Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Leicester City Council after the publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  This is a follow-up response to the one made by Leicester City Council, Advice and Economic Development Group in September 2005. We have conducted a consultation exercise across all departments in the Council in making this supplementary submission.

  1.2  Leicester City Council supports the Government's intention, stated in the paper "A New Deal for Welfare: Empowering People into Work", of addressing barriers that incapacity benefit claimants, lone parents and people aged over 50 to increase their opportunities of getting into employment. We are also pleased to find that most of the recommendations that were made in our initial response have been incorporated in the strategy. We have additional points to make that we hope will assist in effectively delivering the strategy.

2.  EFFECTIVE MECHANISMS AND TACKLING WORKLESSNESS IN CITIES

  2.1  We strongly support the Government's view that in aiming to increase the prosperity of the country as a whole it is essential to tackle the areas of deprivation and poverty in our cities. A key priority in Leicester City Council's Corporate Plan is to promote prosperity and new jobs while safeguarding people's health and development interests through helping disadvantaged people into sustainable employment.

  2.2   We think that the most effective vehicle for achieving this aim at a local level will be through encouraging the establishment of employer led consortia.

  2.3  One of the main concerns that we had when making our previous submission was gaining the active involvement of employers in helping to increase the employment rates of the target groups. We welcome the idea of establishing local consortia in cities as a means of achieving this. The Government's paper suggests that the Local Area Agreement infrastructure could be pivotal in establishing a consortium, drawing a partnership together comprising a range of partners such as local authorities, health professionals, voluntary sector and employers and we see the sense of this in that Area Committees offer opportunities to penetrate at a community level.

  2.4  However, as we pointed out in our previous submission, there have been difficulties, in the past, in getting employers to give a full commitment to becoming involved in local partnerships that aim to actively deliver Government labour market policies.

  2.5  We repeat our previous recommendation (paragraph 7.4 in our initial response) that one possible way to overcome employers' reluctance would be for the Government to encourage delivery of strategy through local employer led consortia. This could be achieved through Government giving clear direction and resources to Local Strategic Partnerships to enable them to establish and publicise the benefits of employer consortia. Having employers' consortia as an arm of Local Strategic Partnerships would also help build linkages between the consortia and the local communities where many of the worklessness live.

  2.6  Leicester City Council, through its Local Strategic Partnership, is in the process of encouraging the development of an employer's forum that will aim to address issues in the labour market. The intention is that the forum will comprise a number of agencies including Jobcentre Plus, Learning and Skills Council, training providers, job brokers and the local authority but will be employer led. Initial sounding from employers are promising as they see that this has potential for tackling some recruitment and retention issues they have and sharing good practice.

  2.7  The feedback obtained so far from employers is that an employer consortium should focus on recruitment and retention among the target groups. This could involve:

    —    working through job brokers to reach the target groups particularly at a community level;

    —    increasing the skill and employability levels of individuals in target groups; and

    —    introducing a package of measures that would assist employers in recruiting and, once in work, supporting new recruits from the target groups.

3.  ENCOURAGING PILOT INITIATIVES

  3.1  Employers may still be reluctant to develop dedicated strategies aimed at the target groups until they see some practical advantages for them in doing so. This is particularly so with many individuals in the target groups having issues that will have to be addressed, not only in getting them into a job, but also in supporting them in employment once they have started in work.

  3.2  The second point that we wish to make, therefore, is that funding should be made available to employers' consortia to encourage employers to pilot initiatives that aim to increase their recruitment or retention rates among the target groups.

  3.3  Examples of such initiatives could include employers using existing staff to provide a buddying or mentoring system in the workplace. However, employers would expect some recompense for loss of production if staff were spending some of their time supporting new recruits.

  3.4  The concept can be thought of as being similar to grants being made available to employers to make adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act to support the recruitment and retention of disabled employees.

  3.5  Such measures can bring advantages to employers in the medium term, such as helping build staff development, as well as providing day to day support to new recruits with the personal support that many of them will need.

4.  CLAIMANT'S ACTION PLAN

  4.1  We agree that the range of activities presented in Figure 2.5 of the report constitute a range of suitable activities that would constitute an action plan with a couple of additions and a couple of caveats.

  4.2  Leicester City Council is responsible for managing a welfare to work project called the Job Service Partnership (JSP) that is funded through NRF. The JSP includes an employment after-care support service which new employees have found invaluable in assisting them to sustain their employment to 13 weeks and beyond.

  4.3  We have found that it is important that clients are made aware of this service as it helps set out their rights and responsibilities within the project. The support service can encourage clients to take the step into employment; it can also make sure that clients are encouraged to attend work on a regular basis. We recommend, therefore, that an after-care employment support service is built into all claimants' action plans.

  4.4  It is also important that any action plan is tailored to individual's needs—the success of Leicester City Council's delivery of the welfare to work project is that it supplements Jobcentre Plus by agreeing individual action plans with its clients. Effective job matching is part of individuals' action plans. This is important for clients' motivation as well as persuading employers that it is worth their time to engage with the project. We recommend, therefore, identification of suitable jobs and job brokering support is also built into claimants' action plans.

  4.5  It is important that the service is tailored to clients' needs throughout the process. We, therefore, take issue with the proposal that clients undergo a work-focused interview after eight weeks but the Personal Capability Assessment is completed in three months. This smacks of an underlying measures being taken to put some pressure on clients to take employment. It does not lie comfortably with the aim of encouraging employers and agencies to look positively at what people can do.

  4.6  We think that it would help enormously in addressing some of an employers' concerns to recruit incapacity benefit claimants if an individual could show an employer what they have been assessed as capable of doing. This would also help any job brokering assistance. We recommend, therefore, that an individual should not be required to attend a work focused interview until the Personal Capability Assessment has been completed.

  4.7  We would expect clarity and limits on what constitutes work tasters, particularly with work trials and permitted work in order to assure clients that their circumstances would not be exploited by employers.

5.  ROLE OF WORK IN RECUPERATION

  5.1  We welcome the input that Occupational Health has been given in the paper as a further attempt to assist and help employers become involved in delivering the strategy. Indeed we think that the role of Occupational Health could be extended further. We believe that Occupational Health should have an input into conducting the Personal Capability Assessment. This would help ensure that the Assessment is not conducted in a vacuum but takes into consideration aspects of the particular type of employment that has been identified in the claimant's action plan and thus follow on from individual job assessment. This step would also strengthen any job brokering system that is developed.

6.  EXTENDING THE SIX MONTH WORK RELATED ACTIVITY PLAN

  6.1  Generally, we would say that it would be reasonable to extend the activity plan if the plan breaks down for any reason outside the claimant's control. A common situation that the JSP comes across in delivering welfare to work is that many job entry jobs are fixed term contracts and after the job has expired the claimant returns onto the register. It is important that we support and build upon claimants' experience in these circumstances. This could mean the claimant going past the six month limit from when they first received the premium.

7.  EMPLOYMENT RATES

  7.1  The Government's stated aim is to increase the overall employment rate, nationally, to 80%. This target, however, has no regard to the quality or sustainability of employment. We have found that this can have severe repercussions in delivering welfare to work projects. Many of the entry level jobs on offer do not have guaranteed hours or the hours can fluctuate wildly from week to week—some may say this is a product of encouraging a flexible labour market. People in these circumstances are often, understandably, reluctant to leave benefits when the jobs being offered include such degrees of uncertainty. For those that do take the risk and come off benefit, the JSP has found that for a proportion of people work has not paid.

  7.2  Neither does increasing employment rates equate necessarily to any increase in productivity—this should be measured by the number of working hours. We think, therefore, that the Government could reset its target from increasing the employment rate to increasing the number of working hours in the country. This would still keep the focus on productivity while at the same time it might help focus away from "any type of job will do" and increase employment sustainability.

Bob Blyth



 
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