Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Sunderland Partnership

Executive Summary

In this written submission, Sunderland Partnership has attempted to contribute to the Inquiry from its experience in each of the subject areas identified. Our concerns are primarily about the practical implications at local of recent changes and the fairness with which procedures are being applied. We also question whether Jobcentre Plus (JCP) ability to act as a strategic contributor locally has been changed at all as a result of the changes within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

JCP’s employment services, including: approaches to identifying jobseekers’ needs and barriers to employment; the effectiveness of the “Get Britain Working” measures; JCP’s role as a gateway to contracted-out services such as Work Choice and the Work Programme, including processes for referral and handover; 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.

1.We believe that it is right for JCP to act as a gateway to the Work Programme, however, we are concerned about the well-reported and ongoing failure of the programme to meet expectations.

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.

2.We believe that it is right for JCP to continue to manage these responsibilities. We are concerned, however, over reports of formal or informal sanction targets being applied to JCP offices and individual staff in relation to performance reviews. We believe that sanctions should only be applied to individuals where appropriate.

Supporting a flexible labour market, including: JCP’s effectiveness in matching jobseekers to suitable job vacancies, including through the introduction of Universal Jobmatch; whether JCP is sufficiently focused on sustained job outcomes as well as off-benefit flows and how this is, or should be, measured; and employers’ assessment of the effectiveness of JCP as a recruitment partner.

3.We believe that it is right for JCP to act in support of a flexible labour market. There have been concerns raised however over the ability of JCP staff to support those it refers to as its “non traditional clients” (eg those with higher skills and knowledge levels) back into employment.

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.

4.As detailed above, we believe that staff within JCP have not always been able to address the needs and aspirations of its non-traditional customer base (eg some of those with higher or specialised skills and knowledge that have recently become unemployed).

The governance of JCP, including: whether ending the executive agency status of JCP, and bringing it under the central control of a single DWP Chief Operating Officer, has brought about efficiencies and streamlined management as intended; and the potential for more radical future changes to JCP.

5.It is not clear to us whether the scrapping of agency status for JCP has brought about the planned efficiencies. Nor is it evident that this has had any impact upon the ability of DWP or JCP to respond to local circumstances.

23 May 2013

Prepared 27th January 2014