Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by East Sussex Archaeology and Museum Partnership after the publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper

  1.  Seek a clear ministerial statement as to the specific cuts to the WBLA programme and for training for those unemployed people aged over 25.

  We have written to Margaret Hodge Minister for Work on two separate occasions in October and November 2005 seeking ministerial clarification as the status of WBLA. We have not had a response of any form. When Michael Foster (MP for Hastings and Rye) asked a specific question about this on our behalf, at a select committee session, to Mr Nicholas (JCP) he confirmed that there had been at least a 75% cut in this area and that it was directly driven by ministerial steer. If this is the case surely it is beholden on ministers to announce this publicly and make this known to Parliament, the unemployed in our community and to the training sector. To my knowledge such a statement has not been made in any shape or form. Given the huge scale of the cuts to one of the most vulnerable sectors of our society surely this should be made transparent so that it can be held up to the appropriate committee, parliamentary and public scrutiny.

  2.  Seek clarity in relation to the Government's position in relation to providing training for the unemployed.

  The Government now appears to have excluded the very significant percentage of unemployed people from training. From July 2006 onwards the only training in our region (The Government of South East England Region (GOSE) for those aged over 25 will be New Deal 25 plus, this is for those unemployed over 18 months. There are 97000 people aged over 25 who are economically inactive in the GOSE region (Labour Market statistics helpline). Firstly, there are very few training places for this substantial group and secondly only a tiny percentage of them will be eligible for this support.

  A huge percentage of this highly disadvantaged sector of our community will be excluded from this key plank of support of re-entering the labour market. This is not resource targeting this is discrimination on a grand scale. Universities and schools and rightly pressured by the Government to make learning opportunities available to all particularly the most excluded in our society-the new cuts in training introduced by the Government are a complete contradiction of the approach that they are asking of the educational sector itself.

  3.  Explaining the reason for the paucity of the proposed training provision in relation to the increasing national demand for training.In the statement made by John Hutton on 24th January "A new Deal for Welfare:empowering people to work" there is no mention of training apart form one aside concerning providing information about training. Given the fact that the Minister was referring to getting the 2.7 million incapacity benefit recipients back to work and getting more of the 720,000 lone parents back to work and also getting the hundreds of thousands of older people back to work the omission of training from this was astonishing. Whilst training is not exclusively the means of supporting such people back to work it is absolutely a key mechanism for the majority of such people. Under the few New Deal programmes which are being made available after July 2006 the intended length of training programmes is 13 weeks. This is farcical in relation to people who may have profound mental and physical health challenges, who may have been out of work for ten years. who may have very low self esteem and who may have very low communication and basic skills. Firstly, the training will not be long enough to provide these skills and the relevant vocational skills to move into employment, secondly the type and quality of qualifications which people will be able to do will be very limited because of this time constraint, thirdly this length of training will be regarded as totally inadequate by many employers and will again limit the employment areas which people can address themselves to. We currently train people for up to fifty two weeks; we have twenty years experience-in providing high quality training for the long term unemployed and given our experience and performance can legitimately call ourselves experts in this field. I can state categorically such individuals need longer term training to successfully gain sustainable employment which is value to them. The focus in John Hutton's statement and the new training frameworks is on work focussed interviews, grants and benefit realignments-this is not actually a coherent strategy for re-skilling such people. It is an attempt to deny the vital role of training and go for the cheapest quick option to getting people into employment. Some people will ultimately positively benefit from options such as the "Pathways to work" this but for many hundreds of thousands of people the key means by which they could have gained skills and qualifications to get back to work has just been removed by the Government.

  As you are aware in the quarter September to December, unemployment rose by 110,000-the highest such rise in 12 years. Given the fact that there are 1.5 million people registered as unemployed, 2.7 million people on incapacity benefit (whom the Government wants to get into employment-most of whom are aged over 25) and that there are over 700,000 unemployed lone parents (mostly aged over 25) surely it is insane to cut the key training programme for the twenty five plus age group by over 75%.

  Surely it is also completely counterproductive to offer such short-term limited training when the people whom the Government is targeting for employment have such profound challenges and often need a high level of pastoral support and counselling alongside their vocational training. The government should ensure that JCP regions retain the frameworks and flexibility to offer training of up to and over 52 weeks where the requirement is clearly identified by local JCP staff on behalf of their clients.

4.  SETTING UNREASONABLE FRAMEWORKS FOR TRAINING PROGRAMMES

  The Government rightly sets benchmarks for training programmes. So, for most training provision 40% of leavers have to gain employment. We currently get 76% of our leavers into employment. There used to be a 16 week period after people left training in which if a person got a job then the training provider could claim an employment outcome. This period was reduced to thirteen weeks in 2001. Under the New Deal programmes running after this April this year the tracking period will be six weeks. This is ludicrous. The Government is saying in effect that people facing greater challenges and barriers to employment will be able to undertake much more limited training for a much shorter time and then they have to get employment in a much shorter time or the training will be deemed to have failed. This will create false failure statistical outcomes. Many people will get employment directly related to their areas of training but maybe after 8,9,10,11 weeks however this wont be captured statistically so it will appear that both the training provider and training itself will be deemed to be failing. The Government is almost perversely setting its own training up to fail. A very real concern given the previous points is that this could be used as a means of legitimizing further cuts to training at a national level. It is not however some political game it is the destruction of opportunities for some of the most vulnerable excluded members of our society and it is the unnecessary destruction of the training provision that could and currently is supporting such people. It flies in the face of so much other national and regional governmental policy as to be completely incomprehensible.

  I and my staff team are very dedicated to supporting the unemployed community. We do this with great heart, commitment and skill. To see the surreptitious destruction of training for key parts of the unemployed community is very hard. I think that some answers should be forthcoming from ministers, I think further scrutiny needs to be applied to may of these issues as a matter of urgency and I think some existing types of provision needs to be maintained and training actually to be expanded to meet the new demand.

  There are many other related issues which I have not raised as I do not want to dilute the focus of attention in some of these key areas. This government has done so much good in this area and should rightfully be proud of its achievements this far. This in many ways makes the present situation even more incomprehensible and less excusable.

  I would be very grateful for any attention which you are able to bring to this matter. am fully aware of the huge range of major issues coming before your committee at present. I would submit to you that this matter is of very real national significance and I very much hope that it is a matter appropriate for scrutiny by your committee as such scrutiny urgently does need to be applied.

  I have copied this letter to Michael Foster as he has helped support our search for answers in respect of this matter. I have also copied this to Barry Sherman as I believe that the huge reduction in lifelong learning opportunities to an already excluded sector of society has broader further implications. Further given that the Adult Learning Inspectorate are being merged with Ofsted there a natural coming together of issues and concerns between DWP and DfES. I fully understand and respect that your committee has the primacy in these matters.

  We will also seek to raise the matter through our local MP's and through all our means available to us.

1 February 2006



 
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