Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by One Parent Families

SUMMARY

    —  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 services.

    —  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.  INTRODUCTION

  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 . . ."[1]

  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 but increased.

  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.[2] 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.[3] 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.  JOBCENTRE PLUS CHANGE PROGRAMME

  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.[4] 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 AND TRAINING

  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."[5] Recent evaluation of the roll out of Jobcentre Plus similarly found that:

    "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."[6]

  4.2  We are worried that the idea of specialisms is being diluted—both 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.  CONCLUSION

  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.

Kate Bell

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

2   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

3   Evans M et al (2003) New Deal for Lone Parents: Second Synthesis of the National Evaluation DWP Research Report No 163, DWP. Back

4   Jobcentre Plus (2005) Business Plan 2005-06 Jobcentre Plus. Back

5   Thomas A and Jones G (2003) op cit. Back

6   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


 
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