Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by The Salvation Army

Executive Summary

The Salvation Army is a Christian Church and charity, which seeks to serve a wide range of clients from a holistic perspective. Both through our welfare-to-work and homelessness services, as well as our work in the community, we have a unique breath and depth of experience working with Jobcentre Plus. This experience suggests that there is some considerable variation in JCP performance, both across client groups and geographical areas. Particularly we are concerned that JCPs at times fail to correctly identify real but undisclosed needs and barriers to work and/or do not have the time or resources to adequately address the identified needs and barriers to work. In our view these issues should be addressed as a matter of urgency, either by additional training and a reduction in JCP caseloads or improving early identification mechanisms and contracting-out services for those furthest removed from the labour market.

About The Salvation Army

1. The Salvation Army is a Christian church and charity present in 700 communities in the UK. Its main areas of charitable work are:

Employment Services providing welfare to work programmes and work clubs. We are currently involved in the Work Programme as a tier one end-to-end subcontractor to three different primes in two contract package areas. In addition we provide one Work Choice and one Jobcentre Support contract.

Homelessness Services providing residential and community-based support mainly for single homeless people.

Community Services offering a diverse range of services mainly through our local churches in response to the needs they encounter in their local communities.

Older People’s Services providing residential care to older people.

Family Tracing Services reuniting families who have lost contact with a family member.

2. Drawing on its Christian beliefs, The Salvation Army adopts a holistic approach to service provision. As appropriate it works with people to ensure:

A secure and adequate income.

Affordable and decent housing.

Good mental and physical health including addressing addictions.

A sense of purpose deriving from meaningful activity whether paid work, volunteering or learning.

A set of supportive relationships.

Where we cannot deliver these things ourselves we work with others. Our service users have access to chaplaincy or pastoral care which they can engage with if they wish.

Our Overall Reaction to the Inquiry into Jobcentre Plus

3. Our experience with a range of service users, including long-term unemployed, homeless people, and others with significant barriers to work, indicates that the service currently provided through Jobcentre Plus at times fails to adequately serve those facing greater disadvantages. As such, we welcome this effort to assess the support which JCP currently provides to jobseekers and identify areas for improvement.

4. We are a member of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) and Homeless Link, and endorse the points they are making in their submission to this inquiry. We are not competent to comment on every aspect of the questions posed on the inquiry, but have tried to focus on issues relevant to our experience as a voluntary sector provider and our holistic approach.

JCP’s Employment Services

5. From our experiences as a voluntary organisation engaging with a range of client groups in a variety of settings, the adequacy of the service provided by JCP varies from individual to individual and location to location. We have some excellent relationships with Jobcentre Plus staff, including some invaluable JCP outreach work taking place in our Lifehouses (homeless hostels). On the other hand, we find that large case loads, combined at times with a lack of understanding of the issues faced by some clients, can lead to a situation where barriers to work are not adequately assessed and/or addressed. Both in our work as the provider of contracted-out services and in our services for homeless clients, we find that dealing with a client as a whole person, rather than just focussing on their employment status, will often result in the identification of needs and barriers that perhaps fall outside the scope and competence of JCP.

6. It is difficult to see how the issues raised above could be addressed without either reducing JCP caseloads and investing in further training or improving early identification systems and contracting-out services for harder to help jobseekers.

JCP’s Role in Relation to the Rights and Responsibilities of Benefit Claimants

7. We fully understand and support JCP’s responsibility in ensuring that jobseekers fulfil the requirements to actively seek work and to be available for work. We also understand the role sanctions can play in this process. However, we feel that any such approach should be combined with a holistic view of the person involved and a real appreciation of their needs and constraints at any particular time. Again experiences in this respect tend to differ from individual to individual and JCP to JCP. We have however come across some incidences where we feel that such a considered approach has not been taken, leading to actions that were not in the interest of the person involved or indeed in the interest of returning said person to paid work in the most timely and successful manner. For example, we have had occasions where JCP have sought to sanction one of our Work Programme participants for failing to use Universal Jobmatch, while we as Work Programme providers had clearly instructed the participant to refrain from direct job searches until a number of underlying issues had been addressed. Similarly we find that some of our clients with a history of homelessness are at times subjected to levels of conditionality by JCP which would seem inappropriate at this particular stage of their journey. When they subsequently fail to meet these requirements, they are in turn subjected to sanctions, with the associated risk of destabilising the progress they made up to that point.

8. As the sanction regime become more stringent, we are increasingly concerned that an incorrect assessment of the ability to engage in actively seeking and being available for work may have very profound effects on the lives of vulnerable people with undisclosed needs and barriers to work. Again a further investment in JCP guidance and training may be required. In addition, our experiences in areas where the partnership with JCP is working well suggest that these issues can at least partially be addressed by more successful collaboration between JCP and other local stakeholders. We are very aware that this is a two way street and are keen to proactively seek out and build such relationship where they do not yet exist. More explicit guidance on the shape of such relationship and the associated need to protect client confidentiality and ensure data protection would be very helpful to facilitate this work.

23 May 2013

Prepared 27th January 2014