Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by "The Team" at Gloucester Jobcentre

INTRODUCTION

  The Team, which comprises Specialist Incapacity Benefit Advisers (SIBAs) and Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs), in general welcomes the reforms announced in the recent Green Paper and recognises that they go a long way to addressing the needs of this client group. In particular we welcome the revised rules on test trading and the extension of the 52 week link to two years.

  We are not a Pathways To Work district but have been working with the client group for over two years and feel that we have gained a real insight into the issues affecting the success of the proposed reforms.

  There are still some areas of concern which are frustrating our efforts to deliver the goal of reducing the number of IB clients by moving them into work. These concerns are not covered in the Green Paper and it is these issues which we would like to draw to the attention of the committee.

  The submission overleaf covers these areas.

THE SUBMISSION

Legislation and rules which adversely affect the smooth transition of IB clients into work

  1.  Working Tax Credits is one of the most effective tools to persuade people on IB to leave benefits and move into employment. In order for this option to be attractive to them, their claim needs to be processed with the minimum time delay. With the E-Portal now not in use, it is imperative that we fast track claims in another way. Recent rules imposed (from 16 January 2006) have instructed us that we cannot fast track claims from clients on IB, but can only use the fast tracking system for people on means tested benefits. IB clients are therefore being penalised by this new rule. The over complexity of WTC is also an issue, as is the recent adverse publicity which has unfortunately made clients wary about risking claiming.

  2.  We are continuously being encouraged to use non Jobcentre Plus contracted provision to help our clients. One of these is Learn Direct who we use extensively to provide training for our clients. We have recently discovered that rules state that for a person to receive free training they have to be in receipt of a means tested benefit and this means that those IB clients who are in receipt of no other benefit, are again being penalised and are being asked to pay for their training.

  3.  Permitted Work is another much used tool to encourage clients to consider work. Again we find that different benefit rules make this an option for some, but not for all. At present those on Income Support (IS) can only ever be £20.00 per week better off as a best-case scenario. Housing Benefit (HB) rules also dictate that income from Permitted Work is taken into account making this option non-viable. Experience has shown that the majority of clients who undertake Permitted Work do move into full time work and off benefits. We submit therefore that to make this a real option for all, earnings under this legislation should carry a 100% disregard on both IS and HB.

Job Brokers and others involved with this client group

  There is continuing confusion over the different job roles and responsibilities of those organisations involved with IB clients. This has the detrimental effect of a great deal of double handling which is confusing for the clients and not cost effective to our organisation. We would like to see more definition of the various roles so that we can complement each other and utilise our individual skills.

  We submit that the SIBA role should be to undertake WFIs and to caseload those who wish to move into work together with those stock clients who volunteer for our services. This should entail signposting these clients to complementary provision, networking with health professionals and actively helping them into work including advice on in work benefits.

  Job Brokers (as the name implies) should be actively involved in the marketing of employers to educate them into understanding the benefits of employing this client group. We know there is a concern that there may not be enough jobs for all IB clients who want to work. This would therefore be an opportunity to encourage employers to consider this client group rather than others (ie those already employed).

  Another role that should be undertaken by Job Brokers is to support those clients who need to move onto Supported Permitted Work. It is realised that these more severely disabled people will not come off benefits. However for many, continuing to be able to do a small amount of work is essential for their quality of life and we feel they should be encouraged to continue to do this. Legislation states that the support "must be from a voluntary or public body whose job it is to help disabled people into work". Job Brokers match this definition and yet are contractually prevented from acting in this role. This results in a disproportionate amount of SIBA time spent in trying to find an appropriate support.

Personal Capability Assessment

  We welcome the changes announced about the PCA. We have long felt that the PCA has hindered progress we are making with a client. Our role is to gradually progress a client towards being ready to work. This sometimes takes many months and much costly provision. We have found that in many cases a client will feel better in themselves, and as a result be found fit for work by a PCA. Although perhaps better than they were, in the majority of cases they are still not job ready, and the bombshell of having their benefits stopped immediately (often before they have been informed of this), has a severe effect on their health (particularly those with mental health issues). This means that they regress to a point where all the progress made is negated, with the obvious implications on budgets, the cost of the provisions they attended being completely wasted.

  In reality these clients move off IB but only to claim another benefit (Job Seekers Allowance). Thus they are not being moved off welfare. Indeed the resultant deterioration in their health as a direct result of the PCA means that they actually spend longer on benefits than they would have, had they been left to progress at their own pace with the continuing support of a SIBA.

  We therefore submit that we would like to have more of an input or involvement in the PCA process. SIBAs in many cases have been working with these clients for many months and know them and their problems well. We feel that our opinion should be taken into consideration when deciding the outcome of a PCA so that the above scenario is kept to a minimum.

Funding issues

  1.  In the Green Paper, an example action plan was illustrated. One of the recommended referral sources was Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. In this district we used to have the facility to refer to MIND who provided this service, and many clients previously referred have since moved into employment. In this district, this provision was made unavailable to IB clients. This was on the basis that we didn't have enough funds to afford it and therefore it could only be used for mandatory clients (ie New Deal). We realise this is a local issue but is being included because it does illustrate that if we are to be successful in helping this client group we will need the funding to enable us to do this.

  2.  Funding issues also surround the question of training, which is limited. One of the main problems with IB clients is that many are having to consider alternative occupational areas and will therefore need retraining. We would like to see a more flexible approach, allowing us to access appropriate free training provided an adequate business case is drawn up by the adviser.

Contracting out to the private sector

  There is a concern that some of the work of the SIBA if contracted out to other organisations may not be as effective than if it was kept "in house". SIBAs have undergone a great deal of intensive and expensive training in advanced advisory skills and most of us come from a background of many years of working as an adviser in some form.

  This worry is less about trying to protect our own jobs, but rather because as a team we genuinely care about our clients and want to feel that we will continue to be given the opportunity to give a first class service and ultimately help make a real difference to their lives.



 
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