Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by St Mungo’s

Background

St Mungo’s has been opening doors for homeless people since 1969. We currently run over 100 projects, providing accommodation for more than 1,700 people every night and helping thousands more who are rough sleeping or at risk of homelessness. St Mungo’s delivers a range of residential services from emergency shelters to semi-independent flats, as well as non-residential health, education and employment services. We also prevent homelessness through our housing advice programmes.

St Mungo’s services are based on a recovery approach and we aim to work in partnership with clients in a personalised, effective way. Our clients often have complex problems that cause, or are caused by, homelessness; we deliver holistic support to help people rebuild their lives.

Summary/Key Points

1.1 Barriers to employment: Homeless people often face significant challenges which affect their training and employment prospects. These include long periods away from employment, low basic skill levels, low self-confidence, poor mental and physical health, substance dependency, and histories marked by abuse, involvement with the criminal justice system or institutionalisation.

1.2 Identifying need: St Mungo’s joint research with Crisis and Homeless Link1 has shown that that Jobcentre Plus (JCP) often fail to identify people who are homeless. JCP staff need to be trained and supported to identify people as homeless and to recognise the challenges and barriers to work that many homeless people face.

1.3 “Warm handovers”: JCP plays an important gateway role in referring jobseekers to the Work Programme and other contracted out services. Advisers should be encouraged and supported to consistently provide “warm handovers” to Work Programme providers: handing over as much information as possible with every referral, including details of claimants’ accommodation status and support needs.

1.4 Maximising options: JCP should have more options for supporting homeless people into work, for example new programmes to prepare people for the Work Programme.

1.5 Flexible Support Fund (FSF): DWP and JCP should examine both the payment rates and outcome periods for FSF contracts with homelessness providers to bring them more in line with the Work Programme and to maximise positive outcomes.

1.6 Job conditionality and sanctions: JCP advisers should be trained and provided with support materials including statutory guidance, to recognise the issues homeless people often face and take these into account when setting job conditionality and when imposing sanctions. St Mungo’s would be keen to work with the DWP to review and update guidance for JCP advisers and update the District Provision tool on the JCP Labour Market System.

1.7 “Digital by default”: With the introduction of Universal Credit, Jobcentres and their staff need to be adequately equipped to support those, including many of our clients, who will struggle to make and maintain their claims online.

1.8 Regional consistency: St Mungo’s would support the development of statutory guidelines or any further changes to the governance of JCP which would encourage a more uniform approach, particularly in respect to homeless jobseekers and benefit claimants who are non-UK nationals.

Introduction

2.1 St Mungo’s welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to this inquiry. There are no national statistics on the number of homeless people in or seeking work. St Mungo’s recent survey of our clients found that just 6% are in paid employment and at least 47% have either never worked or not had a job for five years or more.2 This is despite the fact that over three quarters of homeless people want to work.3

2.2 Jobcentre Plus (JCP) can play a critical role in supporting homeless people into training and employment and St Mungo’s believes there is scope to improve the functioning of JCP, including further governance reform to make service more consistent. However, we believe that any reform of JCP or modification of its role should maintain and extend investment in Jobcentres and in their staff.

2.3 Specifically, JCP staff need to be better equipped to identify people who are homeless and to respond to their needs accordingly: to provide appropriate support and comprehensive referrals to the contracted out services; ensuring conditionality and sanctions are constructive; and issuing contracts with homelessness providers that recognise the time and costs of delivering successful outcomes with this client group.

Responses to Inquiry Questions

3. Jobcentre Plus (JCP) approaches to identifying jobseekers’ needs and barriers to employment

3.1 The Minister for Employment recently stated that “Jobcentre Plus advisers are equipped with the necessary guidance and training to identify and provide an appropriate level of tailored support for the homeless, as well as other disadvantaged groups.”4 However, our joint report with Homeless Link and Crisis, The Programme’s Not Working: Experiences of homeless people on the Work Programme5 found that JCP are consistently failing to identify people who are homeless. As a result JCP cannot address the specific needs of homeless people and the barriers to employment they face.

3.2 We know that many of our clients do not state that they are homeless when they claim unemployment benefits. As standard, all benefit claimants and jobseekers should be explicitly asked whether they live in a hostel or other temporary or insecure accommodation when making a claim. It is important that homelessness is identified because people who are homeless often face a number of disadvantages which create barriers to employment. Our Client Needs Survey shows that of our clients:

60% have a mental health problem.

67% have a physical health problem.

34% do not have the necessary literacy skills to complete a form.

48% do not have the necessary digital skills to complete an online form.

47% have either never worked or have not worked for over five years.

25% have experienced violence or abuse from a partner or family member.6

3.3 Homelessness itself also exacerbates many of these problems resulting in people moving even further from the job market. Both looking for and sustaining a job can be difficult for people living in temporary accommodation such as hostels due to disturbances such as frequent moves and excess noise making it difficult to maintain a routine.

3.4 We are keen to work with JCP to ensure that decision makers and advisers are able to identify and understand the real difficulties that homeless people face in the job market.

3.5 The Minister for Employment has stated that “the guidance which supports Jobcentre Plus advisers is subject to regular review to ensure its effectiveness for helping to tackle homelessness and the barriers it creates to employment.”7 We are keen to continue to work with officials to review and update this guidance.

3.6 Mental health is a particularly difficult issue, especially where it is undiagnosed JCP advisers should have access to supporting materials and additional training in order to increase awareness and understanding and enable a better response to mental health needs.

3.7 St Mungo’s strongly supports recommendations from the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s recent report Can the Work Programme work for all user groups?, in particular:

(i)DWP urgently review JCP processes for identifying jobseekers with severe barriers to employment, including homelessness;

(ii)that these jobseekers are more consistently allocated to the JSA Early Access group;

(iii)and DWP fund additional pre-Work Programme support to prepare those with the severe barriers for effective engagement with the Work Programme.8

4. JCP’s role as a gateway to contracted-out services

4.1 JCP plays a critical role in providing an effective gateway to the Work Programme and comprehensive handovers to Prime Contractors are an essential part of this. Most Work Programme contracts have set out an aspiration for “warm handovers” including a three-way meeting between JCP, the Prime Contractor and the jobseeker to ensure the Work Programme provider is aware of the jobseeker’s specific needs.9

4.2 To effectively fulfil its gateway function, handovers need to include all relevant details about a claimant, including their housing status. Clearly if JCP staff are to be able to provide such handovers they will need to be able to identify those jobseekers and claimants who are homeless in the first place. Evidently this is not presently the case.10

4.3 The Department for Work and Pensions’ own research has recommended improvements in the referral and handover process in general.11 St Mungo’s welcomes Ministers’ recognition of the need to improve handovers and we would support moves to encourage co-location of JCP and Work Programme provider offices.12

4.4 If Prime Contractors have the relevant information about a client’s accommodation status and support needs they can refer them to subcontractors delivering specialist support, improving the prospects of positive outcomes. St Mungo’s became a Work Programme provider offering specialist support for homeless jobseekers in June 2011. However, by early 2012 we had not received a single referral and therefore pulled out of the Programme. The evidence suggests that this lack of referrals was attributable to Prime Contractors lack of knowledge about jobseekers accommodation status.

4.5 If Prime Contractors were given better information with a referral, they would not only be more likely to use appropriate sub-contractors but would also be more likely to place jobseekers in the right Payment Group, and therefore have appropriate performance incentives.

4.6 St Mungo’s direct involvement with JCP has mainly been through the Flexible Support Fund (FSF) and our experience has been broadly positive. However the FSF is a small fund, which is designed to support a wide range of groups. On its own it is not enough to provide to meet the employment and training needs of homeless people. JCP advisers need to have more options for delivering employment and training support to homeless people, particularly for delivering pre-Work Programme support.

5. JCP’s use of the Flexible Support Fund (FSF)

5.1 In 2011 several JCP schemes, including the Adviser Discretion Fund and the Travel to Interview Scheme were replaced by the Flexible Support Fund (FSF). JCP Districts can use this fund to commission specialist providers to provide employment support to groups with higher needs.

5.2 In Spring 2012 St Mungo’s were commissioned on a payment by results basis by South London JCP District to provide specialist employment support scheme for 50 homeless people under the FSF. The JCP District required that 20 training outcomes and 10 job outcomes were achieved in a 13 week period. St Mungo’s was proud to deliver all but four of the required job outcomes.

5.3 St Mungo’s established a good relationship with the South London JCP District, which played a key role in our successful delivery. We appreciate the necessity of outcome requirements being both challenging and payments being heavily back ended. However, had the required outcome period had been significantly longer, the number of clients we successfully helped into employment would have been even greater, at no additional cost to JCP.

5.4 Some JCP districts are now commissioning six week programmes. It is highly unlikely that successful outcomes will be achieved where individuals face significant barriers to employment in such a short time period.

Case Study—Dave

After losing his job as a security guard Dave13 became homeless as his landlord refused to take housing benefit and did not return his deposit. He was referred to St Mungo’s by Jobcentre Plus.

Dave’s skills were out of date and he had no references. He was finding it particularly difficult to get a job because of several difficulties in his life including a mental health problem and low self-confidence.

However, thanks to the Flexible Support Fund St Mungo’s was able to give Dave specialist support to help him move forward. Specialist staff spent time with Dave to help him work through some of the issues he was struggling with.

He began to take more responsibility for his actions and his confidence grew. Dave then accessed training and used St Mungo’s contacts to get a work placement.

This all took time and he is likely to get a job soon, however it will not be within the 13 week period that the Jobcentre stipulated.

St Mungo’s will not get paid for most of the work they have done with Dave.

5.5 FSF and other JCP contracts with providers helping homeless people into work or training need to recognise the specific challenges and barriers to employment this client group face and the time and cost implications. Challenges include long periods away from the job market or never having been employed, substance use problems, fluctuating mental and physical health conditions, low self-confidence and aspirations, histories marked by institutionalisation. Working through these issues inevitably takes time and in most cases longer is needed to achieve a work related outcome.

5.6 St Mungo’s strongly recommends that DWP and JCP examine the outcome periods for FSF contracts for homelessness providers in recognition of the barriers to work faced by homeless people.

6. JCP’s role in relation to the rights and responsibilities of benefit claimants

6.1 We understand the important role played by JCP in encouraging jobseekers to take personal responsibility for seeking employment, and that sanctions and conditionality can provide a useful motivational tool. However, we are concerned that sanctions are penalising people who are genuinely vulnerable and impeding their chances of both recovery from homelessness and of achieving an employment outcome.

6.2 During our research with Homeless Link and Crisis on homeless people’s experiences of the Work Programme we were concerned to find that 22% of those surveyed had been sanctioned.14 Imposing financial sanctions on people who are already experiencing extreme financial hardship and homelessness is likely to inhibit their practical circumstances to the extent that it becomes difficult to engage in jobseeking or work related activity. This negative is likely to outweigh any benefit. Moreover many people with severe barriers to employment may not fully understand the reasons why sanctions have been imposed meaning that any motivational effects will have been negligible.

6.3 St Mungo’s recommends that that the Decision Makers Guide used by JCP advisers15 includes guidance on job-seeking conditionality and benefit sanctions that:

Provides JCP advisers with extensive information about the barriers to work that homeless people face, and

Stipulates that a claimant’s accommodation status must be a consideration when considering how or whether conditionality should be applied.

7. The impacts of benefit reforms

7.1 Given the central role JCP will play in implementing Universal Credit, and our experience of the difficulties JCP advisers have in working with our clients, St Mungo’s is concerned that JCP staff will need more skills to support homeless claimants effectively as the welfare reforms are introduced. It is essential that any current and future guidance for JCP advisers explicitly addresses the challenges homeless people can face in securing and retaining employment and the importance of identifying people who are living in unsecure or temporary accommodation.

7.2 We are particularly concerned about the move towards “digital by default”, and the reliance on digital technology in Universal Credit. Almost half of our clients would struggle to make or maintain a benefit claim online, let alone undertake work related activity involving digital skills.16 Moreover, many homeless people face difficulties in gaining access to computers. Unlike some homelessness providers, St Mungo’s hostels have computers, but we have too few to enable all our residents to maintain their benefit claims or undertake work related activity. Our clients have little free access to computers elsewhere.

7.3 We welcome news that Jobcentres are to be equipped with more internet access devices,17 and hope that these new resources are provided in sufficient quantity to meet need. We also welcome the recent introduction of Digital Champions to every Jobcentre.18 However it is important that JCP staff have the time, skills and resources to provide additional support to ensure benefit claimants with few or no digital skills do not lose out, or face unnecessary sanctions. Ideally all JCP staff should be equipped to provide digital support and themselves be given the necessary training to help them recognise and support clients without digital skills. Jobcentres could work with local voluntary and community sector organisations to provide this training and support.

8. The governance of JCP and regional variations

8.1 Our experience of working with homeless people who are not UK nationals shows that there is regional inconsistency in the application of the Habitual Residency Test and of benefit conditionality. We recognise that the HRT decision is made centrally, based on information collected locally. We have seen no evidence that the changes to JCP governance to date have led to more consistency. St Mungo’s would support measures to ensure the HRT and benefit conditionality for EEA nationals are applied more consistently across regions. Measures might include the development of statutory guidelines or any further changes to the governance of JCP which would encourage a more uniform approach.

24 May 2013

1 St Mungo’s, Homeless Link, Crisis (2012). The Programme’s Not Working: Experiences of homeless people on the Work Programme http://www.mungos.org/press_office/1481_work-programme-is-not-working-for-homeless-people

2 St Mungo’s (2013). Client Needs Survey

3 Off the Streets and into Work (2005) No home, no job, moving on from transitional spaces.

4 Hansard (2013). HC Deb, 16 May 2013, c350W

5 St Mungo’s, Homeless Link, Crisis (2012). The Programme’s Not Working: Experiences of homeless people on the Work Programme http://www.mungos.org/press_office/1481_work-programme-is-not-working-for-homeless-people

6 St Mungo’s (2013). Client Needs Survey

7 Hansard (2013). HC Deb, 16 May 2013, c350W

8 House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee (2013), Can the Work Programme work for all user groups? First Report of Session 2013–14

9 DWP, (2012). Work Programme evaluation: Findings from the first phase of qualitative research on programme deliver, November 2012, chapter 5

10 St Mungo’s, Homeless Link, Crisis (2012). The Programme’s Not Working: Experiences of homeless people on the Work Programme http://www.mungos.org/press_office/1481_work-programme-is-not-working-for-homeless-people;

11 DWP/University of York (2012), Work Programme evaluation: Findings from the first phase of qualitative research on programme delivery http://www.york.ac.uk/inst/spru/pubs/pdf/rrep821summ.pdf

12 House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee (2013), Can the Work Programme work for all user groups? First Report of Session 2013–14

13 Name has been changed

14 St Mungo’s, Homeless Link, Crisis (2012). The Programme’s Not Working: Experiences of homeless people on the Work Programme http://www.mungos.org/press_office/1481_work-programme-is-not-working-for-homeless-people

15 DWP (2013). Decision Makers’ Guide http://www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/specialist-guides/decision-makers-guide/

16 The 2013 St Mungo’s Client Needs Survey found that 48% of St Mungo’s clients do not have the necessary digital skills to complete an online form.

17 Hansard, 11 Mar 2013: c17

18 Cabinet Office (2012), Government Approach to Assisted Digital, December 2012 http://publications.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/digital/assisted/

Prepared 27th January 2014