Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Local Government Association (LGA)

BACKGROUND

  1.  The Local Government Association (LGA) represents over 500 local authority in England and Wales covering a population of over 50 million people and spending totalling around £74 billion a year on local services.

  2.  The LGA exists to promote better local government. We work with and for our member authorities to realise a shared vision of local government that enables local people to shape a distinctive and better future for their locality and its communities.

  3.  The LGA welcomes the opportunity to respond to this call for evidence as local authorities will be affected by changes to Incapacity Benefit across a range of key service functions. Councils play an important role in increasing access to employment, especially among hard to reach groups. They also have a key role through social services in helping people currently on benefits to find work where appropriate using advice and signposting. Finally they also administer benefits and benefits advice.

REFORM OF INCAPACITY BENEFIT

  The LGA welcomes the aim to:

    —  Re-formulate the system to enable people to get back to work as research has shown that at least one million of the 2.6 million incapacity benefit claimants would like to work again.

    —  Provide greater investment in terms of more personal support.

    —  Simplify current complexities and reducing the risks of trying work.

    —  Provide greater financial support for all, particularly those with most severe functional limitations.

  The LGA hopes that the changes will provide an opportunity to:

    —  Provide a more effective assessment for those with mental health problems.

    —  Extend the positive support for getting people with disabilities back to work to help others find suitable employment such as clients with learning disabilities.

    —  Ensure that there is advice and support not just at the point of moving to full-time paid work but throughout considering, finding and retaining employment.

  The LGA would welcome consideration being given to:

    —  Ensuring there is no negative impact of any increased or extra benefits on local authority administered benefits, for example, housing and council tax benefits.

    —  Changes to the benefit system going hand-in-hand with more resources aimed at preventative work, for example working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to reduce accidents at work and ensuring local transport networks support the employment needs of the area.

    —  Further local incentives being provided eg through re-investing benefit savings in a locality to develop further supported employment schemes within a local area.

    —  Incorporating the points from the recent DWP research into the role of Personal Advisers in the Pathways to Work pilot areas before further changes are rolled out.

    —  A range of stakeholders being involved in establishing how distinctions between conditions are assessed and what the content of the "return to work activities" will be.

    —  Ensuring that access to enterprise is promoted as a route for IB claimants to return to work. The Association considers that IB claimants should be eligible for the "self employment routeway" training currently offered by jobcentre plus as part of the work based learning for adults. Self employment could be a particularly attractive route for those groups who face multiple barriers to the job market such as long term unemployed who are over 50 years old.

    —  Building in flexibility to national programmes to ensure that they can be easily tailored to unique circumstances in localities.

    —  Ensuring that existing mechanisms and programmes to reduce worklessness such as those within Regional Skills Partnerships are fully recognised and engaged in any reforms to IB.

  The LGA has reservations about the use of sanctions and would welcome consideration that:

    —  Changes to the system are communicated carefully so some of the most vulnerable sections of society, especially those will mental health problems, do not fear a reduction or termination in their benefit.

    —  The new system/provision will be designed to meet a wide variety of groups and capacities for work, especially those with fluctuating conditions and those who have been on the benefit for long time.

    —  People have every incentive possible to try out work, for example, through improved linking rules and extra money to stay in work.

    —  Whilst supporting greater independence, benefits will still meet the higher daily living costs often faced by those unable to work due illness or injury.

    —  Any compulsion and sanctions should not lead to people having to take employment that only leaves them and their families only marginally better off.

    —  Given the fact that many of those on Incapacity Benefit wish to return to work, quality voluntary arrangements, with referral to specialist agencies when appropriate and with guaranteed incentives to work, may be more effective to help people to move to long term employment, rather than compulsion.

    —  Other mechanisms, such as the into-work credit may provide a more effective incentive than the use of sanctions.

  The LGA believes that improvements to benefit policy could ease the transition into work and encourage greater participation. The following suggestions are made:

    —  In order to minimise income insecurity, when an income changes, benefit adjustments need to be made without delay or confusing "linking rules".

    —  The rules regarding the Permitted Work scheme need to be simplified.

    —  Earnings disregards for income related benefits need to be raised to give incentives those receiving them.

    —  Gaining new skills and knowledge need to be valued as a stepping stone to work.

JOBCENTRE PLUS ISSUES

    —  We welcome the productive approach taken by Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and Jobcentre Plus (JCP) officials in joint activity with the LGA in relation to the "helping the hardest to reach into work" area undertaken as part of the "promoting economic vitality" shared priority.

    —  Great strides have been made in promoting partnership working through eg the joint DWP/LGA National Partnership Accord in 2003 and the development of a practitioners "toolkit" for local authorities and JCP local managers on partnership working in July 2004 which promoted approaches such as joint labour market planning.

    —  However, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the current reorganisation of JCP which local authorities say is affecting partnership work at a local level, especially around welfare advice work, and long-term planning.

    —  The success of the new model will depend on providers being able to work in partnership, for example with advice agencies or community organisations.

    —  Government agencies such as JCP need to be encouraged and enabled to work flexibly with local authorities to develop innovative approaches to tackle employment and skills needs. We do not want all this positive joint activity to be jeopardised by the knock on effect of efficiency savings.

    —  The context of Jobcentre Plus efficiency savings may conflict with the increased role of personal advisers.

    —  The welcome emphasis put on the circumstances of the individual claimant may conflict with an increasingly target driven approach.

THE ROLE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT

  The LGA sees the role of local government in helping people back to work as central:

    —  Effective local partnership working is essential for the effective development of any employment programmes. Any changes needs to be carefully co-ordinated at a local level with local authorities to have maximum effect on social inclusion.

  As the attached short case study examples illustrate, local authorities often play a key role in developing innovative and creative programmes around increasing access to employment. Local authorities will be involved in identifying local skills shortages, engaging with local businesses and devising and delivering life long learning strategies. Though such initiatives as Local Area Agreements local authorities will work in close partnership with the main partners and stakeholders locally, pooling resources to deliver joint objectives and common aims.

    —  As local government is itself a large employer and one that is keen to involve the whole of its community, we hope that funding streams, such as Access to Work, will still be obtainable by local authorities to ensure that they can provide sufficient adaptations and alterations for new employees with disabilities.

Stella Alkintan

3 October 2005



 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 6 May 2006