Can the Work Programme work for all user groups? - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

3  The role of JCP in the Work Programme

47.  This chapter considers the relationship between JCP staff and Work Programme advisers and whether effective processes are in place to ensure a smooth handover of jobseekers, including whether sufficient and accurate information about the jobseeker is passed on to Work Programme providers. We also consider the relationship in the context of the processes for the application of conditionality and sanctions, which are intended to promote participants' effective engagement with the Work Programme.

The aspiration towards "warm handovers"

48.  JCP manages the handover of claimants to the Work Programme. All jobseekers will have been supported by JCP in the early months of their unemployment benefit claim. All will have signed up to a Jobseeker's Agreement, in which the claimant agrees to undertake particular job-searching activities and attend mandatory "work-focused interviews". Work Programme participants continue to receive out-of-work benefits as long as they meet the conditions of their Jobseeker's Agreement, and usually continue to report to JCP to "sign on", typically every two weeks. All other contact related to employment support is with the Work Programme provider for the duration of the two-year attachment period.[36]

49.  The initial report of the official DWP evaluation of the Work Programme highlights the aspiration set out in most Work Programme contracts for "warm handovers" of jobseekers from JCP to Work Programme providers. These would typically involve a three-way meeting between the JCP adviser, Work Programme adviser and the participant. The aim of warm handovers is to ensure that information about the participant's specific needs and barriers to work are effectively communicated to the Work Programme provider and that the participant understands why they are being referred, what they can expect from the programme and what is expected of them in return.[37]

50.  Professor Sainsbury, co-author of the evaluation report, highlighted evidence from the evaluation that warm handovers did not appear to be commonplace. A key issue which may impact on effective handovers is the quality of working relationships between JCP and Work Programme staff. One JCP manager told the evaluation team that "there has always been a level of hostility from Jobcentre Plus staff towards private providers".[38] Professor Sainsbury explained in oral evidence why some JCP staff may have a hostile attitude towards the Work Programme:

They see it as a threat to their jobs and their livelihoods. They do not trust it and they do not think that the Work Programme providers are going to do as good a job as they did. That is another reason why they do not sell it—"Why should I sit here in my Jobcentre office selling an organisation, pumping them up, when they are effectively the people that could do me out of a job in future?"[39]

The evaluation report noted variable quality in relationships between JCP and Work Programme staff; there was evidence of close relationships in some localities but in others Work Programme advisers had not even been able to establish telephone contact with their local JCP as they had not been given a direct telephone number.[40]

51.  Providers painted a picture of improving relationships with JCP. Sean Williams of G4S told us that warm handovers occurred for the majority of jobseekers referred to its Work Programme provision, although there were variations between CPAs.[41] Rehab Group aimed to ensure that all ESA claimants received a warm handover. One of its supply chain partners had decided to co-locate with a local JCP for one day per week, so that warm handovers for ESA claimants could take place at the Jobcentre.[42] Warm handovers were more problematic for Shaw Trust and CDG, which operates in east London, due to the volume of participants in their area and logistical difficulties within local JCP offices. It was piloting different approaches, such as locating JCP staff in its own Lewisham office and appointing outreach advisers to liaise with JCP about harder-to-help clients.[43]

52.  The Minister assured us that improving JCP/Work Programme relationships was a priority for DWP. As well as encouraging warm handovers, DWP was also promoting the co-location of offices. He believed that JCP staff "now see the merits of a very strong relationship with Work Programme providers."[44] We gained a similar impression from our visit to Brent, in which JCP staff and providers told us of a problematic relationship in the early days of the Work Programme but reported recent improvements. JCP staff had initially seen referring claimants to the Work Programme as a failure, which was a source of competitive tension and some hostility, but there was a growing understanding amongst frontline JCP staff in Willesden that the Work Programme was needed and local relationships were starting to mature.

Conditionality and sanctioning of Work Programme participants

53.  Work Programme providers can require participants to undertake specific work-related activities, such as appointments with advisers and training courses. Failure to participate in these activities has "sanctionable consequences" i.e. payment of benefit can be stopped for a period of time. The sanction is four weeks for a first failure to comply, followed by 13 weeks for any second or subsequent failure within a 52-week period.

54.  DWP guidance to providers states that conditionality can be applied on a case by case basis. It states that if "it is apparent that a participant has failed to participate [...] in a non-mandated activity, you should consider mandating them to their next activity to help ensure they effectively engage with you." Alternatively, providers can decide to take a "blanket approach", applying conditionality to all participants every time they want them to attend an appointment or complete a particular activity.

55.  The guidance sets out a number of steps providers must follow before mandating a participant to undertake a particular activity, including:

  • Ensuring that the activity is reasonable in the participant's circumstances;
  • Ensuring that the participant is fully aware of the sanctionable consequences of failure to comply;
  • Making the participant aware of the specific action they are required to undertake and by when; and
  • Notifying the participant in writing.

Decisions on whether to sanction participants for failure to undertake a mandated activity rest with JCP Labour Market Decision Makers.[45]

56.  Organisations representing particular groups of jobseekers reported that a lack of coordination and communication between JCP and Work Programme staff was leading to the inappropriate application, or threat, of benefit sanctions. The Single Parent Action Network (SPAN) conducted a survey of 16 single parent Work Programme participants, which found that in some cases the Work Programme provider had not been aware of, or not followed, the terms of the participant's Jobseeker's Agreement drawn up with JCP:

For instance, [two single parent participants] were told by the Work Programme to apply for jobs that went against their Jobseekers' Agreement. [...][One] had been told to apply for jobs where she would have to work Saturday and Sunday even though her Agreement specified work between Monday and Friday.[46]

Cymorth Cymru, a charitable organisation which works with a range of disadvantaged people, reported that in Wales JCP staff "are not providing Work Programme providers with relevant information such as action plans."[47] The UK Council on Deafness stated that it was not clear that JCP staff routinely pass on information, through their Disability Employment Advisers, to ensure that Work Programme advisers understand the specific support needs of deaf and other disabled people.[48]

57.  Research by homelessness charities found that some 22% of homeless participants in the Work Programme had been sanctioned. Respondents to its survey claimed that sanctions related to "appointments they hadn't been informed of, clerical error, or appointments they had had to move due to other commitments, e.g. a meeting with probation."[49] The charities' report also argues that it is likely that many of the homeless people who have been sanctioned, particularly those with severe barriers such as learning disabilities, may not have understood the reasons for sanctions being applied.[50]

58.  Evidence from the official evaluation found that most sanctions resulted from participants' failure to attend their initial meeting with an adviser, rather than any subsequent failure to engage in Work Programme activity. Furthermore the evaluation found that:

Providers report that some of these failures to attend result from poor quality information passed to them by Jobcentre Plus. There is little evidence of effective communication on this question between providers and Jobcentre Plus local offices.[51]

The evaluation report concluded that communication between JCP and the Work Programme, in both directions, was "a critical factor affecting the effectiveness of the sanctions process". Overall, the evaluation's initial analysis suggests that "while conditionality and sanctioning are an accepted and acceptable part of the Work Programme there is some way to go in ensuring that the processes work effectively."[52]

59.  Improving local relationships between JCP and Work Programme staff is rightly considered a priority by DWP. We observed an improving relationship in Brent but the evidence from the official evaluation suggests a varied picture across JCP Districts and clearly more progress needs to be made. Local JCP managers must take responsibility for ensuring that the message gets through to frontline staff that good working relationships with their Work Programme counterparts are essential.

60.  We are in favour of conditionality where it supports the policy intention of encouraging participants' effective engagement with the Work Programme. However, we are deeply concerned by evidence of the inappropriate use, or threat, of benefit sanctions against Work Programme participants and the initial findings of the official evaluation, which suggest that the processes for the application of conditionality and sanctions do not yet work effectively. We recommend that DWP conduct a review of Work Programme conditionality and sanctioning activity as a matter of urgency, with a view to ensuring that the processes are clearly understood by participants and consistently applied by both Work Programme and JCP staff, and that it publishes its findings by the end of 2013.

36   Committee's 2011 Report, para 171 Back

37   DWP, Work Programme evaluation: Findings from the first phase of qualitative research on programme delivery, November 2012, chapter 5 Back

38   Ibid., para 5.2.3 Back

39   Q 6 Back

40   DWP, Work Programme evaluation: Findings from the first phase of qualitative research on programme delivery, November 2012, para 5.2.3 Back

41   Qq 310-311 Back

42   Q 311 [Andrew Conlan-Trant] Back

43   Q 311 [Richard Clifton] Back

44   Q 546 Back

45   See DWP, Work Programme Provider Guidance, Chapter 3a Back

46   Ev 153 Back

47   Ev w31 Back

48   Ev w86 Back

49   See DrugScope and Homeless Link, Ev 126 Back

50   Crisis/Homeless Link/St. Mungo's, The Programme's Not Working, November 2012  Back

51   DWP, Work Programme evaluation: Findings from the first phase of qualitative research on programme delivery, November 2012, para 11.4 Back

52   Ibid. Back

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Prepared 21 May 2013