Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 130 - 139)



  Q130  Chairman: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to this our third evidence session. Unfortunately, Iqbal Wahhab cannot be with us today, for reasons we do not need to go into, so if anybody was expecting to hear him you will not; but, Shrupti, welcome, we are very glad to have you with us and we recognise the work that you are doing and we find it valuable. If I can kick off, what do you think that we have learned so far about how to increase employment rates of disadvantaged groups?

  Ms Stratton: I think there are about five key lessons that I would start with. The first—and you would expect us to say this, coming from the perspective of the Panel—is that, in our view, employer engagement is really essential, because without employers you have no jobs, and without jobs obviously you are not going to make the 80%. We have advocated for some time the importance of what we would call a dual customer system, a delivery system which looks at both ends of the equation and tries to customise its services to both individuals and employers. The second lesson the Panel has advocated is that labour markets are local and, within the context of a national framework and a national strategy, we believe it is important that local communities have the flexibility to tackle and solve local problems. Being able to decentralise, give more flexibility to communities to deal with disadvantaged groups and depressed neighbourhoods, would be, I think, our second point. The third is something which has become increasingly clear through our work on the Ambition programme, with Fair Cities, which Shrupti runs, and a lot of the work that our Employer Coalitions do, in about 10 cities; and that is that the power of a known job is an incredible magnet for pulling people into work. We have a number of programmes traditionally which focus on the supply side and prepare people for jobs with the hope that they will find something out there, and our view has been actually if you start with the employer, and particularly a known job with a known salary, and work backwards to meet the client need your success is probably greater. The fourth thing I would say is that skills matter. The Panel has been interested, almost from the outset of New Deal, in saying it is really, really important not just to put people in jobs but to help move them out of poverty, and that means focusing on jobs which pay decent wages, which offer career progression and particularly it means putting considerable weight on retention as a value in the system. Skills, and the whole investment of human capital in this, is a really important dimension, particularly if you are focused on disadvantaged people who lack language skills or basic skills and in terms of helping them not only to get the job but actually to succeed in that; over the longer term we think skills matter a lot. One thing I would say is we believe very strongly in the concept of performance, and I will come at that from several angles. First of all, by that I mean actually focusing on outcomes and not prescribed processes, which relates back to the flexibility, but also on having very high ambitions for people, high aspirations for people, having robust standards, performance standards, for your contractors, and again putting emphasis on retention as a value and paying for achievement of that.

  Q131  Chairman: Can I pick up on just a couple of things you said there. Unemployment is broadly constant at the moment, 900,000, 950,000, yet there are two and a half million people who lose a job and get another one every year, so for an awful lot of people it just works, does it not? Picking up on what you said about language and other skills, should we be having skills programmes which aim to recruit people for a local labour market or is there space for national or generic skills programmes, and what do you expect Leitch to say, on that?

  Ms Stratton: On the first question, I think you are absolutely right, that many of our programmes and measures work in simply just the job search; the basic, work-focused interviews and job search are entirely appropriate and very effective for large numbers of people. I think what I was drawing from your initial question was what were the lessons actually for dealing with people who are facing substantial barriers to employment, and I think that is where looking at much more specialisation, really focusing on the right job for somebody, becomes particularly relevant. National versus local, I think, probably, if you look at most occupations, sectors in occupations, you can design programmes with a common curriculum for 70 or 80%, but the tailoring of the last 20% and making sure that employers are committed to hiring the people who are coming through the pipeline is absolutely essential. I think one of the things we have learned is, particularly with Fair Cities and the Ambition programme, up-front engagement of employers, so that they are in that programme, so that they are involved in the design, and basically they are committing, in principle, certainly guaranteeing interview, but certainly in principle to hiring people matters a lot.

  Q132  Chairman: From your point of view, should employers have a social responsibility to take people from disadvantaged groups, or should they be outside of that? I am thinking particularly that there are a number of employers, but not too many, who are happy to work with ex-offenders, for instance, but most employers are not.

  Ms Stratton: Corporate social responsibility is a very important dimension and it is right and it is good. My difficulty is that I think if you are trying to tackle unemployment and raise employment levels you cannot do it through corporate social responsibility. That is why we have tried really to think about almost turning the process on its head and say the better that you meet employer needs the better that you will meet disadvantaged people's needs and make sure that they succeed in the labour markets. At the margins I think corporate social responsibility works, but I think, in terms of getting to scale and actually engaging people, you need to understand your business requirements and you need to be sure that the provision which Government is paying for actually delivers people who are pretty close to being job-ready.

  Chairman: Thank you for that.

  Q133  Mrs Humble: Can I pick up on what you have just said about engaging people, and in your submission to us you did say: "We will need to reach people who are currently out of the labour market..." In other words, there is that group of people who are neither working nor claiming benefit, and we know that we have a lot of Bangladeshi and Pakistani women who are part of that group, also students and Afro-Caribbean men. What can we do better to engage with them, what sorts of mechanisms, what sort of provision should we have for identifying those people and working with them?

  Ms Stratton: I think the first thing is to recognise exactly what you said, which is that they are a highly diverse group and if we try to tackle this from the standpoint of what benefits there are, or the fact that simply they are not on benefit, we are not going to be very successful. Even if you are looking at Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, the difference in age and generation and how long they have been here matters a lot, in terms of crafting your measures. There are some common themes, however. Certainly we have learned that outreach in the community is essential and it is essential, by and large, not by government agencies but by community-based organisations that the groups are trying to reach, have connection with, that those organisations are credible with those groups. That I think would be the first thing I would say. I think the second thing is it is very important to understand where people are starting from, and you can call that assessment or diagnosis or whatever, but understanding an individual's aspirations, their aptitude, their skills and starting-point is critical, because that defines where they want to end up. For Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, for example, the right job for them is probably a safe job, it is culturally comfortable and, probably like any single parent, the same kinds of interest in a flexible workplace; whereas, for many Afro-Caribbean young men, something that looks much more like an apprenticeship kind of programme, leading to a proper job, if you will, with a lot of support built into that. It is being able to customise your outreach and customise the provision you are getting. I think the other thing is ensuring that there is effective case management support, whether that is provided by Jobcentre Plus or by a community agency, somebody who is working alongside that individual, from early on right through to the point where they are in the job and probably through the three-month period in which it is most precarious for them in that transition.

  Q134  Mrs Humble: There, are you making assumptions that these people want to go into employment? You are talking about customised jobs, but what about a culture which does not approve of women going into work? We have to remember, in this country, it was only 50 or 60 years ago that a lot of jobs were closed to married women, and our equal opportunities legislation is only 30-odd years old, so there have been huge cultural shifts in this country. If women come into this country, or indeed are born in this country but have a culture that we had 50 years ago, what do we do to get them to recognise that, in fact, there is another world out there and that they can take part in it: overcoming barrier number one before we get to barrier number two, about culturally-appropriate work?

  Ms Stratton: What I do not mean to suggest is that we are trying to force people into work. I will turn to Shrupti in a minute, because I think Fair Cities, at least in one location, focuses particularly on people who are not on benefit, but it appears, at least, from early evaluations, early research, that some—I cannot quantify it faithfully—younger women, under 35, from Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, are interested in working, if they can find the right support. That does not mean all of them and it certainly probably does not mean some of the older women.

  Q135  Mrs Humble: I would rather not talk about Fair Cities at the moment because a colleague is going to ask more detailed questions about that. I am starting with the basics here and colleagues are going to build on it, to look at all sorts of initiatives, so again just staying at that basic level. We did have from the DWP the Ethnic Minority Outreach programme and that seems to have worked better with people who were closest to the labour market. I just want to explore with you what we can do for those people who are further away and, in turn, try to measure the distance travelled?

  Ms Stratton: There are several questions wrapped up in that one. I do not mean to suggest that we know the answers on this. I think we are learning a lot as we go. One of the things I think may be emerging as one answer to this is being much more flexible in our approach about where we deliver services. For example, for women who speak either no English or not fluent English, who normally are associated with a mosque or community health facilities or a childcare centre, provision delivered there, in a setting which is safe and where they are doing something else. Also, if you are taking PSOL, it is related to the family, to life, the ordinary things going on in your life, it is of interest, and it does seem to be attracting a lot of women. That is the first step, getting English skills, because obviously it is a step forward. I am reluctant, I think, to say that Government should step in, in any way, to pressure people whose culture makes it very difficult. I think our job should be to make sure that all the opportunities are in place for those who make a choice to work.

  Q136  Mrs Humble: How then do you think the fact that the Ethnic Minorities Outreach programme is going to be absorbed into the Deprived Areas Fund is going to affect the situation that you have outlined? Do you think there should be specific programmes for people from minority ethnic backgrounds, or could they be catered for adequately within the wider heading of "deprivation" and the Deprived Areas Fund?

  Ms Stratton: I think that the issues of poverty and ethnicity are really closely intertwined, but I think when you put in an overlay of cultural issues there are distinctive differences and if we are really going to customise our services to meet the needs of individual people with different barriers to employment we have to do whatever we are doing now. The answer to the DAF question is I do not know yet. For the DAF funds that are going into the City Strategy, I think, any City Strategy proposal or business plan which came forward from a community which had a large number of ethnic minorities in it and did not address how they were reaching that, certainly there would be questions. I think, for the balance, the Jobcentre Plus districts, I would assume there is a process which reviews against the profile of the local population, and I think it is very important that any Jobcentre Plus district, as in any City Strategy, reflects the needs of that local district. To answer the question about whether you will see less of the Minority Outreach right now, because of the DAF programme, I do not know.

  Q137  Mrs Humble: Clearly, you want to build up a support system where there are individuals who are proactive and drilling down into local communities in order to get to the hardest to reach people. We have had a Special Employment Adviser pilot; do you think that should be extended? There are so many pilots, and sometimes I wonder whether they are actually allowed enough time to prove themselves, and then also sometimes they disappear without trace. That again is a question to which you can give a great long answer, but should we be doing more with them, go out there, be proactive, to do what you want them to do?

  Ms Stratton: I think we launch pilots a lot. We invest an enormous amount in developing strategies and policies. I am not sure that we spend an equal amount of time looking at execution and what it takes actually to deliver on the ground. For a ground-breaking operation of any kind to get up and running for two years is extremely difficult; extremely difficult. Whether the Special Employment Adviser was a well-designed programme I think is up for questioning. I think the Ethnic Minority Outreach programme is an important one, and I think whether it is designed as a specific programme or just as part of the mainstream of how we do business and reach our clients is what we have to be looking at. Personally, if I see any business plan coming across, a City Strategy, which does not have an outreach component I will question that very seriously.

  Q138  Miss Begg: In reply to Joan's questions, you talked about what is successful in getting minority ethnic people into jobs is to customise outreach and customise the provision. Are you in a position to say whether the DWP is actually any good at doing that?

  Ms Stratton: I do not think it has to be done through DWP necessarily. Increasingly, ministers are interested in looking at what services can be decentralised. I am very clear that increasingly our ministers want to customise, for both employers and individuals, the services which come through DWP. I think that one of the most promising aspects, in my view, of the City Strategy is that it tends to do just that, and for the first time really we are seeing quite a rigorous examination of what best can be delivered by local public partners and community organisations, as opposed to Jobcentre Plus or a central government department. We are not there, but I think we are on the right track.

  Q139  Miss Begg: The moves to move all of that employment provision out of the DWP into whether it is the private sector or private companies you think is the right move, in trying to reach these harder to reach people?

  Ms Stratton: Let me qualify this a bit. I think it is very important that you have a national framework which sets out exactly what the objectives are that the Government is trying to achieve, which sets out the eligibility criteria, so that the system does not cream, and it sets out the kinds of objectives, and this is where I come back to retention and progression, the value system, which this is about. Within that framework, I think that the more authority and flexibility which can be devolved to localities, I think the Panel would say, the better, to allow local communities to understand what those problems are and to engage both individuals and community-based organisations most effectively. That, it seems to me, is what should be taking place.

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