Select Committee on Work and Pensions Eighth Report


2  The purpose and timescales of the Green Paper proposals

Purpose

6. The Green Paper In work, better off: next steps to full employment sets out the Government's plans for the next stages of welfare reform, incorporating both its response to David Freud's report Reducing Dependency, increasing opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work[8] and Lord Leitch's recommendations[9] on the role of Jobcentre Plus in improving skills in the UK.

7. It is the latest in a series of broad policy statements by DWP, most notably including the DWP's five-year strategy in 2005[10] and the 2006 Green Paper, A new deal for welfare: empowering people to work.[11] We asked the Minister, Caroline Flint MP, why another document was required; she replied:

"a number of the issues in our Green Paper are building on other things which have been said before, hopefully trying to get them into a more coherent way in which we can move forward, whether that is in contracting, whether it is on a different type of New Deal programme, whether it is trying to get to the people who are at the moment inactive and support them into work."[12]

A RESPONSE TO FREUD?

8. In his report, David Freud made a number of recommendations including:

a)  Contracting out support for the hardest to help

b)  Modelling outcome-based contracting for long-term worklessness

c)  Extending conditionality for lone parents

d) Moving towards a single system of working age benefits (the report includes a chapter on this area and concludes "There is a strong case for moving towards a single system of working age benefits, ideally a single benefit, in order to better support the Government's ambition of work for those who can and support for those who cannot." [13])

9. During our recent inquiry into Benefits Simplification we examined Freud's proposals for a single working age benefit and sought the Government's response to his recommendations on the future of the benefits system. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DWP, James Plaskitt MP, repeatedly told us that we would need to wait for the Government's response to Freud:

"Clearly, there is more work for us to do across the whole range of benefits. That is why I have suggested that an important document, I think, for your Committee to read will be our response to the Freud report." [14]

And:

"Natascha Engel: The proposal which I am interested in is the single working-age benefit which Freud has outlined; will the DWP response to Freud also include that, or will it talk about just the idea of a single system?

"Mr Plaskitt: The response to Freud will answer the questions that you are asking."[15]

10. However, while the Green Paper addresses Freud's recommendations on contracting and conditionality, it does not include any comments on benefits simplification.

11. We were told by a DWP Minister repeatedly in oral evidence that the Green Paper In work, better off: next steps to full employment would include a response from the Government to David Freud's proposals for benefits reform. It does not, which means that a key opportunity to consult on these proposals has been lost. We ask the DWP why the Committee was given misleading information, and what changed between Mr Plaskitt giving evidence to us on 18 June and the publication of the Green Paper on 18 July.

Timescales

12. In our report earlier this year into the Government's Employment Strategy, we acknowledged DWP's plans to review its welfare-to-work policies and cautioned against proceeding with reforms without a clear strategy, including timescales and consultation:

"Given the importance of welfare to work policy, we are concerned at the lack of clarity around the timetable for the [Freud] review […] and the fact that there seem to be no formal consultation arrangements. Such a crucial process must not be rushed and should be - and be seen to be - transparent and actively engaging all those who have an interest."[16]

13. We are pleased that the Government is now consulting on its proposals for welfare reform, but proper scrutiny demands clear and sufficient information. We were therefore disappointed that the Green Paper did not propose a timetable for implementation, unlike the Government's response to the Leitch review, which set out clearly the timescales and responsibilities of different departments.[17] We asked the Minister about this and she said:

"I am happy to look to see, if that would be helpful, whether some timelines about some things which are currently going to happen run alongside some of our proposals to give all of us a better idea about how this is going to look over the next year to 18 months."[18]

14. We welcome the Minister's offer to provide a 12-18 month timeline for the proposals outlined in the Green Paper and how they sit alongside existing initiatives. We recommend that the Government makes this additional document available before the consultation process ends on 31 October 2007.





8   David Freud: Reducing dependency, increasing opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work, Independent report to the DWP, March 2007 Back

9   HM Treasury, Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills, December 2006 Back

10   DWP, Employment Opportunity for All: Five Year Strategy, Cm 6447, February 2005 Back

11   DWP, A new deal for welfare: empowering people to work, Cm 6730, January 2006 Back

12   Q 1 Back

13   Reducing dependency, increasing opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work, p 9 Back

14   Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, HC 463-I, Q 369. The Government response to the Committee's Report was published as the Committee's Third Special Report of Session 2006-07, HC 1054, on 16 October 2007 Back

15   Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, HC 463-I, Q 382 Back

16   Third Report of Session 2006-07, HC 63, para 342 Back

17   DIUS, Cm 7181, Annex A Back

18   Q 42 Back


 
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