Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Welsh Language Commissioner

The Welsh Language Commissioner welcomes the opportunity to comment on the effectiveness of Jobcentre Plus, and how its role should, perhaps, change in the context of reforming welfare including Universal Credit.

This comment is submitted as evidence to assist you in investigating the functions of the Centre.

The principal aim of the Commissioner is to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language. This entails raising awareness of the official status of the Welsh language in Wales and imposing standards on organizations. This, in turn, will lead to the establishment of rights for Welsh speakers. Two principles underpin the Commissioner’s work:

In Wales, the Welsh language should be treated no less favourably than the English language.

Persons in Wales should be able to live their lives through the medium of the Welsh language if they choose to do so.

In due course, secondary legislation will introduce new powers allowing the setting and imposing of standards on organisations. Until then, the Commissioner will continue to inspect statutory language schemes through the powers inherited under the Welsh Language Act 1993.

The post of Commissioner was created by the Welsh Language Measure (Wales) 2011. The Commissioner may investigate failure to implement a language scheme; interference with the freedom to use Welsh in Wales and, in future, complaints regarding the failure of organisations to meet standards.

One of the Commissioner’s priorities is to scrutinise policy developments in terms of the Welsh language. Therefore the Commissioner’s main role is to provide comments in accordance with this remit and to act as an independent advocate on behalf of Welsh speakers in Wales who could be affected by this investigation. This approach is used to avoid any possible compromise of the Commissioner’s functions in the area of regulation, and should the Commissioner wish to formally review the performance of individual bodies or the Welsh Government in accordance with the provisions of the Measure.

In carrying out this investigation of the functions of Jobcentre Plus, we ask you specifically to give consideration to the following comments:

The Commissioner believes that, in conducting this investigation it is vitally important to give equal consideration to the Welsh language from the outset in investigating the functions of Jobcentre Plus.

The importance of safeguarding frontline Welsh language services should be noted as a result of any further reorganisation of the welfare system.

The Commissioner has already informed the Department of Work and Pensions of her concerns regarding Universal Credit and the lack of Welsh language provision as part of the pilot scheme and also the Child Maintenance Group regarding its lack of forward planning in designing a new website when no consideration was given to a Welsh website at the beginning of the planning process.

The Department of Work and Pensions’ Welsh Language Scheme notes clearly that “Our policies, initiatives and services will be in accordance with this scheme. They will support use of the Welsh language which will help the public in Wales to use Welsh as part of their everyday life. When we contribute to the process of developing or introducing new policies, initiatives, services or legislation led by other organisations, we will do so in a way that accords with this scheme.”

The importance of considering the Welsh language in all aspects of the investigation alongside all other factors in investigating the functions of Jobcentre Plus cannot be overemphasised.

We ask you to share your plans with the Welsh Language Commissioner before you implement them in order to provide the Commissioner with an assurance that the Welsh language has been fully considered.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on your investigation. We ask that you give full consideration to the comments noted above.

31 October 2013

Prepared 27th January 2014