Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Working Links

Introduction

Working Links welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into the Role of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) in the reformed welfare system. Working Links has been in operation since 2000 and since that time we have helped over a quarter of a million people into work through programmes such as Employment Zones, New Deal, Flexible New Deal and the Work Programme. Our organisation is passionate about making a difference to people’s lives and it is our belief that sustained employment is the best route out of poverty. Our goal is to help people move away from welfare dependency—benefits should not be seen as a long term option for those that can work, but merely a transitional measure.

Working Links places partnerships at the heart of its delivery and we work closely with JCP as well as public, private, voluntary sector organisations and employers of all industries to help the long-term unemployed into sustained employment.

In the context of increasing pressure on welfare spend, the introduction of Universal Credit and benefits reform, Working Links believes this inquiry offers an important opportunity to review the role of JCP as “gatekeeper” to employability programmes such as the Work programme and Work Choice and more generally its role within a world of multi-agency service delivery driven by Universal Credit.

Our response is based upon our operational knowledge as well as insights from thought leadership research which we have commissioned to help inform and shape our delivery of services to long-term unemployed people.

Key Points

Working Links enjoys a positive working relationship with Jobcentre Plus particularly in those offices where we “co-locate” to provide a warm handover for jobseekers who are moving on to the Work Programme.

There are numerous examples of best practice throughout our delivery areas. But we believe that more could be done to share these examples of best practice across the JCP network which would in turn improve service delivery to jobseekers moving from JCP onto the Work Programme.

Working Links believes that Universal Credit will bring a step change in the way that JCP operates—drawing it closer to other agencies responsible for elements of public service provision. We consider that in order to incentivise the right behaviours, JCP needs to be measured on the actual sustained outcomes rather than whether someone has signed off benefits.

To further improve service delivery for jobseekers and boost employment outcomes, Working Links would recommend that further attention is given to the diagnostic tools used by JCP with a view to considering a model like the Australian Jobseeker Classification Instrument (JSCI).

Government’s policy intent is to help people move off benefits and into employment of more than 16 hours per week. Working Links would argue that it is important to utilise the right tools to achieve this outcome (Universal Jobmatch) and to build in a way of measuring progression as an outcome in employability programmes.

Sharing of Best Practice

The use of the “warm handover” where providers and JCP work closely together to support customers as they move from JCP onto the Work Programme is very effective and more should be done to formalise the sharing of best practice across JCP to help support jobseekers as they transition on to the Work Programme and encourage their engagement. For example, in Cardiff, JCP advisors are part of the induction process—this helps those advisers get a better sense of what we do when a customer moves over to Work Programme and helps the jobseeker with a smoother transition—resulting in increased engagement and motivation on the part of jobseekers. In the South West, we have a Finding and Getting a Job Programme in partnership with JCP that helps people gain employability skills. We work with JCP to help people who have been unemployed for under a year and have been identified as needing extra help in gaining the skills that employers require. Customers come on our six-week course to learn about interview techniques, confidence building, CV writing, application forms and get specific training relating to the local labour market. This type of collaborative working is incredibly important and ensures a seamless process for jobseekers.

Jos, 53, of Dawlish, decided to return to the South West after 25 years in New Zealand. He couldn’t find work despite having an educational portfolio working as a lecturer and assessor in New Zealand.

He struggled for months until he was referred to the Finding and Getting a Job Programme, delivered by Working Links in partnership with Jobcentre Plus in the South West.

It was during this six-week programme run by Working Links and Jobcentre Plus that Working Links helped him turn his New Zealand-based qualifications into ones recognised by UK employers.

Bernie said: “It’s fantastic to see the partnership between Working Links and Jobcentre Plus working to such great effect. It’s all about moving people back into work and Jos has found the perfect job.”

Measuring Outcomes

Worklessness increases the demand on a range of social support functions not employment support services. The changes brought forward by the introduction of Universal Credit are intended to promote a more integrated multi-agency approach and a radical shift in the way that JCP interacts with other key players in the system such as local authorities, housing associations and voluntary sector providers. This move to a much more integrated approach is extremely welcomed and in our view will help improve sustainable outcomes in the longer term.

However, at the moment JCP’s success is measured by a simple off benefit flow. It is this focus on off benefit flows, according to think tank Policy Exchange, which leads to a situation where it is a “revolving door” for some as they move in and out of work without receiving the necessary support from other agencies to help them break down the barriers to employment. The report argues that only around a half of claimants leaving Jobseeker’s Allowance are still in work eight months later and a third of those are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance again.

And according to the National Audit Office (NAO) in 40% of cases the reason for a claimant moving “off-flow” is not recorded—they could be on other benefits, in prison or be off benefits but remain out of work. Under the current system, there is little incentive for JCP as an institution to record the reason for the off-benefit flow or have a good understanding of whether its interventions have proved successful in helping someone move into longer term employment.

It is Working Links’ belief that JCP needs to move away from the off-benefit flow measurement towards one which considers sustained outcomes. In doing so we will avoid the current challenge of sustained outcomes not being pursued—with the resulting “cost burden” simply shifted to local authorities or other support services. We would argue that JCP outcomes could potentially be measured in the same way as Work Programme providers.

Jobseeker Classification Instrument

In order to promote sustainable employment, Working Links argues that a more sophisticated classification tool needs to be implemented, enabling JCP to understand the factors affecting the sustainability of outcomes and to provide an effective “sign-post” to agencies and more effective targeted support for its customers. In Australia, the Jobseeker Classification Instrument considers a range of factors and circumstances (for example transport issues, living arrangements, work experience, disability, qualifications). Unemployment benefit claimants are assessed against 18 categories and the results are then used as a basis for a more effective diagnostic approach to determine interventions. We would argue that the Australian model has many merits for consideration within the JCP framework.

In addition to the specific tools that JCP has at its disposal we would argue that there needs to be a culture shift towards more sharing of data and diagnostic approaches. Our advisors often find that change of circumstance information is inconsistent or lacks detail and we would note that this is particularly relevant for the current JSA client groups.

Supporting a Flexible Labour MarketUniversal Credit and Conditionality

One of the challenges of supporting jobseekers has been identifying and sharing employer vacancies. Whilst Universal Jobmatch (UJ) has been controversial because of concerns about cost and privacy we wholeheartedly welcome the spirit and intention of Universal Jobmatch as a means of facilitating this. However, we do share concerns about the “functionality teething problems” and about a consistent approach amongst JCP in advising jobseekers and training them to use Universal Jobmatch.

As a broader principle we do believe providers should be incentivised to help people not only sustain in work but progress and boost their earnings (in keeping with the taper for the withdrawal of benefits as earnings increase). Universal Jobmatch could play an important role here—supporting this activity by matching employers and employees according to progression opportunities and ambition.

Conclusion

Working Links has a strong relationship with Jobcentre Plus and believes there are many examples of best practice across our delivery areas. We believe the sharing of best practice has a beneficial impact but that more could be done to share examples of best practice across the JCP network which would in turn improve service delivery to jobseekers moving from JCP onto the Work Programme.

In terms of improving the way that JCP operates, we would identify improvements to diagnostic capability and the replacement of the off-benefit flow measurement as the two recommendations which would have most impact.

We consider that in order to incentive the right behaviours, JCP needs to be measured on the actual sustained outcomes rather than whether someone has signed off benefits. To further improve service delivery for jobseekers and boost employment outcomes, Working Links would recommend that further attention is given to the diagnostic tools used by JCP with a view to considering a model like the Australian Jobseeker Classification Instrument.

24 May 2013

Prepared 27th January 2014