Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Association of Learning Providers (ALP)

A.  INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Association of Learning Providers (ALP) represents the interests of a range of organisations delivering State-funded vocational learning. The majority of our 411 member organisations are independent providers holding contracts with the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) for the delivery of Apprenticeships programmes, with 110 delivering Jobcentre Plus (JCP) provision and 50 contracted to Ufi for the delivery of learndirect. In addition to these members, we have a number of non-delivery organisations such as the ALI and QCA as Associate Members, which means that ALP offers a well rounded and comprehensive perspective and insight on matters relating to its remit.

  2.  With regard to JCP provision, our membership database reports that our ALP members deliver to around 30,000 clients in the course of a year. Virtually all strands of JCP provision are represented, including the various New Deals, Workstep, Pathways to Work (PTW) and Self-Employment.

  3.  Over the last two years we have built up strong relations within JCP and have aimed to place ourselves as a "critical friend", ensuring that provider views are adequately represented but also ensuring that JCP perspectives are accurately passed back to our membership. We have also recently established high-levels relations with the Minister for Work, the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP which has resulted in regular meetings with our Chairman and Chief Executive.

  4.  We believe therefore that we are in an excellent position to pass comment on aspects of your current inquiry, particularly in relation to the potential impact of changes to JCP provision on other areas of the skills/employment infrastructure. We would be delighted to give oral evidence to the committee should this be required.

B.  SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS

    (a)  The future credibility of the Pathways to Work initiative is in large part reliant on the confidence of the supply side that continued involvement is in their interest, and will not result in yet further destabilisation to their organisations, as is being currently caused by involvement in other apparently successful initiatives such as Ambition. The DWP reform agenda is currently being perceived as "taking out" even well-performing provision, in which case the willingness of the private and voluntary sector to participate in Pathways to Work in the future could be seriously compromised.

    (b)  Serious consideration must be given to the rate of payments being made to those whose health is improving having been initially accepted as eligible for a reformed IB benefit. There is the possibility of an unintended benefit trap being created which will in itself create a barrier to a return to work where none should exist.

    (c)  We do not believe that Jobcentre Plus is currently sufficiently robust to be able to carry through a major reform agenda such as IB (Incapacity Benefit) whilst simultaneously being asked to reduce its staffing and reorganise mainstream return-to-work provision without any new money to fund the changes already being asked of it.

    (d)  We believe that the DWP efficiencies agenda is overshadowing the fundamental remit of JCP and its ability to perform some of its core functions. With this in mind it would seem unwise to ask it to press ahead with a large scale reform of IB until its current situation is much further towards resolution.

    (e)  The potential of the Pathways to Work initiative and the IB reforms in general are inextricably tied up with the ability of JCP to successfully deliver them. The apparent lack of strategic thinking behind current changes taking place does not lend great confidence to the view that JCP will be able to successfully handle such a major piece of reform at this time without additional resources.

C.  REFORMS TO INCAPACITY BENEFITS

What lessons can be learned from the Pathways to Work pilots in shaping the direction of the reform of incapacity benefits?

  1.  The major lesson that we feel can be learned is the benefit to be had from true multi-agency working, in that with Pathways we have had pilots involving Jobcentre Plus (JCP), healthcare professionals, and independent learning and employment organisations working to a clear common purpose, which has resulted in marked improvements in return to work rates in a reasonably short timescale. In relative terms this has been an initiative that has not attracted adverse concern or comment from our members, and the early statistical indicators of its success have been reasonably unambiguous and positive.

  2.  We have however, already seen the effect of the current reforms within DWP/JCP adversely impact on other successful employment initiatives such as Ambition, which have effectively been closed down as a result, even though they were welcomed and were generally felt to be working well. We are concerned that whilst attention is being given to the success of pilots and initiatives in isolation, that a wider view still needs to be taken as to how the reform agenda affects their future rollout, working and effectiveness. In blunt terms, this is a JCP pilot that seems to have worked well, yet the perception is nevertheless that it is still under threat due to an "external" force (ie the overall DWP reform agenda) which is intensely frustrating and counter-productive as besides anything else it undermines confidence in DWP/JCP's ability to provide any sort of continuity, even where success is evident.

Will the reforms help to improve work incentives for sick and disabled people?

Is it possible to distinguish between those who are able to return to work and those who cannot?

  3.  We are not sure that the proposed reforms to IB payments will necessarily incentivise a return to work as such, because over time new claimants to the system will become used to, and will thus accommodate, the fact that on application they will receive a Holding Benefit equivalent to JSA (Jobseekers Allowance) prior to a PCA (Personal Capability Assessment) that may or may not pass them on to a higher rate of benefit at a later stage. In our experience clients still differentiate for the most part between a return to work and higher levels of benefit in that they seek to optimise the chances of receiving both rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive. There are of course hard-core exceptions to this, but these are as unlikely to be incentivised by these reforms as they are by the current structures.

  4.  Having said that, we have some concerns that those who may initially be assessed as receiving a Disability and Sickness Allowance, but who are rehabilitated sufficiently to move them back up to Rehabilitation Support Allowance (which would presumably be at a lower rate), may inadvertently find themselves in a benefit trap whereby to move "up" a band may involve a loss of income even though they are ready, able and willing to work. Such clients will still require a large degree of support before regaining employment—in fact, probably more than those who have only ever received the Disability and Sickness Allowance—yet they will find themselves being paid benefits at a lower rate as a result of regaining some degree of health. This naturally would have a disincentivising effect and undermine the purpose of the reforms. This issue may be resolved by setting a differentiated benefit level for those transferring "up" the system as opposed to "down" it.

  5.  Our members have found that almost all referrals made by JCP to them are able to work in some form, indicating that it is indeed possible to distinguish between those who can return to work and those who cannot. In many cases such distinctions can be made purely on the basis of common sense without need for a raft of guidelines or legislation.

Will the reforms address the main areas of concern with the current system?

  6.  We feel that this structure better reflects an expectation by society of a return to work, rather than the structural implication currently given that a health issue can rule out any return to work for an indefinite period.

RECOMMENDATIONS

    —  The future credibility of the Pathways to Work initiative is in large part reliant on the confidence of the supply side that continued involvement is in their interest and will not result in yet further destabilisation to their organisations, as is being currently caused by involvement in other apparently successful initiatives such as Ambition. The DWP reform agenda is currently being perceived as "taking out" even well-performing provision, in which case the willingness of the private and voluntary sector to participate in Pathways to Work in the future could be seriously compromised.

    —  Serious consideration must be given to the rate of payments being made to those whose health is improving having been initially accepted as eligible for a reformed IB benefit. There is the possibility of an unintended benefit trap being created which will in itself create a barrier to a return to work where none should exist.

D.  JOBCENTRE PLUS RESOURCES

Is Jobcentre Plus sufficiently resourced to deliver the Pathways pilots, both in terms of staffing and finances? Are they equipped to deal with a reform programme for Incapacity Benefit?

  7.  At the moment it is very unclear whether JCP is sufficiently resourced to deliver what is currently being required of them in terms of BoND and procurement changes to provision generally, let alone being given an additional major piece of reform to implement such as Pathways.

  8.  Whilst we believe that the Pathways to Work pilot is indicative of a solid way forward in dealing with the issue of returning IB claimants to the workplace, it must not be forgotten that JCP has a fundamental role to play in ensuring that the population at large have access to job finding and job retraining provision that can be trusted to both access employment and provide training to such a level as to give reasonable prospects of such employment being sustained. It currently seems that the IB reform agenda in the widest sense is adversely impacting on this area of JCP's ability, and that JCP is now being asked to do too much with too little. This leads to resource decisions that may well be argued as sensible in terms of the best use of very limited resources, but actually "rob Peter to pay Paul" in terms of the overall ability of the service to keep the UK workforce working.

  9.  Indeed, the September 2005 issue of Working Brief from the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion reports that JCP Advisers are already raising concerns about "an increasingly pressurised workload . . . having a detrimental effect on their ability to devote the required amount of time to their caseloaded customers"[28]—and this is before the IB reform agenda has been seriously implemented.

What has been the effect of the DWP efficiencies agenda?

  10.  One immediate effect has been to divert attention away from the desirable outputs of the processes that have been put in place, to discussions about the new processes themselves and how they may or do differ from their predecessors. This is not helpful; we are very much of the opinion that the process is not as important as the outcome we are seeking from it—in this case sustainable employment—but inevitably the DWP's efficiency agenda, and the uncertainty this has created amongst the supplier base, has focused attention on the wrong things.

  11.  We fully understand that efficiencies need to be found, but we are greatly concerned that this need is overshadowing the fundamental remit of both JCP and DWP, certainly in the short term and maybe the medium term as well. Although in the longer-term it may be that a workable equilibrium between process and output re-establishes itself, given that the DWP is operating to a 5-year plan (up to 2010) this may not be soon enough to be productive and effective.

  12.  We also feel that there is an overriding need across JCP for simplified systems for provider delivery, particularly contracting, to be put in place. All too often time and resource is spent by providers and JCP alike in bureaucratic tendering and re-tendering exercises that would be better spent at the front line of client delivery.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

    —  We do not believe that Jobcentre Plus is currently sufficiently robust to be able to carry through a major reform agenda such as IB whilst simultaneously being asked to reduce its staffing and reorganise mainstream return-to-work provision without any new money to fund the changes already being asked of it.

    —  We believe that the DWP efficiencies agenda is overshadowing the fundamental remit of JCP and its ability to perform some of its core functions. With this in mind it would seem unwise to ask it to press ahead with a large scale reform of IB until its current situation is much further towards resolution.

E.  EXISTING EMPLOYMENT INITIATIVES

What has been the effect of the Pathways pilots on existing programmes and support, such as the New Deal for Disabled People and Work-Based Learning for Adults?

  13.  ALP members have not reported any adverse impact to us as a result of Pathways to Work directly. Indeed, one member reported increases in the number of IB claimants coming on to NDDP as well as an increase in the number of referrals to mainstream programmes. The same provider did however comment on the number of "Do not attends" on the Condition Management Programme, and the possibility of some form of sanction being needed to be applied as part of a national rollout, to ensure that larger numbers of clients complete the programme.

  14.  Select Committee members should be aware however, that the provision of work-based learning for adults (WBLA) under JCP has been severely curtailed in the immediate future and its continuation beyond April 2006 is in serious jeopardy. In London for example, at the time of writing, JCP has suspended all referrals to WBLA, which covers basic skills, basic employability training and ESOL provision. This is not as a result of the Pathways to Work pilots—which we note, still do not extend to any London Districts, which in itself is odd—but of overall budgetary pressures and reforms within JCP in line with DWP efficiencies. This means that the options for "mainstream" unemployed clients have been drastically reduced, with additionally the original four options of the New Deal—full-time education and training, a subsidised job, Environmental Task Force or Voluntary Service placements—have now been reduced to just one in London, (the ETF or VTS option depending on District.) What is more, as no Pathways to Work pilots operate in London, clients there are limited even more than in the rest of the country.

  15.  Given such swingeing changes to the fabric of JCP provision, and the extremely serious knock-on effect of these changes on the supplier base, with many redundancies of qualified assessors, tutors and trainers—including, astonishingly, basic skills and ESOL trainers—it becomes easier to understand why the confidence of the supply side in the reform of anything under JCP control is being steadily shaken. This cannot be good for the future of Pathways to Work nor for the future of IB reform in general.

RECOMMENDATIONS

    —  The potential of the Pathways to Work initiative and the IB reforms in general are inextricably tied up with the ability of JCP to successfully deliver them. The apparent lack of strategic thinking behind current changes taking place does not lend great confidence to the view that JCP will be able to successfully handle such a major piece of reform at this time without additional resources.

Paul Warner

30 September2005



28   Pond C (2005) Lone Parents: the Route to 70% Employment Working Brief, CESI, September 2005. Back


 
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