through a new team of specialist advisers as well as existing Disability Employment Advisers.

35. During our inquiry into the ONE Service we found that personal advisers rarely had time to caseload non-JSA claimants. We do not believe that Jobcentre Plus could cope were the Government to extend the intensive work-focussed interviews aspect of the Green Paper until well after the completion of the roll out of Jobcentre Plus. We recommend that the Government provides sufficient resources to ensure the intensive work-focussed regime can be implemented effectively, preferably allowing appropriately trained staff to manage actively their caseload and at the very least ensuring staff are not over-burdened to the point where they cannot deliver a high quality service.

36. A further issue was pointed out by Mr Exell of the TUC, namely that, "...if people are going to be required to attend work-focussed interviews, those interviews have got to be accessible to the people required to take part in them. It is a basic point that gets missed out far, far too often."[29] This is a valid point of which no mention is made in the Green Paper. We recommend that the Government ensure that the access needs of people taking part in work-focussed interviews are fully considered. We recommend close working with a range of disability organisations to ensure all aspects of disability access, including access to information and transport, are addressed. We also ask the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that all its JCP offices are fully accessible to disabled claimants and that hearing loops are available for use.

37. Witnesses for the inquiry tended to err on the cautious side when commenting on the proposed pilots for extending the work-focussed interview regime. Commenting on this, Ms Reith of Disability Alliance said, "Our first concern I suppose is that there is not any evidence that the compulsory work-focussed interviews work, and the fact that they are compulsory does send out a message to people that I think would put people quite often in the wrong frame of mind when they come in for an interview. There is a particular problem with Incapacity Benefit claimants, because of the media campaign over the years, that makes people feel that the Government is out to take their benefit away from them, and that is really what it is all about. If we want to overcome that, you have to make sure you are not giving out mixed messages at all, and to say work-focussed interviews are compulsory I think gives out a mixed message." [30]

38. One of the main concerns with the compulsory nature of the interviews was that there appears to be a general drift towards compulsion with little sign of where the line is going to be drawn. Ms Gooding of the DRC, was also cautious of the compulsory work-focussed interview proposals and recommended other ways forward. "We think it may be counterproductive to compel people to go to it. We think it would be a more constructive approach to look at improving the employment situation, the employer situation, so that people feel there is more of a chance for them getting a job. A lot of the time people do not want to apply for jobs because they think they are going to be turned down. You need to prove to people that the jobs are out there for them and that they are going to be able to get them. What you need to do is focus upon those people who are willing, who do want to come into work and come forward and build on that success. We are a bit more cautious about the extent to which you can have a supportive interview while at the same time making it mandatory."[31]

39. As indicated in the Committee's Employment Strategy report,[32] we support in principle the use of work-focussed interviews as a useful tool in overcoming the challenges in reaching those classed as incapable of work and persuading them that they do have a future in the labour market. Work-focussed interviews should enable Incapacity Benefit claimants to discuss the barriers which are preventing them from working and to explore strategies to overcome them. Without contact with JCP, it is otherwise unlikely that they will be aware of the support that it is available. We recommend the Department makes every effort to reassure participants in the intensive work-focussed regime that participation will not lead to loss of benefit.

40. Disability Alliance also pointed out the issue of exempted categories of disabled people who will not have to attend compulsory interviews, yet who may be willing and able to find work. While accepting the reasons why it is necessary to exempt some people on the grounds of ill health or severe and multiple disabilities, the Green Paper proposals will exclude some disabled people - eg those who are blind or paraplegic - who may wish to take part in work-focussed interviews.[33]

41. The Committee acknowledges that it is inappropriate to require people with certain disabilities or health problems to attend work-focussed interviews. We therefore support the proposal to exempt them from this requirement: however, we recommend that contact is made with people in the exempted categories to ensure that they are fully aware of the services Jobcentre Plus has to offer and that they can access these services should they so wish.

Workstep

42. Workstep is a relatively new initiative which has replaced the previous Supported Employment programme. It is aimed at disabled people with more complex support needs. It provides both supported employment and, where appropriate, the opportunity to progress into unsupported employment. More than 4,500 people have entered Workstep since it was launched in 2001 and nearly 2,600 have progressed into unsupported employment.

43. It is still relatively early days for the Workstep programme but initial impressions appear to be broadly positive. However, those who commented on Workstep expressed some concerns. For example, the hours requirement excludes many people from participation as they are not able to work for 16 hours or more per week.[34] Some also warned that the focus on progression to open employment will affect who is taken onto the programme, with an element of 'cherry-picking' of the more able clients taking place.[35]

Access to Work

44. The Access to Work (ATW) scheme provides advice and financial help for disabled people and their employers for employment­related costs resulting from a disability. Between April 1996 and March 2001 37,236 people have received help through ATW and the budget for 2000-01 was £29.9 million.[36] The scheme generally received a positive response from those who submitted written and oral evidence. However, it does come in for severe criticism regarding its profile - it is said that too few employers and disabled people are aware of it. Ms Simkiss of RNIB referred to Access To Work as " a very well kept secret."[37]

45. Ms Reith of Disability Alliance said, "One of the problems is that employers have a fear of the costs involved in taking on a disabled person, which bears no relation to reality, but it prevents them taking someone on because they think it is going to be expensive. One of the advantages of promoting Access To Work is that not only will disabled people who need access to work get it, but employers will feel reassured that, should things work out expensive, there is a fund they can tap into. In fact, we know that most of the changes that need to be made to accommodate a disabled person are incredibly inexpensive; they are pretty minor. Quite often they are to do with hours of work rather than putting in expensive equipment. One of the things that is overlooked is the need to reassure employers, and letting them know about Access To Work so that fear is taken away."[38]

46. Other problems identified with ATW include the low level of funding and delays in making assessments and processing applications. Entitlement is discretionary, there is no appeals system and it fails to facilitate career progression as there is a lack of continuity in support when a disabled person changes jobs. ATW is not available for work placements, vocational training or volunteering. Also, the impact of ATW on an employer's duty to make reasonable adjustments is said[39] to cause confusion.

47. The Committee believes that Access to Work provides crucial and cost effective support to disabled people and their employers. It is a success story which could be repeated on a much larger scale if the budget were to be increased further. We recommend that the Access to Work budget should be increased by a significant proportion to reflect the number of disabled people who want to work and who need support to enable them to do so. We also urge the Government to embark on a much wider publicity campaign - aimed at disabled people and their employers - to increase awareness of Access to Work.

Retention and rehabilitation

48. The eligibility requirements for Incapacity Benefit mean that virtually everyone claiming it once had a job. Because those on Income Support and Severe Disablement Allowance may not have been working directly before claiming, the Green Paper cites a figure of 28 per cent of people on incapacity benefits who were previously in employment.[40]

49. Support for job retention programmes to prevent people from dropping out of the labour market due to failing health or the onset of a disability is widespread. UnumProvident suggests that the failure to offer rehabilitation services is directly linked to the increase in the numbers of people claiming Incapacity Benefits.[41] The Employers Forum on Disability say, "If we are to minimise the numbers of people moving onto disability related benefits in the future and if we are to minimise the risks employers associate with hiring disabled people now, we need to put the provision of retention related services and employer retention related policy much higher up the policy agenda."[42]

50. Key suggestions for improvement include utilising the existing expertise of DEAs so that JCP can prioritise job retention. The importance of the Access to Work scheme in enabling employers to retain employees who become sick or disabled also plays a crucial role.

51. Jobcentre Plus should work more closely with employers to ensure the retention and rehabilitation of employees. The Committee welcomes the rehabilitation pilots outlined in the Green Paper but is concerned that no mention is made of support to ensure job retention for employees who become disabled. We believe that much more support should be available to prevent disabled people from dropping out of the labour force. In line with our recommendations in the Employment Strategy report, we believe that the Government has not harnessed sufficiently the resources of the voluntary and private sectors. The former has much greater experience of the intensive and long-term rehabilitation work needed for claimants who have been on Incapacity Benefit for a number of years. The latter has greater expertise of job retention and rapid rehabilitation, particularly overseas in countries like Australia where employers bear the cost of job loss through illness or accident. We express below our concerns that the funding regime prevents the full flowering of those areas of expertise. We are also concerned that all the pilots proposed in the Green Paper are to be led by the public sector - i.e. by Jobcentre Plus and the NHS. We strongly recommend that the Government ensure that half of the pilots are provided by the private and voluntary sectors, to allow a much greater range of approaches to be tested. In so doing, we draw the Government's attention to the recommendations of the Committee's inquiry into the ONE pilots which concluded that the narrow and detailed contractual specifications had prevented the private and voluntary sectors from innovating as much as they would have wanted to. Since the voluntary and private sectors would be seeking to demonstrate their usefulness to the roll-out of these pilots, such contractual conditions should be relaxed.


19   "New areas to benefit from Jobcentre Plus offices, DWP press release, 10 June 2002 Back

20   Ev 68, Qq 11, 12 and 16 [Ms Simkiss]  Back

21   Ev 96 Back

22   Ev 96 Back

23   Ev 36 Back

24   Ev 7 Back

25   Ev 20 Back

26   Qq 16 -18 Back

27   Qq 145 - 146 Back

28   Visit note - Appendix 42 Back

29   Q 188 Back

30   Q 25 Back

31   Q 148 Back

32   Work and Pensions Committee, Third Report of Session 2001-02 The Government's Employment Strategy HC 815 Back

33   For the full list of exempted categories, see Pathways to Work: Helping people into employment, CM 5690, p55. Current figures show that almost 400,000 claimants will be exempt (DWP Quarterly Summary of Statistics, Nov 2002) Back

34   Ev 21 Back

35   Ev 27 Back

36   HC Deb, 13 May 2002, col 481w Back

37   Q 21 Back

38   Q 22 Back

39   Ev 122, para 44 (v) Back

40   Department for Work and Pensions, Pathways to Work: Helping people into employment, CM 5690, November 2002, p55 Back

41   Ev 77 Back

42   Appendix 37, para 6b Back


 
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