Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)

SUMMARY

  1.  The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is the largest trade union within both the civil service and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). PCS represents over 330,000 people including 90,000 staff working in the DWP.

  2.  PCS welcomes the select committee's timely evidence session and is happy to supplement this written submission with oral evidence.

  3.  We would also like to provide supplementary memoranda once the Government's Green Paper on the reform of incapacity benefits is published.

  4.  PCS believes that one of the key issues facing the Benefit Reform agenda is the Department's ability to keep its head above water, and it is currently struggling to do so. PCS is concerned that the implementation of the budgetary and staffing cuts announced as part of the Government's efficiency drive will have a disastrous effect on both PCS members and customer services. PCS believes the Department is not in a position to manage these staffing reductions without seriously damaging its levels of performance and service delivery.

  5.  This submission covers the following issues:

    —    PCS welcomes initiatives that assist disadvantaged members of the community, on a voluntary basis, into work.

    —    PCS opposes the decision to make it compulsory to participate in the scheme.

    —    We are concerned that the programme is seen as a cynical way of reducing the numbers of customers claiming Incapacity Benefit.

    —    The Incapacity Benefit Reform Programme can be damaged as a result of the Jobcentre Plus cuts programme.

    —    The associated problems with the IT systems.

    —    The need for adequate resourcing of the Department.

INTRODUCTION

  6.  PCS has engaged with DWP management on the Efficiency programme for the Department since its inception, offering our analysis and advice as well as raising a series of issues about its impact on jobs, operations, planning, terms and conditions and service delivery.

  7.  The development of the programme in Jobcentre Plus is bound up with what is going on in the other Business Units. On 13 January 2005 PCS DWP Group Officers wrote to the Secretary of State and set out what had previously been stated in a meeting with him (see attached letter).

  8.  PCS stated that the jobs cuts programme was likely to have a negative and damaging impact on service delivery and we asked for a moratorium on the cuts in order to allow a breathing space so that a solid platform for change might be established. PCS stressed that we do not oppose change and also accept that change can mean the restructuring of staffing levels but that any such process must be properly planned and managed.

  9.  It is in this context that Jobcentre Plus introduced the Incapacity Benefit (IB) Reforms pilot in 2003. It was initially a voluntary pilot in three Jobcentre Plus Districts from October, becoming compulsory from 22 December 2003, aimed at those customers newly moving onto Incapacity Benefits. From April 2004 a further four Districts joined the pilot. 14 more Districts will be rolling out as follows; four in October 2005, seven in April 2006 and three in October 2006.

  10.  In 2004 the Budget announcement included extra funding for the pilot Districts from early 2005 to extend the compulsory Adviser interview regime to existing customers who had started claiming an incapacity benefit in the two years before the pilot started in their area.

  11.  Jobcentre Plus management have met with PCS regularly throughout the pilot and provided us with a report dated 3 February 2005 that gave details of the outcomes and performance of the pilots up to late 2004.

  12.  PCS welcomed the proposals contained within this initiative as we saw many positives in the extra support that could be given to our customers. In particular we welcomed the involvement of medical experts from the NHS in the Condition Management Programme (CMP) and the extra programme provision. We do, however, believe that customer participation should be voluntary.

  13.  In practice our members involved in the early pilots reported that customer response had been very positive about the initiative. This led, in turn, to greater job satisfaction for our members.

  14.  We believe the decision to make it compulsory to participate in the scheme will have a negative impact on the relationship between the Adviser and the customer. PCS has consistently opposed the use of compulsion to force customers who claim benefits to participate in programmes. We believe that compulsion has a detrimental effect on our Business and the relationship between the customers and Jobcentre Plus. In this case in particular we have concerns that we are dealing with customers suffering an illness and compulsion sends the message that there may be doubts that their illness is genuine.

  15.  The first part of the process involves a Personal Capability Assessment (PCA) that determines the level of incapacity and therefore entitlement to the benefits due. This often leads to a decision that the customer is not entitled to Incapacity Benefit and the customer is refused benefit. The vast majority of customers affected in this way then claim Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), with a large majority of those appealing against the decision to refuse their claim to Incapacity Benefit. PCS has anecdotal evidence that the majority of these appeals are successful.

  16.  The next stage for those customers whose claim continues is a mandatory Work Focused Interview (WFI) eight weeks after making a claim to IB. At this first interview, Advisers are meant to use a specially designed Screening Tool that "screens out" some customers.

  17.  Those customers who are not "screened out" then have to attend a further five WFI's at four week intervals. At these interviews, customers are given access to "Choices". They are a range of programme provisions aimed at improving labour market readiness and opportunities. Key aspects are the New Deal for Disabled People (NDDP) and the CMP.

  18.  The CMP's are run in co-operation with local NHS Primary Care Trusts with the aim of helping the customer manage his/her condition more effectively so that they can get the job they want.

  19.  Customers who find work during the programme can also access a Return to Work Credit (RTWC). This is a weekly payment of £40 per week for 12 months if their salary is below £15,000 pa. These options allow the Adviser to offer the customer more flexible support and a more intensive and productive interview.

  20.  Jobcentre Plus already has a network of trained and experienced Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) who have invaluable local and national knowledge. The intention is that these Advisers will work closely with the IB Personal Advisers and the NHS Trust to identify the best outcome for their customers. This means, of course, that the DEA workload will increase. We already have evidence of some DEAs resigning from their post, or seeking transfers because of the unacceptable pressure being put on them and there is a fear that this trend will be exacerbated without further staffing resources being invested in the IB Reforms and Jobcentre Plus Advisory structure.

PCS CONCERNS

  21.  As stated earlier, PCS welcomes initiatives that enable our members to help our customers into work. However, we are not convinced that it is appropriate for the IB Reforms programme to be compulsory and we have anecdotal evidence that the PCA is seen as a cynical method of reducing the number of IB claims by moving customers to JSA while their appeal against a negative decision is heard.

  22.  The "off-flow" figures show that there has been an increase in off-flows at six months of 8% (this being a 25% increase). Off-flow is the number of people no longer claiming the benefit after six months. This is to be welcomed but historical off-flow figures have been running at 30%, so it is difficult to state categorically that the programme itself has made the difference.

  23.  Having said that, PCS believe that there are elements of the IB Reforms pilot that are valuable. Unfortunately we also believe that these will be damaged or prevented by the ongoing cuts programme in Jobcentre Plus.

  24.  The IB Reforms process is very resource intensive and takes up more Adviser time, pro rata, than other Advisory processes. Jobcentre Plus is in the middle of a massive jobs and estate cuts programme. This is leading inexorably to an organisation that is disengaged from our customers. The requirements of the IB reforms initiative will create massive problems for the proposed Jobcentre Plus organisation from the point of view of Adviser availability and accessibility.

  25.  PCS has raised our concerns about the lack of accommodation for Advisers. We were told at a meeting in May 2005 that the decision to rollout the IB reforms pilot to more Districts had created difficulties because the Jobcentre Plus Rollout programme had used a formula known as the Front of House Desk allocation Model (FOHDAM) to allocate the number of desks. In Glasgow this has led to the situation where there were no spare desks for IB Personal Advisers, thus hindering the planned rollout.

  26.  By the end of 2008 Jobcentre Plus intend to close 577 sites, and PCS has just discovered that there are now proposals to close a further 124 sites, many of them small offices in rural areas. PCS believes that this huge reduction in offices would make it very difficult to deliver the Pathways to Work programme in Jobcentre Plus. Even if it remains possible then customers (who by the very nature of their inclusion in the pilot are likely to be less mobile than most) will find themselves forced to make difficult journeys to attend mandatory interviews. The Department recently made a decision to defer the closure by Atos Origin of 21 Medical Examination Centres. Atos Origin won the contract to deliver medical advice and assessment services. The Derbyshire Unemployed Workers along with PCS launched a campaign and Early Day Motion 450 was tabled. We would argue that the same concerns (about the accessibility of services to customers, that claimants might miss appointments and so be deprived of the benefits they need) apply in both instances.

  27.  The ongoing reduction in staffing resources also makes it difficult to envisage how Jobcentre Plus can continue to deliver the service it currently delivers, let alone introducing new processes. This will only add to the pressure on the existing Advisers.

  28.  Early reports from the pilot areas indicated that there were difficulties with the IT interface and accessibility. As the IT system in use is the Jobcentre Plus Customer Management System (CMS) we believe that the problems will continue. The Committee has previously heard evidence about the ongoing problems with CMS so we ask that our concerns about its use and the impact on the rollout of the Pathways to Work programme be noted.

  29.  In conclusion, PCS believes that the continuation of this programme could be of value to Jobcentre Plus and our customers. However, this can only happen if it is adequately resourced, both in terms of staffing and estate, and with sufficient investment in training. Finally, there must be a fully developed and tested IT system in place.

Sarah Kavanagh

December 2005



 
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