Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 338)



  Q320  Michael Foster: Would there not be a case for at least having specialist advisers, who dealt particularly with those who had mental health problems as opposed to the generalities of others? I appreciate that it is not always as clear-cut as that, but where mental health is the issue and is clearly identified, could that not be dealt with by specialist, special advisers, in that sense?

  Mr Hutton: That is something we can certainly look at, but it is part and parcel of the personal advisers' training programme to have exposure to issues around mental health, and if we can or should improve the level of that training, and if that is what people would like us to do, I would be prepared to look at that.

  Q321  Michael Foster: I think we also recognise that people with mental health problems often have variable abilities to work. You mentioned that a moment ago. It may well be that the patterns of work are also something that need to be looked at. I cannot see anything—maybe I have missed it—in the Green Paper which suggests that there is an approach at looking at different forms of work. Some of us heard evidence in Holland, where at the end of the day they say it is down to the state; it has to be a public service job when you cannot always find the answer in the private sector. Is that something that the Department may well want to develop with other departments and so on, to look for work that is appropriate to people with mental illness who can do work, probably at a very high standard, but they cannot consistently do work that enables them to do the nine till five which the average private sector employer and most public sector employers would require?

  Mr Hutton: I think we should try and support people into appropriate employment, whether that is in the private or the public sector. The public sector clearly has a set of responsibilities, but so too do all employers under the Disability Discrimination legislation and so on. We have a variety of programmes—Access to Work is simply one—where we try and provide that little bit extra, that bit more proactive help and support that a person with a disability might need if they are to hold down and retain employment, but I do not think we would approach this, Michael, simply from the point of view of saying that we are going to carve out a set of unique and discrete responsibilities that we are going to place upon one type of employer in relation to incapacity benefits. One thing that has struck me—and I do not know whether this is the view of the Committee as well—is I think there is evidence that employers now are certainly much more prepared than they were to consider employing people who have been on incapacity benefits, some of them for long periods of time. This is a very important development. Some big companies are co-operating very successfully with Jobcentre Plus in helping to place people who have been on incapacity benefits into work. I have met some of these success stories, and it is fabulous to see it being done. Once you have made that connection with the world of work, it is possible to make progress and to develop, and that is clearly the responsibility of the employer. We do provide ongoing active help and support in some cases where we think that can be important and make a difference, but I think essentially this is about our responsibilities versus the employers' responsibility. We are reasonably clear what ours are: Pathways to Work to work, more active help and support, ongoing support, Return to Work Credit, that whole suite of services designed to get people back into work, but once someone is in work, the primary responsibility for that person is clearly the employer who has taken them on, and if that is about occupational health or in-work training or whatever it is, career development, that is where the employer has to do the business. Our job is to help support that person get themselves ready to take on and hold down a job, and once they have succeeded in doing that and have been employed, then clearly we have some ongoing responsibilities, but the principal responsibility then is with the employer.

  Q322  Michael Foster: Do you think you have given enough support to employers to deal with that sort of spasmodic work? Somebody can arrive Monday, Tuesday, may need to be off till the Thursday week, and then come back again? You see, that sort of employment, which is often the sort of employment that those with mental illness can cope with, the average employer is not going to do that unless he has an awful lot of support and back-up. Is that a possibility?

  Mr Hutton: It is very difficult. Do we do enough? Probably not. We should always be looking to do more to help people in that situation, and we will be doing that as part of Pathways. That has been part and parcel of our approach to date and it will continue, and it obviously is harder to do that in relation to acute psychotic illness, of course, by definition. All I can say really in relation to that—and it is a generalisation; I accept that, but I do not think I can be more specific—is that, as I said, our job is to help that person to be in a position where they can actually hold down a job successfully, and it may well be in those circumstances that the best sort of job for that person would be flexible, part-time employment, flexi-hours or whatever, and it will be our responsibility in Jobcentre Plus to try and match the actual capacity, the functional capabilities, of incapacity benefits recipients with a job vacancy that we think will best meet their needs, and that is very much what Jobcentre Plus and the personal advisers try and do all the time in relation to people with mental health problems.

  Q323  Michael Foster: I am sorry to keep pressing you on this matter, but can we therefore look for some models of that sort of work by the time the White Paper appears?

  Mr Hutton: We are not planning a White Paper as such, so I would not wait for that, but this issue about how we can best support people with a mental health problem I agree is a fundamental issue for us. We will continue to discuss with the mental health lobby, the organisations who are interested, the doctors and all of the representative organisations the best way we can continue to support the needs of people with a mental health problem. We really want to do this, and we, I think, have a platform in Pathways to Work that we can build on, and that is one of the reasons why I said earlier, in relation to what Justine or Greg was asking me, that we should look at Pathways as an evolving journey. I do not want it to become a highly prescriptive, process-driven exercise where there are certain things that have to happen in a mechanical way. You have to have your conditionality arrangements properly defined, because that is absolutely essential in terms of legal clarity and so on, but in all of these areas we should—and I hope this is what comes out of our involvement in the private and voluntary sector, by the way—be able to develop a more sophisticated model that in relation to mental health provides more ongoing post-employment help and support as part of the package that we provide, and I think, looking at the expertise of the mental health organisations, the mental health charities, the voluntary sector, we have a unique opportunity. It will be a big collaboration between the public and the private and voluntary sector, a great opportunity to build into our successful Pathways programmes more of the expertise of the voluntary sector. That is one way that I hope we can provide more effective and tailored support for people with mental health problems.

  Q324  Mr Dunne: I would like to ask one or two questions about the practicalities of roll-out of Pathways at the same time as the efficiency savings programme is going through the Department, and in particular in Jobcentre Plus. With the move to contact centres and the much-reduced office network, do you think there are going to be sufficient personal advisers in the right place to be able to carry out the roll-out across the country?

  Mr Hutton: Yes, I do, and I say that for two reasons. There is a head count reduction programme under way in the Department and we have lost nearly 15,000 staff through it, and another 15,000 still to go, as it were, over the next two years or so. Alongside that head count reduction, Jobcentre Plus is trying to make a major shift of emphasis and focus within the organisation to more people actually doing face-to-face work with our customers in Jobcentre Plus. So I think something like 10,000 staff in Jobcentre Plus are being moved from one part of the organisation into our front office, and that is entirely right, so they can provide more of this proactive help and support. The second reason why I think we will be able to do this is that Jobcentre Plus is currently involved in delivering a third, essentially, of the Pathways exercise. Two-thirds of it will be delivered by the private and voluntary sector, and there will clearly be a commissioning and procurement process established to do that, and clearly, it will be part and parcel of that procurement exercise that the private and voluntary sector provider establishes that capacity and capability within the service that it is running. So I am confident that we will be able to provide the very important face-to-face contact on a regular basis that is key to the success of these types of support packages.

  Q325  Mr Dunne: Are the current personal advisers ring-fenced from the efficiency-saving work force reduction?

  Mr Hutton: As I said, we are clear that we can do the head count reduction and build up at the same time our personal adviser network, our range of contact services between ourselves and our customers. To that extent you could say that that is true; they are ring-fenced, yes.

  Q326  Mr Dunne: One of the things I always bring up at these sessions, I am afraid, is that I represent a very rural constituency where, for example, in the town of Ludlow the Jobcentre Plus has just been closed, and there is a particular issue. I hope you will forgive me for bringing up a constituency matter, but it came to me by e-mail on Friday. The 12 people formerly working in the Ludlow office, of whom a number were personal advisers, have shrunk to three, now operating out of the local library. I received an e-mail from a claimant on Friday and, if you will bear with me, I will just read it to you to illustrate the problem. It says that "everyone going the library can see who is attending the Jobcentre. Often there are a line of people. Secondly, there are private matters discussed clearly within earshot of other people. I cannot understand why the centre is not positioned in a private room." This is an issue which I have brought up with the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus previously, but it just illustrates one of the problems that I see, this clash. You are trying to do so much in the Department to be able to provide sufficient access to people in remote areas for their initial interviews, their work-focused interviews, and I can see that it is going to give rise to problems for claimants who feel embarrassment at having to discuss their personal affairs in front of other people?

  Mr Hutton: I do not like the sound of that arrangement and I think that will need to be looked at again. On a broader level—and I will certainly have a look at that—I think it is perfectly possible to do this restructuring exercise through a combination of efficiency measures like centralising the benefit processing function, using call centres as a method of contact, as well as reinforce the front line, which is really important, that people actually do the face-to-face contact work, and that is very much what Jobcentre Plus are trying to do through this reorganisation exercise. I think it is really important that we focus on the front line here. Many other organisations, both in the public and the private sector, have been through these sorts of change exercises, and I think what you have to be really clear about is the outcomes that you want, what you do not want to see knocked on the head or compromised by these changes, and I think what that means in terms of Jobcentre Plus is an absolutely rigid and clear set of priorities about our front line, about the need to support people on incapacity benefits with proper face-to-face advice, and everything I see convinces me that we are capable of doing that, we are doing this in the right way, and I am sure this is what the private and voluntary sector will want to do as part of the roll-out of Pathways to Work over the next two years.

  Q327  Mr Dunne: One of the issues that was raised by some of the groups giving evidence was the workload of an individual personal adviser, and in particular the difficulty as the number of claimants increases, given the pressures that we have been talking about, with the length of claim. Put simply, it takes longer to deal with somebody who has been on incapacity benefits for a longer period of time. We also had evidence from some of the specialist voluntary groups that they do not feel they are being used properly to address some of the specific issues of some client groups. In particular, we had the RNIB and the RNID saying that they could deal with people who are, respectively, blind or deaf much better than any of the people who are likely to be less trained in the specific requirements of those claimants. What steps are you taking to try and address clients groups being referred properly to the most appropriate voluntary groups to help get them into work?

  Mr Hutton: I agree. This is an area where we should be prepared to think some new thoughts. In relation to the Pathways roll-out, again, organisations like the RNID and RNIB are perfectly capable, and I hope they do say to us, "Look, we would like to work as a partner in delivering the roll-out of Pathways." That would be a tremendously good thing to happen for our welfare state. That sort of broader partnership, where we involve the public sector but with the expertise of the private and voluntary sector, would be a good thing for the welfare state, not a bad thing, particularly, I suspect, in this case, for the reason you are alluding to, that it will be in those parts of the voluntary sector where some of the expertise is very especially concentrated, and we should use that for the benefit of incapacity benefits claimants. I think the roll-out of Pathways gives an opportunity for the voluntary sector in the example that you have given to become a much more proactive partner with Jobcentre Plus, and I really do hope that happens. In relation to the wider question about personal advisers, in relation to IB, we are seeing a very significant fall in the number of new claimants coming into the system, down by a third in the last two years, and I hope that will help ease some of the pressure on some of the front line, particularly the personal advisers, who do a brilliant job actually, but again, I think with the personal advisers, you will find quite a variation in contact and interviews and so on that they have across the week or the month or even the year with other parts of the country. There is not, I think, a standard operating model, and neither should there be. It will depend on horses for courses and everything else. I think the Green Paper offers us the opportunity, in simple terms, to join up the public sector with the private and voluntary sector in a very dynamic and important way, and that will benefit everyone.

  Q328  Mr Dunne: Is there any evidence from Pathways that it improves the reduction of long-term incapacity benefits claimants from coming off and getting into work? When we were in Holland we saw some particularly good evidence that the greater the amount of time that personal advisers and voluntary groups were able to devote to longer-term claimants, the higher the success rate they appeared to have in getting people back into work.

  Mr Hutton: The roll-out of Pathways initially, of course, was Jobcentre Plus. We have not had a huge amount of opportunity to test the private and voluntary sector-led exercises, but in the Employment Zone, for example, the private and voluntary sector providers have a very good track record in improving outcomes for incapacity benefits claimants and Jobseeker's Allowance claimants. I think their performance actually exceeds Jobcentre Plus in a number of very important respects. So there is some evidence there to that effect. What I do not have is any evidence, for example, in relation to Pathways that says the critical moment of trajectory lift-off is after, say, three work-focused interviews or four or five. I do not know the answer to that question. I would like to find out.

  Q329  Mr Dunne: When you do, if you do, perhaps you could let us know. On outcomes—I am sorry to labour the point—do you have any evidence from Pathways that providing a greater incentive for outcomes assists, again, those who are the most difficult to get back into work?

  Mr Hutton: I do not think we do from the Pathways because it is not outcome-based funding that we have applied. We certainly do have evidence from the Employment Zone that outcome-based funding can really make a difference, and the one thing that we have not mentioned today in relation to this point is that we have a twin-track approach. We have talked essentially about Pathways. I do not know whether anyone wanted to mention the city strategy that we outlined in the Green Paper, but we have another tool in the locker here which I think potentially could be very significant. In our so-called city strategy we are proposing to try and mobilise not just our resources in DWP but resources across the public sector, and some in the private and voluntary sector, in waging what I hope will be a new war on worklessness in some of our big cities. It is a major problem. We have tackled unemployment very successfully but economic inactivity in some of our big cities is still chronic and is a serious problem for us, for our economy and for the health and wellbeing of those communities. The city strategy is an attempt to try and pool the resources, as I said, right across the public and private and voluntary sector, using outcome-based funding where we can, to incentivise particular outcomes, and of course, in this case it will be getting people into work and keeping them in work. There is certainly evidence that those sorts of contractual models can be effective and that is why we are interested in exploring in the city strategy how much further we can go.

  Q330  Mr Dunne: Does that mean you will be extending Employment Zones?

  Mr Hutton: No, it is not really an extension of Employment Zones. The city strategy is slightly different. A lot of them will be local authority-led, they will involve consortia of other parts of the public sector and the private and voluntary sector, and they will be certainly in the general area of back-to-work help and support services, but they will involve a broader and wider partnership than the Employment Zones. In terms of outcome funding, it is not a totally different model.

  Q331  Mr Dunne: But in relation to Employment Zones, is that programme going to be left to wither?

  Mr Hutton: We have not made any decisions with regard to Employment Zones. They have had some success, and I think it is usually a good idea to promote success, not to strangle it.

  Mr Dunne: I would agree with that.

  Q332  John Penrose: Minister, having talked about your job as getting people prepared and closer to the world of work as the main thrust of what you are trying to do, having got them as ready as they can be to re-enter work, can we talk about whether the barriers of getting employers to agree to employ them and, having employed them, keeping them in work once they are there? A number of the charities we spoke to last week were saying they had huge difficulties convincing employers to take on potential employees with disabilities of one sort or another, so much so that one of them said the only way they could make it happen was to personally go and talk to the hiring managers and convince them over a period of time that this was not a terrible thing they were asking them to do. Do you have any plans to introduce more carrots or more sticks to get more employers to accept people with incapacity issues as employees?

  Mr Hutton: There are a number of things. There is a process of education that we need to be involved in and we are involved in. The Disabilities Rights Commission I know does a lot of work in this area, and so do we. We have run a number of campaigns around disability awareness, and we are actually in the middle of the final phase of that campaign. That will last for several more months. I think we should continue to do that energetically, because I think education is a very important part of it. I think we have to move people on from the stereotypes, as I said earlier about incapacity benefits. It is difficult. I have met employers, and I am sure you have as well, who will say, "I am not interested. It is not right for my business, I cannot have people like that working." We have to really tackle that. Our fundamental responsibility, however, through Pathways to Work and these other schemes is to make sure when we are providing people for employers to consider that they are job-ready. That is the most important single contribution we can make in this process. Beyond that it is difficult but we have the backdrop of Disability Discrimination legislation. I know that is obviously a last resort, not a first resort. The other thing I would say is that I do generally become frustrated about this, because it is I think it is possible to do this, and I am hacked off when people say "It is too difficult, we cannot do this. Let us just give up." We should never give up, and the success of Pathways to Work, with 21,500 job entries, many of them people who had been on IB for some considerable time, many with mental health problems, shows that it can be done, and I think we should approach this problem from that perspective, not say it is too difficult, it can never happen and employers will never be interested. In a changing labour market and with the process of demographic change that is under way, more and more employers are going to be looking at whether this is a potential source of new recruits for their business. They will not do that, however, if we cannot provide people with proper help and support so they are job-ready. It is a bit of a chicken and egg, but we have to do our bit. Our bit is the job readiness, and I think if we can do that, we can break through this barrier. It is a barrier. It is probably the last great social emancipation issue of our time, the rights of disabled people. We have to make progress here. We have to keep driving it and not say it is all too difficult and we should not bother.

  Q333  John Penrose: I completely accept it is important not to say it is all too difficult. I am just concerned that you are focusing, in economics terms, on the supply side of the problem rather than the demand side and, from what you are saying, you recognise that there is a very long way to travel on the demand side to match that up. Is education going to be enough, and is it going to get us there fast enough?

  Mr Hutton: No, I think we have to do both. I do not know whether you have heard any evidence from the Disability Management Employer Coalition. These guys are doing a really good job for us up and down the country in explaining the benefits of recruiting in this area and making sure employers themselves understand the issues and the difficulties. There is a very well-established network now of employers who are prepared to co-operate with Jobcentre Plus, nearly 1,000 across the country, some very big, who are willing to sit down and talk through these issues with us, and I think we need to do more of that. I am confident that is the right way to tackle these problems. But there is no silver bullet. I wish there were. I have been annoyed to hear what I have picked up from some sources and some employers saying, "Oh no, I could not possibly have someone on Incapacity Benefit working for me." We have to challenge that and we have to be absolutely clear in this modern society that that sort of attitude is not acceptable. Clearly, an employer is not going to employ someone if they do not believe that person is capable of doing the job that they have on offer. That is our job, that is fully our responsibility to respond to, and that is what Pathways, the whole Green Paper is all about trying to do. It is our offering, it is our part of the equation, and we are determined to try and deliver it properly.

  Q334  John Penrose: Finally on this, you said you have roughly 1,000 employers in this network. Do you have a target or figure in mind for what you would regard as a success to expand that network to indicate that you are making enough progress on getting the demand side of that equation right?

  Mr Hutton: I would like more employers involved, of course, but we are working with the employers themselves on this. The CBI and others have provided very good support to us on this and we are going to continue to work through that network of employers. Often, the messages that employers need to hear are best heard from other employers.

  Q335  John Penrose: But no target on that?

  Mr Hutton: We do not have a target for that, no.

  Q336  John Penrose: Having got people into work, obviously it is important to make sure they stay there if at all possible, so can we talk about job retention? We have had a number of people who have given us evidence saying that various kinds of in-work support either could be extended to provide, for example, personal advisers to remain in touch with people after they got jobs, or alternatively to extend the existing sorts of in-work support which you are providing beyond the six months that you are providing it in the Pathways areas for a longer period than that. Do you have any plans to extend in-work support either in duration of time or in terms of type?

  Mr Hutton: I think this is something that probably will emerge through the evaluation of the Pathways to Work through pilot schemes. There may be more we need to do here. I accept that, and we should be open-minded about that. The help and support that we provide for people in work is not just confined to that sort of service. There is the Access to Work programme, which is a very important part of this. There we have more than doubled the numbers of people getting help under that scheme. We are rapidly improving the turn-around of applications under Access to Work for help and support; that is going exactly in the right direction, and we are planning to spend more in each of the subsequent years of the Spending Review on providing access to work. We have Workstep and we have other programmes in that area that are making an inroad into this. I think it is a very important part of the overall component of the support we should provide and we should be willing, if the case can be made that the evidence is there for doing more in this area. Yes, absolutely.

  Q337  John Penrose: I was going to ask you about Access to Work but I think you have answered my question about extending the funding of that, because it sounds as if you are going to need to ramp up the amount of money you are spending on that quite substantially.

  Mr Hutton: We have published plans for how we are going to extend Access to Work.

  Q338  John Penrose: A final query on retention. The RNIB came up with the idea of rehabilitation leave, rather like, I suppose, parental leave or something for people who were becoming sick or ill, developing incapacities while working. Is that extension of employer responsibilities and working with employees who are becoming ill something you have considered?

  Mr Hutton: It is not. I think we have to be careful about imposing additional cost and burdens on employers in that regard, but if the RNIB have specific proposals that they would like us to consider, we would obviously look very carefully at that. You would expect me to say that, but if that emerges from the Green Paper as an issue of concern, again, we would have to carefully reflect on that.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Secretary of State. You have escaped alive!

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