Memorandum submitted by One Parent Families
One Parent Families is concerned
about the impact of large-scale reforms to Incapacity Benefit
on Jobcentre Plus's ability to deliver existing services.
We are particularly concerned about
the impact of headcount reductions on Jobcentre Plus capacity.
The Jobcentre Plus change programme
also contains risks that may threaten delivery.
Furthermore, a move away from the
use of specialist advisers could have a negative impact on existing
In the light of these concerns, we
believe that significant additional resources will be needed if
Jobcentre Plus is to deliver the Pathways to Work programme and
reform to Incapacity Benefits.
1.1 One Parent Families is the leading campaigning
organisation representing the 1.8 million lone parents and their
children in Britain today.
1.2 While One Parent Families does not have
direct experience of working with Incapacity Benefit claimants
we do have substantial knowledge of Jobcentre Plus programmes
designed to help inactive benefit claimants back to work, principally
the New Deal for Lone Parents.
1.3 Our experience of working with Jobcentre
Plus leads us to have significant concerns about their current
capacity to deliver the substantial programme of reform and additional
activity being proposed to help more people claiming Incapacity
Benefits back to work. This additional activity is being proposed
at a time when Jobcentre Plus is being asked both to cut staff
and to introduce new ways of working. We also worry about the
impact of this programme on other Governmental targets that must
be delivered by Jobcentre Plus including that to have 70% of lone
parents in work by 2010.
1.4 This submission discusses staff numbers,
the Jobcentre Plus change programme and the need for specialist
training for front line Personal Advisers.
2. STAFFING NUMBERS
2.1 The Department for Work and Pensions
is being asked to deliver major headcount reductions, some of
which will affect Jobcentre Plus. Giving evidence to this committee
in February, the then Secretary of State Alan Johnson outlined
these as follows: "By the end of this financial year we plan
to have 122,444 staff, by the end of the next financial year 2005-06
to be down to 111,296 staff, by 2006-07 106,592 and by 2007-08
to 100,000 . . ."
2.2 He suggested that this would mean a
15% reduction in Jobcentre Plus staff. Assurances have been given
that this will not affect "customer facing" staff, but
if the Government are to deliver not only the proposed programme
of reform to Incapacity Benefit but also to achieve its other
targets, front line adviser numbers will need not only to be maintained
2.3 The lone parent employment target gives
a good illustration of the size of the challenge. The Government's
strategy to increase lone parent employment, in particular the
New Deal for Lone Parents delivered by Jobcentre Plus, has been
a success story, with lone parent employment rising by 10 percentage
points since 1997. However, in order to reach the 70% target,
the growth in lone parent employment in the next five years needs
to be triple what it has been in the last five.
This clearly requires an increase in the volume of lone parents
accessing Jobcentre Plus;at present the New Deal for Lone
Parents reaches only around 10% of its client group.
More front line staff will therefore be needed in this area as
well as those needed to deliver the proposed reforms to Incapacity
Benefit. At present we have no assurances that resources are available
to provide these staff.
2.4 Moreover, existing staff in Jobcentre
Plus currently feel under pressure and undervalued due to the
programme of staff cuts. Experienced staff working with lone parents
we spoke to during a recent visit told us that they were thinking
of leaving voluntarily as they no longer felt they were being
given the resources to do their job. DWP needs to attend to these
staff morale issues if experienced staff are to be retained.
3.1 Jobcentre Plus is delivering substantial
changes to the way it operates, with a strategy intended to focus
resources to the most disadvantaged customers, relying more on
telephone and e-channels for other clients.
Much of this will rely on improvements to IT, including the roll
out of the second "Customer Management System"CMS2.
Conversations with advisers working with this system suggest that
this is not proceeding smoothly. Given the experience of movement
to IT based systems in other areas of social policy, for example
the Child Support Agency and Tax Credits, we have concerns about
over reliance on IT systems, and suggest that these may have a
substantial impact on Jobcentre Plus's ability to deliver existing
and future programmes. In our view, a front line and face to face
benefit service will always remain an essential part of Jobcentre
Plus service delivery.
4. ADVISER SPECIALISMS
4.1 The experience of the New Deal for Lone
Parents suggests that specialist Personal Advisers are critical
in delivering an effective service to inactive benefit claimants.
Evaluation of Work Focussed Interviews for lone parents found
that "where their role as specialists is seen as being undermined
and diluted . . . there are reported drops in Adviser morale which
may ultimately affect the success of the initiative."
Recent evaluation of the roll out of Jobcentre Plus similarly
"Jobcentre Plus staff consistently favoured
the use of specialist P[ersonal] A[dviser]s due to the depth of
knowledge and experience they can bring to delivering W[ork] F[ocused]
I[nterview]s with a particular customer group. Staff who specialised
in delivering WFIs to a particular customer group felt they had
a better understanding of customers' circumstances, more awareness
of potential barriers, and detailed information on the options
available to their customers. They believed that this allowed
them to deliver a better service for customers."
4.2 We are worried that the idea of specialisms
is being dilutedboth due to additional pressures on Jobcentres
and as a result of policy decisions to create a more generic scheme.
The Building on New Deal programme (the start date for which is
yet to be announced) is due to test delivering programmes by non-specialist
advisers. We believe that the use of non-specialists is likely
to jeopardise the success of programmes for different groups of
inactive claimants, who may require very different interventions.
5.1 We currently have doubts about the ability
of Jobcentre Plus to deliver its existing targets, and fear that
at present it lacks the capacity to carry out substantial new
activity. The Government have signalled their aspiration for an
80% employment rate, yet significantly more lone parents and Incapacity
Benefit claimants will have to be helped into work if this is
to be achieved. In our view this will not be possible without
substantial new resources for Jobcentre Plus.
17 August 2005
1 HC 298-i Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence
to the Work and Pensions Select Committee: Departmental Efficiencies
2 February 2005. Back
Between 2000 and 2005 the lone parent employment rate rose by
five percentage points from 50% to 55%. Between 2005 and 2010
it needs to rise by 15 percentage points to 70%. Back
Evans M et al (2003) New Deal for Lone Parents: Second
Synthesis of the National Evaluation DWP Research Report No
163, DWP. Back
Jobcentre Plus (2005) Business Plan 2005-06 Jobcentre
Thomas A and Jones G (2003) op cit. Back
McKenna K, Slater A, Steeks J and Walton H (2005) Delivering
the Jobcentre Plus vision: Qualitative Research with Staff and
Customers (Phase 4) Department for Work and Pensions Research
Report No 253 DWP. Back