Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Papworth Trust

Summary

Papworth Trust works with Jobcentre Plus primarily through our relationship as a Work Programme provider. We surveyed our employment advisers to seek their views on how well they work with Jobcentre Plus and what could be improved. We found that:

Communication with providers was identified as the single biggest issue Jobcentre Plus could improve on.

Information sharing was often problematic, with Jobcentre Plus failing to notify us changes in claimants’ circumstances.

Opinion was split on whether benefit conditionality was working, with some raising concerns that it was not always appropriate.

Benefit sanctions were deemed inconsistent and were sometimes undoing the positive steps made in getting someone closer to employment.

Introduction

1. Papworth Trust is disability charity helping 20,000 people a year through a wide range of services, including work, housing, leisure and care. Our experience of Jobcentre Plus comes primarily through our working relationship as a provider of the Work Programme. We work with 11 Jobcentre Plus offices across Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. We have longstanding relationships with these offices as we previously delivered former welfare-to-work programmes such as Flexible New Deal. Papworth Trust helps almost 4,000 people every year to find and keep jobs.

2. Papworth Trust welcomes the Select Committee’s inquiry into the role of Jobcentre Plus. In response to your inquiry, we surveyed our employment advisers to find out what they believed the perceived barriers to work are for their customers, their relationships with Jobcentre Plus and whether they believe benefit conditionality and sanctions are working. We look forward to sharing the results from this survey throughout our response.

Barriers to Employment

3. In the past, the Government has recognised some of the issues which prevent people returning to employment such as disability, health problems and in some circumstances the complex nature of our benefits system. Papworth Trust also believes that discrimination, language barriers, criminal records, lack of experience and transportation needs further restrict the opportunities and ability to gain work. A major barrier for our clients is that employers often seek “ready-made” employees who are proficient in their role with minimum training, support, cost or perceived risk to the employer. Extra support or training is viewed as inconvenient, time consuming and costly.

4. One in five respondents to our survey also believed attitude was a core challenge, with one commenting “motivating clients and allaying their fears that they will be able to earn enough money to pay their bills” was a barrier to returning to work. As the jobseeker’s first point of contact, we believe Jobcentre Plus has a key role to play in allaying those fears and motivating people into finding employment.

Better Communications, Data Sharing and Referral Patterns with Providers

5. Over half of respondents to our survey identified “communication” as the single biggest issue that Jobcentre Plus could improve on. Papworth Trust has found there exists a postcode lottery affecting their communications. We work with 11 Jobcentre Plus offices across Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. In some areas we have been able to build up a good rapport with our local offices; in other locations it has been more sporadic. Whilst some Jobcentre Plus offices have worked hard in building good relationships with providers, respondents highlighted “conflicting advice”, a “hostile response to queries” and an “unwillingness to provide information” as key problems.

6. Papworth Trust has long argued for better data sharing between Jobcentre Plus and providers. This is particularly in reference to a customer’s change in circumstances, ranging from when they move home, change their telephone number to signing off benefits because they’ve found work. Our experience has been that Jobcentre Plus is poor at informing us of these change in circumstances—this is important for two reasons. Firstly, the impact on jobseekers—we may be trying to contact people using the wrong details or who have since found employment. Secondly, the impact on providers’ job outcome and sustainment figures—if providers’ information does not match up with the central (PRaP) system, the Department for Work and Pensions will not authorise the payment for successfully placing a claimant in work.

7. Our experience shows that as Jobcentre Plus’s priorities change, so do their referral patterns, which has generated substantial difficulties for providers in the past. This makes it increasingly difficult for providers to predict their referral rates and manage their service delivery resources. There have been occasions where referral rates have diminished when a Jobcentre Plus staff member is sick or takes annual leave as the local office has alternate priorities or nobody within the office has responsibility for those referrals. We believe Jobcentre Plus has an obligation to deliver on their part of the supply chain relationship.

Supporting Jobseekers

8. Papworth Trust believes Jobcentre Plus could improve on the level of support it gives jobseekers, with the perception that people can often be treated as numbers rather than as individuals. An employment adviser commented that jobseekers can often “feel as though they are on a conveyor belt” upon reaching the provider.

Benefit Conditionality

9. Opinions were split amongst our employment advisors about whether or not benefit conditionality was working. Disappointment with benefit conditionality was apparent with suggestions that it is “too rigid” and “not always appropriate across the board”.

Benefit Sanctions

10. With a third of respondents answering “no” to whether they feel that Jobcentre Plus is sanctioning benefits appropriately, one respondent suggested it depended on “popularity and the adviser you see”, or disparity with “two people getting different lengths of sanction for the same reasons”. Concerns were raised that Employment and Support Allowance claimants who missed appointments due to their disability or health condition were subsequently sanctioned. Whilst another said that “sanctioning a family causes ripples of sending the children into poverty and poor quality of life”. This statement was supported by another respondent who said the effect could be “horrendous, both financially and mentally, and destroys all the work we have done in making them job ready”.

24 May 2013

Prepared 27th January 2014