Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Delia Hodgkiss

Introduction

I am 53 years of age, I live in the North West of England and have worked as a manager for various providers in the Welfare to Work sector for the past seven years on various programmes, including the Work Programme (WP). I also have recent personal experience of JCP as I was made redundant in February 2013. I therefore believe I can help with the inquiry into JCP.

Very briefly, to give some background: I was made redundant on 12th February and as I had redundancy monies to cover me for a month and I claimed Job Seekers Allowance on 13th March. I have had seven meetings with JCP; four of these have been to “sign-on” and the others to see my adviser (on each of these occasions there has been a different adviser). As I had been made redundant I expected to be directed to a “Response to Redundancy” provider, but to date this has never been mentioned at JCP. As someone who is work ready and who should have been able to gain work quickly I would have thought that more would have been done to enable me into sustainable employment, but over the past nine weeks I have had no help from anyone at the Jobcentre. I have continued to apply and search for jobs and have attended interviews, but to no avail. I have, this week, told an adviser that I may need help with interview techniques and she has suggested that I attend a day course with a provider, but I was not given an appointment for this. She openly admitted that much of the day would probably be of no use to me, but that they would cover interview skills at some point during the day. I had also asked about self-employment and eventually the adviser has said she will contact Blue Orchid who provides help with this via New Enterprise Allowance. Meanwhile I have already booked to attend a free Barclay’s seminar with regard to self-employment and I am following this up myself. I have also been sanctioned as I forgot to attend a meeting, even though I was applying for jobs on the internet at home—so therefore no benefit for four weeks, no money to attend interviews, no money for bills, no food etc. I have also attended a course to complete my TAQA Award (Assessor Award), again I arranged this myself. When I told the advisor about this she said that because I had arranged it myself I would not be allowed reimbursement for mileage or car parking; therefore, I had arranged a course for myself to make myself more employable and had to pay for petrol and car parking (approx £40) from the £71 per week I received in benefits. This strikes me that doing something to better yourself, such as attending a free course that would enable me to become an assessor and more employable, is against the rules. I am aware that the JCP Advisers are following regulations, but this is ridiculous.

My main point with regard to the above is that I am employable, but it has taken JCP advisers nine weeks to act, and I still don’t know when I will be attending the one day course or Blue Orchid with regards to self-employment. I despair. If this is happening to someone who is job ready, what is happening to those who are not job ready? I already foresee the time when I will be joining the WP. In fact it may be better if I volunteer to attend the WP as I would probably get more help; at least WP providers employ people who know how to help people into sustainable work. There have been complaints about providers with regard to “Creaming and Parking”; in my opinion advisers at JCP are “parking and parking” and then passing everyone on to Work Choice or the WP providers for them to deal with and pick up the pieces. Obviously JCP advisers are not targeted as WP advisers are, or not as stringently; perhaps JCP advisers should be given the same performance levels as WP providers? We may then get results, which help with people actually not reaching the point of being “long-term unemployed” and being referred to the WP. It would be interesting to look at the figures with regard to how long someone is on benefit (from first JSA claim) before gaining employment ie via JCP. Just as with the WP many people find work of their own accord without any help from JCP advisors. I would think that there are many more individuals that are “parked” by the JCP advisor because they either can’t see how to help them or prefer not to because of the work involved; this person then, after being “parked” by JCP for six to 12 months, eventually is referred to the WP, where WP advisors are then expected to perform a miracle, when in the first instance the claimant/client has been failed/not helped by JCP. I know this happens, again from firsthand experience, as this is exactly what has happened to my son. If his JCP advisor had helped him when he initially signed on, or put some effort into trying to help him, I really don’t think he would now be in his second year of the WP; I believe he would have been in full time work. I also have another son who has completely given up with JCP because of the way he has been treated and not helped; he does not claim any benefit at all. There are many people like him who choose to do this; they make up part of the uncounted unemployed.

Moving on to my responses to some of the points posed:

1.I believe that JCP’s employment services, including: approaches to identifying jobseekers’ needs and barriers to employment are in need of sharpening up. I believe the above paragraphs go some way to explaining my view on this, however I will add to the above: In relation to “Get Britain Working” DWP say that the support for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants should include:

a New Jobseeker Interview at which a full diagnosis of the claimant’s ability to find work will be undertaken;

an explanation of what the claimant must do to remain entitled to Jobseeker’s Allowance. At the New Jobseeker Interview the claimant will agree with their Adviser a personalised jobsearch plan (the Jobseeker’s Agreement);

further flexible advisory interviews based on the advisers assessment of the support that a claimant needs. The frequency and duration of the interviews will be determined by the Adviser; and

fortnightly face to face Jobsearch review (FJRs) interviews.

Department for Work and Pensions: Advisers and intermediaries: Get Britain Working: Available at: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/adviser/updates/get-britain-working/. Accessed: 23/05/2013

Firstly, I did not complete a diagnostic of my ability to find work. I have also looked at the forms and paperwork I was given and there is no copy of such a diagnosis. The forms that were given to me are: Jobseeker’s Agreement (form ES3JP 11/12), Looking for Work (form ES4JP 01/04), Jobseeker’s Allowance Your Responsibilities (Booklet ES40JP 10/12) and an appointment card showing day, date and time of interviews for signing-on and seeing JCP advisor. All of these forms were completed and explained very quickly as though this was a “run of the mill” exercise for the advisor, all completed with an occasional question, and then myself signing the forms.

Secondly, An explanation of what I needed to do to remain entitled to JSA was never given to me, however this can be found in one of the forms I was given and which I signed. I would therefore think that this was the explanation, however someone with limited English would not understand. The Jobseeker’s Agreement was again completed in a very run of the mill way, without any conviction. In fact, I can remember the advisor saying “you won’t have a problem getting work, it should only take you a couple of weeks”. (I am still unemployed almost 10 weeks later). There was absolutely no enthusiasm from the advisor about any help they could give at the New Jobseeker Interview, and it actually made me feel even more discouraged than I was already feeling. The Jobseeker’s Agreement is completed very quickly and some “well used” phrases are used on the agreement eg “I will provide a copy of my CV on next attendance”; “I will access the internet/job sites on a daily basis and apply for anything suitable”; “I will/have registered with Universal Jobmatch”; “I will provide details of my job search on each attendance”. I had already provided my CV and I think if you look at all Jobseeker Agreements they will all say the same thing, however the advisor spends time typing this into the form. This could be written on the form and become a tick list. This may then free up some time for the advisor to help in more positive and constructive ways.

Thirdly, I believe the JCP advisor is working like a robot and is automatically following the guidance as to when they see claimants. Since 22 March 2013, which was the date of my New Jobseeker Interview, I have “signed-on” three times (each time being asked if I am still looking for work, to which I replied “yes”. I then signed the form and with no further questions left the building—the time taken to do this was two minutes). I have also seen a different advisor on four different occasions, for what I presume to be the “flexible advisory interview”, which have been at intervals of two weeks, four weeks and two weeks. Again these meetings are very quick and not very helpful, apart from the last advisor interview I had on 20 May 2013, when the advisor decided to book me in for a day course for interview techniques (explained above) and said she would arrange an appointment with Blue Orchid with regard to self-employment (I have still not received this appointment). The time taken for the “flexible advisory interview” is no more than 30 minutes.

Lastly, I am not aware of the Jobsearch review, this appears to take place at the “flexible advisory interviews”.

I am personally unaware and do not have personal experience of JCP’s role as a gateway to contracted-out services such as Work Choice and the Work Programme, including processes for referral and handover; however when working in Hounslow a “warm handover” was in place between JCP and Ingeus/Ixion (WP), which worked extremely well. The JCP advisor would contact Ixion (WP sub contractor for Ingeus) and speak to the admin team to complete a “warm handover”. The JCP Advisor would then put the claimant on the phone to speak to the WP provider. Aspects of the WP were explained to the claimant and an appointment for the initial attachment interview would then be set up with the claimant. After comparing two Ixion delivery locations, one that used “warm handovers” and another that didn’t, it was found that more people attended the initial attachment interview when a warm handover took place than when this wasn’t used. I would think the reasoning behind this is that the claimant made the interview appointment in the presence of their JCP advisor and the warm handover also made the claimant feel more involved with decisions and understood more about why they were being referred to the WP and what was expected of them.

With regard to JCP’s use of the Flexible Support Fund, including how spending decisions are made and evaluated and the effectiveness of JCP’s relationships with other key stakeholders, particularly local authorities. My experience of JCP using the Flexible Support Fund has been limited, but prior to my son being on the WP he was never sent/asked to attend any courses that could have helped him, and I have waited almost 10 weeks before a JCP advisor suggested I go on a day course with regard to interview techniques and attend Blue Orchid (please see above). As I have said above, the advisors are not working quickly enough when a claimant first starts to claim JSA and the courses they then send claimants on are next to useless ie I am going to spend a whole day on a course that even the advisor was sceptical as to if it would help me. I am aware that there is some very good provision, but what is being provided is by no means going far enough to help people into work. Many individuals need to re-train, especially those that have come from the North where there is no traditional industry left and where there are a greater proportion of individuals applying for a job than in the South, for example, there are less and less engineering firms and those who have worked many years as an engineer and who have lost their job due to redundancy or the firm going out of business need to re train, for example as LGV or HGV drivers. Some of these individuals do not need CV writing skills or interview technique training, they need REAL sector skills training, however JCP cannot send them on a course to gain their LGV/HGV licence as the course and licence can cost in excess of £3,000. Government needs to look at the courses available and the delivery models of Work Choice, the WP (including the payment model), Work Together etc and really think what it will take for people to return to work, because the courses that are currently on offer such as improving your CV and interview techniques, confidence and motivation may go some way to preparing the individual for interview, but the question remains, “what work, what type of work”, especially if there are 60 people going for one job and the person does not have the skills or experience to actually do the job. It may be an idea to think about the money that is available and make an allowance of £X for every claimant, but make the money available for up-skilling, re-training or sector specific training and enable the claimant to decide as to the training they receive instead of JCP, because at the moment, this is just not working. If the decision is made by the claimant and they have “buy in” they are far more likely to attend and want to succeed, and get a job in an industry they have chosen.

With regard to JCP’s relationships with key stakeholders, I do not have any experience of this. The Jobcentre held an army careers day that took place on a day I signed-on, but to be honest there was no activity between Armed Forces personnel and claimants, in fact there were hardly any claimants in the JCP. I personally feel that this was a JCP exercise of going through the motions and being seen to be working with potential employers.

2.With regard to JCP’s role in relation to the rights and responsibilities of benefit claimants, including: the effectiveness of benefit conditionality, particularly job-seeking conditionality and the mandatory “work-focused interview”; and the level and appropriateness of JCP’s use of benefit sanctions, including differences of approach between JCP Districts. JCP Advisors appear to have a “one way fits all” mentality to this. Again, it is as though advisors are going through the motions and have no real concern as to why you (the claimant) may have missed an appointment or to your personal circumstances as a job seeker, it is as though advisors treat everyone as though the reason they give when not attending an interview is a lie, and is of no consequence to them. They show indifference to any reason you give and tell you that you can appeal. They do not tell you that you can claim Hardship Provision. On a personal note, I missed my first appointment with my advisor. I had not at this point received any benefit. My reason for missing the appointment was that I had totally forgotten about the interview and I could have produced information showing that I was searching and applying for jobs on the internet at home. However, I was sanctioned for four weeks ie no benefit for four weeks. I then claimed Hardship Provision, which I eventually received two weeks later. The amount of Hardship Provision is a lot less that JSA. Yes, it does make you think you had better not miss another appointment, but I do believe the system is somewhat harsh, especially for new claimants. It also strikes me that the cost of sanctioning, the claimant appealing and then claiming hardship are quite costly. I know of others who do not bother to claim hardship or don’t even know they can claim it. My last point is that it comes across that JCP advisors are targeted with regard to sanctions, but in a none performance related way, after all it is a saving to the Government if job seekers are sanctioned and especially if they don’t know about, or don’t claim Hardship Provision. This also leads to another point—what happens with the savings DWP make from sanctioning a claimant? This is also a question for DWP regarding WP sanctions. This could be used to provide meaningful sector specific courses. I believe the way sanctions are dealt with and the number of weeks a claimant can be sanctioned for needs to be evaluated. Sanctions bring about bad relations, especially in the WP, as more often than not the WP client does not realise that it is not the provider that is sanctioning them, but it is a DWP decision.

3.With regard to supporting a flexible labour market, including: JCP’s effectiveness in matching jobseekers to suitable job vacancies, including through the introduction of Universal Jobmatch (UJ). I believe that JCP advisors are not interested in claimants gaining sustainable employment. I believe I have covered this earlier, however I believe that the work that JCP does can be far better accomplished by providers, who should be targeted (as per the WP). I do not believe JCP is needed and that what they do can be done far better by providers who have the mentality, knowledge and correct approach for this work. I believe that the skill of enabling someone into sustainable employment is specialised, not everyone can do this job and providers have their employability advisors fine tuned for the role, where as JCP do not. JCP staff appear to be doing the bare minimum to get people into work and if JCP continues there need to be drastic changes into staff attitude to claimants and their eagerness to help people into work. I would award all “employability” provision to providers so that a streamlined system can be put in place. As I have said previously, JCP advisors are “parking” claimants and just biding time with them until the claimant can be referred to the WP or Work Choice. If the claimant was seen by a provider straight away (upon initial benefit claim) and payment by results was in place, then I am sure there would be more long-term unemployed and more people with disabilities in sustainable employment.

As an “aside” I told my JCP advisor that I had been for an interview with A4e as a WP area manager. She asked me who A4e was! Do JCP staff know anything about the set up of Welfare to Work?

I have experience of using Universal Jobsearch. I can say that this system is a waste of time. There are too many glitches in the system. There is a notes box on the system that you should use to write notes. You write notes and then you can’t see them and there is also a character limit as to the notes you can write. There is also a section on Universal Jobsearch where the JCP advisor can enter jobs that they think you should apply for; to date (10 weeks) there has been nothing entered here. Universal Jobmatch is just an easy way of the JCP advisor checking on your job search. Not all jobs are located on Universal Jobsearch, therefore when you apply via a different site or direct to an employer you are either supposed to copy and paste these to a separate document to print off to show your advisor or add to the notes on UJ, that doesn’t allow enough characters for what you want to enter. My suggestion: Close JCP and put providers in control of the whole claimant journey—from initially becoming unemployed, to WP, Work Choice and meaningful courses such as LGV/HGV as well as soft skill courses.

4.In my opinion JCP staff will not have the inclination to deal with the impacts of benefit reforms, including: the implications for JCP staff roles of the implementation of Universal Credit, including the skills staff will need in order to offer effective in-work support; changes to staff roles brought about by the move to “digital by default”; and plans to support claimants affected by the benefit cap. I believe that people will still go to Citizens Advice Bureau and other charitable organisations to seek advice and help. Many people do not have confidence in JCP staff and need to approach someone that they see as a friend.

I would like to make three final suggestions. I don’t know if they do or do not exist. Firstly, I believe feedback needs to be obtained from JSA/ESA claimants and JCP and WP/Work Choice staff (pre-WP and WP/Work Choice); secondly I believe, that if this is possible, “mystery shoppers” need to play a part in enabling the Committee to gain further feedback. Thirdly, If you need any help in matters I have raised, or if you need further clarification, or if you need a “mystery shopper”, I do hope you will consider me.

24 May 2013

Prepared 27th January 2014