Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by A4E

Introduction

A4e is submitting this response in relation to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into the role of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) in the reformed welfare system. A4e is one of the largest providers delivering the Work Programme on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and JCP. The programme is part-funded by the European Social Fund. We are the Prime Provider for five Work Programme Contract Package Areas (CPAs): East London; East Midlands; Merseyside, Halton, Lancashire & Cumbria; Thames Valley, Hampshire & the Isle of Wight; and South Yorkshire. A4e is also a subcontractor in the following CPAs: North East; Wales; Scotland; Surrey, Sussex & Kent; and West Yorkshire. A4e is additionally the contract holder for the Jobcentre Plus Support Contract (JCPSC) in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, the Black Country, Derbyshire, Oxfordshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Wales and in all 33 London boroughs. Further, we also work with JCP as a member of their Employment and Skills Reducing Reoffending Forum, given A4e’s unique position of delivering both the Work Programme and Offender Learning and Skills Services (OLASS) in prisons.

In delivering the Work Programme across the above areas, A4e has directly supported tens of thousands of people into work. In doing so, we work both strategically and on a daily basis with JCPs right across the UK. It is from this position of experience both in supporting individuals into sustainable employment and through our extensive relationship with JCP that A4e submits this response.

Executive Summary

Our submission is grounded in our front-line experience from which we make the following recommendations:

Every claimant should have an initial profiling assessment on day one of their claim to analyse the precise level of that claimant’s need. Following this assessment, jobseekers should receive appropriate, timely support—including possible fast track to the Work Programme.

The support offered by JCP should be more closely and consistently integrated with the delivery of the Work Programme across the UK. A4e’s work to co-locate JCP advisers on site throughout the UK has already started to deliver promising results.

While JCP has made significant progression in engaging with employers, building on these stronger links is critical, both nationally and locally. As we have found through delivering the Work Programme, these links benefit jobseeker and employer alike.

Identification of Jobseekers’ needs and Barriers

1.1 Jobcentre Plus plays a crucial role in the welfare system. In addition to delivering benefits at scale alongside work-focused support, JCP plays a valuable role in working with Work Programme providers to support people into sustainable employment. JCP has had to adapt and develop with the introduction of a number of welfare-to-work schemes over the years, including Pathways to Work, New Deal, and Flexible New Deal—all of which A4e has worked with JCP to deliver. JCP also effectively copes with a huge flow of people and enquiries, the volume of which continually fluctuates in line with the UK labour market. We support JCP’s efforts to improve how it operates and flexes to the demands of jobseekers, the local labour market and the needs of employers. A better functioning JCP results in better services for A4e’s customers, in particular for those with the most serious barriers to employment.

1.2 JCP works with a hugely diverse range of people, with different skills and at differing levels of job readiness. It is important that the complex needs of these individuals are understood and met as quickly as possible, to enable an efficient, timely package of support. While some individuals who access JCP’s services are close to the employment market, a large number require substantial additional help. After individuals have been with JCP for at least nine months and have been unsuccessful in finding work, they are referred to the Work Programme. Those referred to A4e often have complex, interlinking barriers to employment. Being out of work is rarely the only challenge our customers face; inadequate skills, social exclusion and poor health are all common issues. For instance, we find that 16% of our Work Programme customers who experience a health condition have a mental illness, and a “Big Conversation” survey of our customers identified that nearly half have no or low levels of qualifications. In addition, we’ve encountered over 10,000 cases where customers suffer drug, alcohol, or gambling addiction since the start of the Work Programme. These issues are difficult to overcome and intensive support is required if they are to be successful.

1.3 Each claimant should have an initial assessment of need on entry to JCP to ensure that any issues they have do not deteriorate or become further entrenched by delaying support. Importantly, such issues develop over time; mental health, self confidence and employment skills deteriorate the longer a person is out of work. Therefore the support jobseekers receive should reflect this fact. Poor initial assessment procedures may not only increase time spent unemployed, but can also increase the chances of individuals being advised for unsuitable jobs, reducing the chance of achieving sustained employment. A4e believes that every claimant should have an initial profiling assessment on day one of their claim. This assessment would evaluate a wide set of the claimant’s barriers to work (which may include factors such as debt, their housing situation, health status, skills deficit) which would result in a diagnosis of the level of claimant need. This data would enable better, more tailored support of claimants from day one, identifying those who are most likely to require long term, bespoke employment support. The claimant profiles gained from any initial assessment should be used to define the level of support JCP provides; and efforts should be made to harmonise the performance targets of Jobcentre Plus (via the DWP Performance Management Framework) and the targets of contracted employment programmes (eg via the Customer Payment Groups of Work Programme). The introduction of Universal Credit and all related assessment information could provide an opportunity to reshape and improve the JCP assessment process. In addition, the simplification that Universal Credit brings into the system could enable JCP advisers to focus more intently on understanding the particular needs of claimants and identifying the support they require. These opportunities to make improvements should not be overlooked in the transition to this new Universal Credit system.

1.4 Those with the biggest barriers to employment should enter the Work Programme immediately to receive the necessary tailored support which can start to tackle those barriers as soon as possible. For example, ex-offenders now enter the Work Programme immediately upon release because having a criminal record can present a significant barrier to employment. A4e believes that we should extend this principle to other groups with a similar level of barriers who would equally benefit from receiving precisely this depth of tailored service.

1.5 Recommendation:

Every claimant should have an initial profiling assessment on day one of their claim to analyse the precise level of that claimant’s need. Following this assessment, jobseekers should receive appropriate, timely support—including possible fast track to the Work Programme.

JCP’s Role as a Gateway to Contracted-out Services such as the Work Programme and Work Choice

2.0 Joining up JCP and Work Programme delivery is crucial to improving the effectiveness of the system. An initial assessment as outlined above would not only provide better targeted support for jobseekers, but could also help to join up the support that JCP and Work Programme providers offer. Better join-up of the functions of these two systems is vital to providing seamless support for jobseekers and to maintain the sustainability of the system. Likewise, improving the join-up between JCP and other services such as GP surgeries, housing associations and other local authority services would also benefit claimants by ensuring that their barriers to employment are addressed in the right order.

2.1 One way to achieve more effective join up between JCP and Work Programme delivery is through co-locating services. Improved integration and communication does not happen on its own, which is why A4e has been working to join up our Work Programme front line delivery with that of local JCPs. In A4e offices across the UK we have positioned JCP advisors on site within our Work Programme offices. Likewise, in Hampshire and additional areas we have located Work Programme staff within JCP offices—and we are in conversations to expand this further. This co-location has improved communications between our organisations and, importantly, has simplified the referral and induction process for customers. The co-location of JCP and Work Programme delivery means that jobseekers are more easily engaged with Work Programme support services. So far the programme has improved customer engagement, as customers who have previously regularly failed to attend Work Programme sessions have re-engaged with the support available. In addition, this co-location has improved data sharing and connectivity between JCP and the Work Programme, resulting in reduced paperwork flowing between offices. JCP co-location has enjoyed widespread positive feedback from JCP managers and A4e is looking to expand co-location further across the UK.

2.2 Recommendation:

The support offered by JCP should be more closely and consistently integrated with the delivery of the Work Programme across the UK. A4e’s work to co-locate JCP advisers on site throughout the UK has already started to deliver promising results.

The Effectiveness of JCP’s Relationships with other Key Stakeholders

3.0 Continuing to develop stronger links between JCP and employers is crucial, both nationally and locally. Jobseekers’ first hand exposure to the opportunities available to them early on in their search for employment can act as a source of motivation and improve self-confidence. In addition, by focussing on specific job roles with specific employers at the earliest feasible stage, JCP and jobseekers are able to manage their development in a more targeted way. We recognise that improved employer involvement can benefit both jobseekers and employers: jobseekers gain confidence by seeing the opportunities available to them, while employers are able to more specifically focus their recruitment efforts on jobseekers who in turn better understand the role they are entering and have the necessary skills and attitude to succeed. This past year A4e have connected with the Co-operative Group to supply their North West stores with the staff they need to serve the community. Under this relationship, when any Co-op store in North West needs a new team member, A4e screens, matches and prepares an appropriate customer for a suitable role at Co-op. This type of relationship has had a positive impact on jobseekers and creates a virtuous circle with the business community.

3.1 JCP would benefit from taking further steps to develop greater flexibility in order to work with other agencies such as LEPs and trade bodies to better meet the needs of local employers. Such flexibility would allow JCP to tailor their approach to meet the needs of employers of different sizes and at which ever location they are operating. Anticipating employer demand and flexing to local economies is crucial. Accordingly, JCP should attempt a more strategic approach by working to ensure that they are helping claimants into growth industries while directing them away from occupational areas in decline. A “one size fits all” approach limits effectiveness and as we know through delivering the Work Programme, it is vital that JCP has the capacity to strategically react to different employers, of different sizes, in different locations.

3.2 Recommendation:

While JCP has made significant progression in engaging with employers, building on these stronger links is critical, both nationally and locally. As we have found through delivering the Work Programme, these links benefit jobseeker and employer alike.

11 June 2013

Prepared 27th January 2014