8. A key part of the Committee's work is its study visits both
at home and abroad to put into context issues raised by particular
inquiries. During 2005-06 we undertook four visits within the
United Kingdom and three overseas. The Committee has also been
represented at two Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) Seminars, one on "Ageing" and one
on "Growth and Jobs" and a Lisbon Strategy meeting at
the European Parliament in Brussels.
9. The Committee spent a very informative two days
at the Social Policy Research Unit at the University of York with
various academics from different Universities throughout the country
and representatives from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
The discussions covered the key areas of our remit. We would
like to thank the University for hosting the event, the JRF, and
the academics that came to speak to us.
10. It is important for the Committee that we travel
away from Westminster to see DWP policies in action, to meet frontline
staff in DWP agencies and their customers and to hear about both
the difficulties and the successes the Department experiences.
During 2005-06 the Committee visited Jobcentre Plus offices in
Hastings, Derby and Glasgow and a Child Support Agency office
in Hastings. Jobcentre Plus in Glasgow facilitated a Committee
visit to Rosemount Lifelong Learning Childcare and Education Centre
and the Ethnic Minority Enterprise Centre which provided useful
insights for our inquiry into the Government's Employment Strategy.
This also provided opportunities for the Committee to meet with
representatives from rural areas and from local employment initiatives.
11. Whilst in Derby for the Committee's inquiry into
Incapacity Benefits and Pathways to Work the Committee met DWP
staff including Incapacity Benefit Personal Advisers and Disability
Employment Advisers as well as Delivery Partners, employers and
employer representative organisations and Pathways customers.
The Committee also visited a Remploy factory to meet staff and
managers. We would like to take the opportunity to thank the
DWP staff who have helped to organise the visits and who have
welcomed us and the members of the public and organisations who
have made themselves available to meet us.
12. The Committee took formal evidence away from
Westminster on two occasions: in Derby for the inquiry on Incapacity
Benefits and Pathways to Work and in Glasgow for the Government's
Employment Strategy inquiry. On both occasions these evidence
sessions were held in the local council chambers. We are very
grateful to the councils for providing committee rooms for our
use and to their staff for helping with the meetings.
13. The Committee's overseas visits have provided
useful comparisons and insights into the policies of other countries.
The Committee visited the Netherlands for the inquiry into Incapacity
Benefits and Pathways to Work and learnt about
the introduction of a new system of benefits
there for disabled people to increase financial incentives to
work. The Netherlands has already successfully reduced the in-flow
of disability benefit claimants and has one of the highest out-flows
of claimants of the OECD countries. This has coincided with the
introduction of policies requiring employers to provide sickness
benefits through a privatised system that includes vocational
14. In Sweden the Committee learnt about the Swedish
experience of pension reform. Of particular interest was the work
of the Premium Pensions Authority - which has parallels to the
system of 'personal accounts' which the UK Government proposes
introducing - and the strategy for informing people about their
pensions choices, including the 'orange envelope'. Also relevant
were steps taken to deal with the rising cost of pensions - the
introduction of an 'automatic balancing mechanism' rather than
an increase in the State Pension Age - and how Sweden had managed
the shift from a system largely dominated by 'defined benefit'
(e.g. final salary) schemes to one dominated by 'defined contribution'
schemes, in which individuals experience a greater degree of uncertainty
and risk regarding their retirement income.
15. In its most recent visit, the Committee looked
at New Zealand welfare to work programmes. New Zealand has shifted
the emphasis, so that at the point of first contact with 'Work
And Income' (New Zealand's Jobcentre Plus), the focus is on
finding work rather than claiming benefits. The system also
offers its 'Case Managers' more flexibility than is allowed to
Jobcentre Plus Personal Advisers and devolves a greater degree
of responsibility to local level, allowing programmes to be customised
to the requirements of the local labour market and the needs of
the local population. The Committee also looked at the plans
for the implementation of the KiwiSaver, which has important similarities
to (but also differences from) the proposed 'personal accounts'
2: Visits by the Work and Pensions Committee in 2005-06