To be published as HC 479-ii

House of COMMONS



Work and Pensions Committee

The role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Niall Cooper, Chris Johnes, Seyi Obakin, Robert Trotter and Fiona Weir

Evidence heard in Public Questions 66 - 160


1. This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2. The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Work and Pensions Committee

on Wednesday 17 July 2013

Members present:

Dame Anne Begg (Chair)

Debbie Abrahams

Jane Ellison

Graham Evans

Mike Freer

Sheila Gilmore

Glenda Jackson

Stephen Lloyd

Nigel Mills

Anne Marie Morris


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Niall Cooper, National Co-ordinator, Church Action on Poverty, Chris Johnes, Director, UK Poverty Programme, Oxfam GB, Seyi Obakin, Chief Executive, Centrepoint, Robert Trotter, Public Policy Adviser (Employment and Skills), Scope, and Fiona Weir, Chief Executive Officer, Gingerbread, gave evidence.

Q66 Chair: Can I welcome you to our second evidence session of our Inquiry into the role of Jobcentre Plus with the changes to the welfare system, and can I thank you very much for coming along this morning? Beginning with you, Robert, can I get you to introduce yourselves for the record?

Robert Trotter: Good morning, my name is Robert Trotter. I am from the disability charity Scope.

Fiona Weir: I am Fiona Weir. I am from Gingerbread, the single parent families charity.

Chris Johnes: Good morning, I am Chris Johnes from Oxfam UK’s programme.

Niall Cooper: I am Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty.

Seyi Obakin: Seyi Obakin from Centrepoint.

Q67 Chair: Thank you very much, and you are most welcome. Now, with so many of you, we do not expect you all to answer every question. If you have got something different to say, we would be grateful if you would jump in, but obviously we are going to be a bit tight for time. We had quite a lot to discuss this morning, but it is good to see you all. If I can start with you, Chris, from Oxfam’s point of view, you have recommended that Jobcentre Plus pilots your sustainable livelihoods approach to assessing a claimant’s barriers to work, which you describe as being "holistic and personcentred", and "involving a thorough understanding of the day-to-day lives of claimants living in poverty". How would your suggested approach operate in practice, and is there not a risk that it would divert Jobcentre Plus from its primary function, which is getting claimants into work?

Chris Johnes: We would probably support Jobcentre Plus in its primary function, because if we are looking at the needs that people have when they try to get into work, people have to juggle a whole lot of issues. They have to juggle the question of whether they have got the right skills, whether they are sufficiently healthy to work, whether they can get access, and what caring responsibilities they have. All of those have to be taken into account. All of us juggle all of those issues all the time. If you have got sufficient money or sufficient networks, you can cope with those issues, but many of the people who are struggling most to get into the labour market do not have the resources to deal with those issues. The more we can take that into account and support people to address those issues, the more likely people are to be able not only to get into a job but, critically, hold down a job. Therefore, if Jobcentre Plus-probably working with commissioned partners-can give that kind of support, they are more likely to achieve their aims. There are other similar agencies elsewhere in the world who use this kind of approach-the Australian example has been quoted this week by the Centre for Social Justice-and we have also done this on a very smallscale basis with support from DWP in South Wales and tried it a little bit in the north of England. Particularly for clients who are furthest from the labour market, it has got a lot to offer.

Q68 Chair: But is that not what the Jobcentre Plus personal adviser should be doing anyway?

Chris Johnes: Potentially yes, but in reality most of them do not have the time or arguably the skills to do it at the moment, and the specialist advisers who work with particular groups are too few and far between to be able to cope with all the people with those needs.

Q69 Chair: How would you identify the individuals who need that extra help?

Chris Johnes: What we suggested in our recommendation is enhanced initial assessment. We think that the current initial assessment does not hit on all the needs that people have and currently underestimates them. If we had a much more sophisticated initial assessment, we are far more likely to get the kind of support right in the early stages, which means that people get support on an ongoing basis. It would be a case of an upfront investment for later savings, and it would work much better for both Jobcentre Plus and, critically, for the clients as well.

Q70 Chair: But many of the people who have been out of work for a long time will have already been through Jobcentre Plus and are now at the Work Programme. Are you saying that this should happen at Jobcentre Plus, or it would be more appropriate at the Work Programme stage?

Chris Johnes: Oh, indeed, and potentially whatever programme hits people coming out of the Work Programme having not got work from it, which is starting now. In a sense, it is applicable all the way through. We suggested bringing it in at the front end, because in a sense then you are less likely to have inappropriate services as you go through the system, but I would agree with you: certainly, it is worth using it at the Work Programme stage, and even after the Work Programme stage as well. I would agree with you: those are the people who need that kind of support even more intensely.

Q71 Chair: Jobcentre Plus’s approach to the payments that are affected by the benefit cap is primarily workfocused. It is: "Get them into a job, and that will help with all the other problems they have." Have you got any evidence that your holistic approach would be more effective?

Chris Johnes: We have certainly got evidence from the work we have done that the holistic approach, which we have done-and other partners have used something similar-has been successful in getting people to make sustained improvement in either their employment record or their employability. Obviously, for people living in areas where labour demand is weak, employability is a big step forward as well. It is quite difficult to compare like with like, because many of the areas where Jobcentre Plus has been more successful have had more workready people anyway. Certainly, from our programmes in South Wales, when you look at the support we have given compared with the Work Programme providers, the type of work we have done has got a slightly better record, without necessarily having the same level of formal resources.

Q72 Chair: Do you have hard data that says people are more likely to get into work by your approach?

Chris Johnes: It is not hard data; it is drawn from a couple of communities where you have got people going through one set of less formal support programmes.

Q73 Chair: You can see from the Government’s point of view that this is all a bit artyfarty, and it might make people appear more employable, but you never get them into a job. That has been one of the criticisms of a lot of the Work Programme.

Chris Johnes: That is an entirely fair comment, but that is one of the reasons I have asked for it to be piloted, so it can be looked at properly by the Government in terms of its own processes, rather than being a thirdsector project that is quite interesting to look at but with which you cannot make clear comparisons.

Q74 Nigel Mills: Chris, I guess the challenge you have to face with this is that there will not be the resources to put everybody through some kind of intensive holistic assessment but, quite rightly, you say you want to get this front-ended for the people who need it. How do you spot which ones are going to need the extra support rather than the people who will probably get themselves a job within three months anyway?

Chris Johnes: That is where the assessment tool come in, and the current Jobcentre assessment tool, which has been in use for a couple of years in its current draft, I think, does not give people the chance to effectively express their needs or the Jobcentre adviser to understand them as thoroughly as they might do. It does a rather superficial job, and if we can design something that is more sophisticated at the front end, which would take a little bit more time but identify the right people, you can channel people into the right kind of support at an earlier stage. Also, you can make sure that when someone enters into the Work Programme, they as a group are identified within the Work Programme, rather than running the risk of being parked in the difficulttoemploy group, which is what happens all too often now.

Q75 Nigel Mills: To ask the difficult question, I think in the UK one currently gets a 40minute appointment, give or take. How long do you think the appointment would need under your structure?

Chris Johnes: To be honest, without trialling it, I do not know, which is why we are asking to trial it. I understand the point you are making about the difficulty of the process, but if there were smallerscale pilots-and again the Australian system obviously is one that is used reasonably successfully, if you look at their employment rates-it is worth looking at, and then you could answer those entirely reasonable questions more sensibly, with clear evidence.

Nigel Mills: Perhaps we can get this in a different way.

Chair: Fiona, you were looking as though you were trying to get in.

Fiona Weir: I was. There are two things that help move us towards a better sustainability approach. One is very simple and does not cost anything, which is to start moving Jobcentre Plus onto performance management targets that are not based on off-flow through benefits but measure performance based on sustainable job outcomes in a similar way to the Work Programme. They have to review their performance management framework this autumn anyway due to the introduction of Universal Credit, and this is the perfect opportunity to really shift the thinking into keeping people in jobs, not just getting them into jobs. When you are thinking through issues like value for money for the taxpayer, it is an appalling use of taxpayers’ money to be dealing with churn: the 40% that are back again within six months, who are going round the system again and again.

We also need to tackle head on some of the resource issues that inevitably come up in this debate again and again, because some of the more successful and effective interventions are expensive. Mike Brewer, from Essex University, recently did some modelling for Gingerbread showing that just a 5% uplift in the lone parent employment rate would save government £436 million from savings in benefits and additional tax and National Insurance, so we know what some of the long-term economic case shows. When you read that trailblazer pilot that DWP did recently for the people who had been through a year on Jobcentre Plus and then two years for the Work Programme-and they have tried a lot more intensive interventions; the ongoing case management-the first thing that strikes you is: "Why on earth did the people who clearly need this not get it in year one? Why did we spend taxpayers’ money for a year in Jobcentre Plus and two years in the Work Programme, and then in year four start giving them some of the interventions that stacks of DWP reports this high show are the ones that work?"

Obviously, there is a question of resources, but the clear issue that you have to look at if you are looking at the value for money of Jobcentre Plus is where does it make economic sense to spend to save down the line? Where is the economic analysis accompanying that trailblazer report that says how many you would need to get into a job to make it more economically sensible to invest in year one, rather than pay for them for three years and then invest in year four? Some of it is trying to just shift the way we look at the economics. I know it is very hard in the current economic context, but that is a really robust reason for saying we have got to take the five, six-year approach, because these problems are too big and too intractable to keep going on wasting precious funding on short-term solutions. At the moment, Jobcentre Plus is being pushed into too many short-term solutions. We are seeing excellent advisers struggling with ridiculous caseloads-138 on average-and there are limits to what you can possibly expect even the best trained and best motivated adviser to do with that kind of level of resources.

Q76 Nigel Mills: I just wanted to go back to ask about the current initial interview and assessment: what sorts of barriers to work do you think that misses that perhaps ought to be spotted? Can you just list those out for us?

Chris Johnes: It is quite difficult for people to get across more complex barriers around skills, and people are always inclined to underestimate the barriers on caring responsibilities. Consistently, we are also finding that the whole question of the balance between transport costs and accessibility is overlooked on both sides as well. That is one that historically we have tended to write off because it was not a major issue, and then as transport costs have risen out of all proportion in the last 10 years, it has become an increasingly big one.

The other issue is that people who are looking for work after having been out of work for a while, as opposed to having just come out of the labour market, are not in a great position to assess the difficulties of getting into work, because they do not have that recent experience. Somebody who has just been laid off is in a much stronger position to assess realistically what they can get back into. When you have got a situation where the adviser is really desperate to try to get them into work, both because that is what they want to do and partly because that is what their targets are, they are not going to necessarily help make the best assessment of that either. They are under pressure that points in a slightly different direction.

Q77 Mike Freer: Just on the pilot, as you are asking for a pilot scheme, what is your assessment of how many staff and hours would need to be frontloaded? That is not taking away from the existing staffing levels, but if you are creating a new gateway, how many staff do you think would need to be acquired for your pilot? What is the cohort-the number of people you think would go through that system?

Chris Johnes: Obviously, you can make a pilot as big or as small as you want. From the experience we have got from running the pilot funded from the Flexible Support Fund, we have run a system where you could support, over a sixmonth period, 20 claimants through one member of staff, for example, working in a different way. That is the ratio from evidence we took, and obviously you can scale that up or down depending on what level of resource you want to attach to the pilot. Inevitably, you can also make assessments, depending on the geographical place you are doing the pilot, of what numbers of people are likely to come in with very particular needs, depending on levels of disability in the area, long-term worklessness, recent migration into the country, levels of English language skills and so on. There are a number of criteria you could pick that would allow you to make a reasonably informed judgment about what makes sense in terms of the target you wanted.

Q78 Mike Freer: To extrapolate that upwards, if you wanted to do the pilot as you would like it, rather than as the bean counters at the DWP will try to restrict it, in your ideal pilot-let’s say we did the pilot for Wales-how many claimants do you think would fall into your broadest support group?

Chris Johnes: For the whole of Wales, you would be talking in the mid tens of thousands, but that would be too large to run a sensible pilot and learn properly from it. You would end up becoming operational rather than learning from a pilot at that scale.

Q79 Nigel Mills: Mr Obakin, welcome to the meeting. You identified a group of young homeless people who felt that their JCP adviser did not really understand their particular needs. Can you just talk us through what needs those are that are not properly understood?

Seyi Obakin: Of the demographic of young people we work with, something like a third of them have mental-health problems that are not recognised by their JCP advisers, with the best will in the world. A quarter of them would not have the qualifications or any of the skills that they might need. Some of them have carer responsibilities; that is not picked up at all. Some of them have a range of other issues that the current assessment methods do not allow them to pick up.

The biggest problem is that even when support workers who understand these issues-because they have done the kind of enhanced assessments that Chris was talking about-try to get involved and paint the picture, the advisers are not interested. We get sort of patchy results, where you might get some advisers who are really good, who listen to that, take it on board, understand that they have not got it, and then are able to tailor something for the young person that works for them. However, the majority of advisers just are not interested in that at all, and then what happens is they push the young person in one direction or the other, which does not work for the young person.

The other thing that they do not recognise is other efforts that the young person is making that perhaps might prove successful in finding work, and they often divert people away from those efforts, or the young people go down that route and face sanctions.

Q80 Jane Ellison: These are obviously very serious concerns. Can you just give us some idea of the number of young people you spoke to, on which your evidence is based, and the number of Jobcentres involved? Could you quantify the background to the concerns you have just expressed?

Seyi Obakin: Yes, so we will typically work with 600 to 700 young people at any one time, and across last year we worked with 1,200. For us, the outcome we seek for young people who come to us is a home and a job, and our argument is that the job is more important for them to get than the home, because if they get a job they can look after themselves. We do quite a bit to try to get those young people the skills they need to get a job. Virtually all of that 1,200 would have had some sort of intervention that is roughly in that sort of space.

In terms of the number of Jobcentres, I could not tell you that, but I can tell you that our work spans all of London, so we would be talking about most of the Jobcentres in and around London, and some Jobcentres in the north-east.

Q81 Jane Ellison: Following up on that, of the 1,200 young people you worked with last year, can you tell us what proportion were being let down or not listened to? Can you quantify that?

Seyi Obakin: My answer to that would be it is difficult to quantify, especially because the experience of young people is very variable. Sometimes the experience works, and we have got examples of that; sometimes it does not work, and we have lots of examples of that as well. If you really push me, I would say that perhaps twothirds of the experience of young people is unhelpful.

Q82 Jane Ellison: Is that quantified, or is that your gut feeling because you work with them all the time?

Seyi Obakin: That would be my gut feeling because we work with them all the time, yes.

Q83 Graham Evans: The evidence you have submitted is based on a report to the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion 2010, where you state that the majority of young people’s experiences were negative. Your evidence is a few years out of date. From our recent visits to Jobcentre Plus under the new regime, things have somewhat improved and are more positive. Have you had any recent engagement with Jobcentre Plus?

Seyi Obakin: Yes, I have engagement with Jobcentre Plus every day.

Q84 Graham Evans: Have you noticed a difference from this evidence based in 2010 compared with 2013?

Seyi Obakin: The only difference I would say is that now you probably get a few more advisers who are willing to be helpful and rely on some of the work that agencies like us have done in order to make the assessments and judgments that they make, so there is some traction around that. There is further traction, in that we have been able to persuade DWP, for example, to recognise a workready programme that we offer, which is hugely successful, but in order to get DWP to recognise that, we had to jump through several hoops, including getting the Minister involved. That is part of the problem, so there is some progress, but I would not say that it is hugely different.

Q85 Debbie Abrahams: We are slightly timepressured, so if you could mark out of 10 how JCP deals with your clients, both in terms of their approach, their skills and their outcomes, how would you mark them? We will start with you, Robert.

Robert Trotter: That is a good question. The main thing I would say is that there are some good examples of Jobcentre Plus working extremely effectively with disabled people. We have worked with Jobcentre Plus across two Work Choice contract package areas, so we interact with Jobcentre Plus a huge amount in terms of referral. There are definitely some positive stories.

Just to put some figures on it, one of the big challenges is around the issue of assessment. Very briefly, there are two places assessment happens within Jobcentre Plus with disabled people. Firstly, there is the assessment about whether someone should be referred to a specialist disability employment adviser, and secondly there is the referral onwards to Work Choice and the Work Programme. One of the big challenges we see within Jobcentre Plus is that only 22%, according to a DWP evaluation of Jobcentre Plus, of people with health conditions or impairments are referred on to the specialist support a disability employment adviser would provide. The challenge there is that it is the DEAs, the disability employment advisers, who would be able to refer you on to some of that other specialist support.

Q86 Debbie Abrahams: So you are giving them a nine, are you?

Robert Trotter: I am giving them, let’s say, a seven, if you want to push me on that.

Fiona Weir: If you take it in the context of the resources they have got, the challenges they have had to deal with in recent years and the constrictions within the system, we would be on the positive side of the scale. However, if you looked at what you could do with similar resources with reforms to the system, and if you looked at what the actual single parent experience is, then we have to say quite a lot of people are reporting they are not getting very much at all in the way of any real intervention or support during their time. There is far too little there to practically offer them, particularly in key areas, like work experience, that are absolutely crucial, and for single parents there are some particularly persistent problems that we are worried about. One of the key bits of information we have to gather is around what their childcare responsibilities are, and to understand how this will affect job search and the kind of job a single parent can do. They do not just have a responsibility to work; they have a responsibility to look after their child. At the moment, the flexibilities agreed in 2008-things like being able to work around school hours, for example, and not having to take a job or do job search if you did not have childcare availability-have been moved out of regulations into guidance. We are concerned that will be more weakly applied, so this invisibility of client group is a big issue. Jobcentre Plus really has to start understanding particular client groups’ needs.

Debbie Abrahams: I am sorry; I came in with a supplementary.

Chair: A lot of these things we will ask more questions about later. Debbie was just looking for a figure, but it has not turned out that way, so I am going to move on to the next set of questions.

Q87 Glenda Jackson: In the light of Debbie’s question and Fiona’s answer, I am going to skip to improving employment support for single parent claimants. Is it simply a question of spreading good practice across Jobcentres?

Fiona Weir: It is a range of things. First of all, it is hugely well documented that personal adviser support, the tailored support, really, really works, and it is just not possible with current caseloads. There is a genuine resourcing issue, while across the political spectrum everybody supports a more personalised approach, and everybody who works in the business says, "Well trained advisers are what make the difference."

Q88 Glenda Jackson: But it used to be, didn’t it, that there were lone parent advisers in Jobcentre Plus, and that has reduced now?

Fiona Weir: There are still some, but it is hugely reduced.

Q89 Glenda Jackson: Would you argue that should be restored specifically for this, and would that be one part of the best practice?

Fiona Weir: Yes. The key elements would be a really thorough, early diagnostic interview that properly understood claimant needs and referred much more effectively to the right provision early, followed by working with a personal adviser to develop a really tailored action plan that really works for that single parent.

Q90 Glenda Jackson: But that is not the situation at the moment, is it? I mean, you said that the previous situation had moved into guidance, and so this is, as you said, an invisible area, where the realities of being a single parent are not being taken on board. Apart from lone parent advisers hopefully being restored to all Jobcentre Pluses, what other good practice would follow on from that, do you think?

Fiona Weir: Firstly, the quality of diagnostic interview. Secondly, the ability where somebody has got a credible career plan to be able to fasttrack them to vocational skill training; a lot of single parents have nothing above GCSE, and going on an NVQ 3 vocational course that is oriented to the job market, whether it is bookkeeping or whatever, would make a huge amount of sense. Thirdly, allowing somebody on Jobseeker’s Allowance to finish vocational skill training; at the moment, we have people who have done it for 10 out of 12 months having to give it up because a job offer comes along, so, again, taking the more sustainable approach to what will get somebody into the right kind of job and keep them there.

Fourthly, work experience is absolutely crucial. We run the Marks & Start programme with very effective job outcome levels, and have done so for about nine years. For many single parents, they have never had a job, particularly if they are younger, or they have been out of the job market for many years and are just in no position to compete with people newly made redundant. Getting work experience is important, and you will not get work experience placements coming through on a significant scale unless you start to build public and private sector confidence again. The M&S programme is so successful because it is voluntary, and we work with people’s aspirations and the motivation that is there, and we build trust and we get them into jobs. A lot of the bad publicity around mandatory work experience has both led to a lot of the private sector not wanting to engage with it, and to really quite a poor experience. We think this is such a fundamental part of the offer that claimants need so they can really take that first step into work that it requires some quite fundamental review.

Q91 Glenda Jackson: Is there not also within there a requirement on the part of employers who are willing to participate in these kinds of programmes? I mean, I will give you a precise example: two single parents in my constituency have offers of jobs at weekends; they could not do it because there was no childcare. What I am asking is, it is not just Jobcentre Plus, is it? It is also the flexibility of employers to examine shifts.

Fiona Weir: The biggest problems single parents tend to have are the barriers, and they tend to be just there not being jobs, or not enough flexible jobs, or work not paying with the high level of childcare costs. Given the degree of structural barriers within the workplace that single parents have to overcome-and do not forget, six in 10 do work-it becomes extremely important that when Jobcentre Plus is working with a single parent, it properly understands those barriers and can really work with them to find a pathway into work, because they are real, substantive barriers.

Q92 Glenda Jackson: Do you think, then, that Jobcentre Plus requires special training in this area, or have we just lost all the experience where there used to be lone parent advisers in every Jobcentre Plus?

Fiona Weir: Better training for each of the client groups that has specific needs will need to be part of the reforms you advocate. We have moved towards really wide claimant groups, JSA 25, that are pretty meaningless, and you need to first of all understand different clients’ needs-whether they have disability or they are a lone parent-and what that means for the pathway into work, and you also need to have a really quality diagnostic interview that understands the particular aspirations, skills and experience of people as individuals, and maps out a personalised path. If you do not get those two things right, the system is never going to work with somebody in a way that will really help their chances of getting a job.

Q93 Jane Ellison: I have a really quick follow-up on the work experience point: when we did a recent visit to the Oldham Jobcentre, they were very positive about the impact work experience had had on people. I think they said 50% of people had gone into a sustained job following that. Are you saying that you do not think there should be mandatory work experience, and what is your evidence? You said that you thought private sector employers were withdrawing from offering that. Can you just clarify that?

Fiona Weir: There are a lot of well documented cases of private sector companies pulling out of offering because they are unhappy about the negative publicity there has been around mandatory programmes, and we know there really is not the level of opportunities available at the moment to offer people work experience. Jobcentres are absolutely desperate to find work experience programmes that they can place clients with because they know it works-they are really positive about it-so there is a real need to open this up, because it is one of the interventions that really does make a massive difference.

Q94 Jane Ellison: Would you only do it on a voluntary basis?

Fiona Weir: Yes. Firstly, I do not think there is any need not to, because so many clients are desperate for it, but secondly, and our experience with M&S has very much been, you build trust and rapport; you work with the grain of people’s aspiration. The whole experience gets somebody motivated, and in a mental state and confident to be able to get a job. Employers are not going to work particularly effectively with somebody who has been dragged on to something and is not in the right place. That is part of what we do: we work with people so that when they come to M&S, they are already motivated and ready, and the two bits can work together effectively.

We just have to start looking at where you genuinely get people into work, rather than the sort of rhetoric around making everything mandatory, because the system at the moment is being designed too strongly around a tiny group of people who are not particularly willing or cooperative. The vast majority of JSA claimants are desperate to get a job, and really, really want to work. Certainly, with single parents, the motivation is there to be a role model and to get out of poverty. If we want to get real job results, we have got to start working with that motivation and natural aspiration that is there, and step one is to build rapport and trust, and the kind of relationship that shares barriers and starts moving forward constructively.

Q95 Stephen Lloyd: Good, thank you for that. I will be coming to Robert for a minute on disability, but just to pick up a tiny bit on what Fiona said, those are points very, very well made. As all of you represent key organisations, I would flag that yes, at the time there was a lot of negative media around the mandatory, but there was also highly irresponsible negative coverage from some agencies out there around the whole concept of work experience, as if it was slave labour. Anyone who has been employed knows that is ludicrous, and Fiona you have obviously come to that same conclusion. If and when we come back to that and we get noises off again saying work experience is slave labour and the worst thing possible, I look forward to all the representatives from Scope, from Gingerbread and the rest saying, "Hang on a minute; work experience gets you a job," even though your point made about mandatory is very strong.

Sheila Gilmore: Is that a question or a speech?

Stephen Lloyd: It was more a little speech, because it was a shocking campaign. Anyway, on to disability. Robert: disability employment advisers have been around for a number of years, and there is some evidence that shows that when they are in a JCP, they are very effective at getting work. There is evidence that shows that when there are not any in a JCP, people with disabilities really struggle getting into work, and there is also some evidence showing that where there are DEAs, they are not that effective. Two questions: in your view, do you think DEAs are really important in helping disabled people access employment, and what is the general quality currently of DEAs across the JCP network?

Robert Trotter: DEAs are absolutely important. The role of specialist understanding of disabled people’s conditions, impairments and barriers to work is vital in terms of the support journey. The quality is mixed, as you have alluded to.

Some of the key issues we would raise are probably around the awareness that DEAs necessarily have about all of the support services that are available in a local area, so for instance the Work Choice contracts are not necessarily the only thing that exists in a local area to support disabled people back into work. We might think about local authority services such as healthcare, social care, education and skills training. There are a lot of voluntary sector and smaller organisations as well in a local area, such as disabled people’s organisations or userled organisations, that can have a very interesting approach to supporting people into work and have a very good track record. Those are not necessarily being tapped into by the DEAs comprehensively enough. There are positive examples I would flag. For instance, in Essex, the Essex Coalition of Disabled People are working with the local Jobcentre Plus there and a private sector organisation to run a scheme, which is quite effective. So one challenge in terms of the quality of advice is the knowledge that they have about the local area: sometimes it needs to be improved.

In addition, there is a pretty major problem, which is that there just is not enough access to disability employment advisers. We know that they are important, we know that that face-to-face advice is really important, but the evaluation of Jobcentre Plus suggests that of people with a health condition or impairment, as few as 22%, or one in five, are getting access to a disability employment adviser.

Q96 Stephen Lloyd: So in your view if there were that many more DEAs, it would mean many more disabled applicants had face-to-face opportunities? In Scope’s view, would that be a significant improvement or not?

Robert Trotter: Yes. Partly the question is about increasing the number-increasing the access points. Partly it is thinking about increasing the access to the resources at the other end, so for instance we know that Work Choice is a capped programme. It is very small; it is relatively successful, but there are not that many places on it. There is also the point made earlier about the initial assessment being well made, in that if you are a disabled person coming into Jobcentre Plus, there is not at all any guarantee that you will get to speak to a disability employment adviser necessarily. The resources that they have are pretty slow, so it is not just a question of increasing the resource, although that would probably be a positive step.

Q97 Stephen Lloyd: You also mentioned Work Choice. I am sure you know the figures: the percentage of people with disabilities taking up employment from the Work Programme is round about 5%, considerably lower than the numbers of nondisabled people on the Work Programme taking up employment, while it is 33% in Work Choice. That is an enormous difference. Why do you think that is the case? I am aware that Work Choice has fewer people-I think it is 17,500 out of the hundreds of thousands on ESA-nonetheless it is 5% versus 33%. What would you put that down to?

Robert Trotter: In some ways, comparing those two figures is slightly apples and oranges, but there are a couple of things I would flag. Firstly, on Work Choice, there is the issue of upfront funding attached to referrals, so a provider might have that bit more resource to work with someone from the getgo, whereas on the Work Programme the actual attachment fee is very small. For a disabled person who has considerable needs, there is not that much resource for a provider to draw on.

There is also the question of the role of specialist support within the programmes, so we know on Work Choice, for instance, there has been relatively more success in terms of engaging with specialist providers. On the Work Programme, some of the challenges in terms of referral flow and the pricing structures have meant that the development of their supply chains that involve specialist support has been a bit more challenging. Because that specialist support has not been present, the results have not been as successful as for ESA groups.

Q98 Stephen Lloyd: As a consequence of that, does Scope have any information as to how JCP advisers decide whether to put someone on to Work Choice or on to the Work Programme?

Robert Trotter: It is quite an opaque question. The decision-making process about Work Choice versus Work Programme is very much dependent on the knowledge and the understanding of the employment adviser. There are some technical issues as well in terms of the design of the programme that affect how that referral process works. For instance Work Choice is intended-in the policy intent of the programme-to be a specialist programme for disabled people, but built into it there is for instance the 16hour rule. The claimants are expected to be able to work 16 hours a week after a sixmonth period on the programme. Disability employment advisers are looking at that and saying, "Oh well, I am not sure the disabled people I am working with would necessarily be able to achieve that," and so there is an assumption that Work Choice is for people who are more ready for work. There are some interesting questions like that.

Q99 Chair: Do you have the figures of benefit type going into Work Choice? Anecdotally, we have heard it could be as high as 40% are JSA, rather than ESA.

Robert Trotter: That is the ballpark figure that I have heard as well, so there is a really interesting question there about whether the referral on to Work Choice is meeting the operational purpose of the programme, and whether the disabled people going through Jobcentre Plus are getting that support they need.

There is another really interesting issue I would also flag that was underlined in the recent Work Choice evaluation, which is that some of the payment groups coming out of the Work Choice assessment-so particularly I am thinking of ESA WRAG group claimants who have previously been on Incapacity Benefit-are referred directly on to the Work Programme, thereby bypassing the opportunity to even go on to Work Choice, and bypassing the opportunity to access some of the other specialist support that Jobcentre Plus might be able to draw down for them.

Q100 Stephen Lloyd: Just one more for Robert, please. The Government recently committed to testing new approaches to employment support for Employment and Support Allowance claimants, and allocated £350 million in the Spending Round for this purpose. You have already identified a couple of areas I can think of where that money might be well spent, but do you have any suggestions as to how Scope think a portion of that money could be used effectively and productively to help disabled people get jobs?

Robert Trotter: Absolutely. We published a report last week with four other disability charities where we set out some options in terms of how that money could be spent. Where we landed in our recommendations was that one of the big challenges is in building the capability and the capacity of local specialist providers such as voluntary sector organisations and disabled people’s organisations, which are quite effective at supporting disabled people and very good at building links with local employers and local labour markets. At the moment, outside of the Work Programme, which has all of these other challenges in building those supply chains with those providers, there are real challenges in terms of funding and in terms of evaluation. We recommended that a proportion of that pot of money be used to incentivise the development of pilots to upskill some of those providers and to bring new specialist providers into the marketplace. We were thinking about a more marketshaping function for the Department.

Q101 Stephen Lloyd: Within that report, were you looking at job outcome payments?

Robert Trotter: We were looking more at the structure of the market rather than the internal dynamics of programmes.

Q102 Stephen Lloyd: But you see where I am coming from. One of my anxieties in this area, for reasons on the side of the angels, is that quite often there is a tendency to build and produce programmes that do not end up with a job outcome. In the current economic climate, there is just no chance of that. You have not looked at those outcomes, but you have put forward in the report some proposals for how you think that money could be used more effectively to get disabled people into work.

Robert Trotter: Yes, absolutely, in terms of thinking about how some of the lessons, if you like, from the local specialist providers can be applied to the national programmes, which would operate on a job-outcome basis, and putting our emphasis on the line of piloting and developing new evidence bases for these programmes. The other thing to say on the money that was announced in the Spending Round, which is a welcome investment, is that we are still waiting for clarity on what that money necessarily entails. The previous figure we were working to in terms of expenditure on disability employment programmes was £320 million, which included Access to Work, Work Choice and some other elements, including residential training colleges. There is a little bit of wait and see what is included in that pot of money, so there is a concern, for instance, that it might also include JCP specialist advisers, in which case that would indicate that there would be reduced resources for some of the other programmes that we know are currently available. I flag that as a concern.

Q103 Stephen Lloyd: Could you send the report to the clerk?
Robert Trotter: Absolutely.

Stephen Lloyd: Oh actually, it is in here. Fine. Thank you very much.

Q104 Chair: Could I just clarify? If the referral was correct-and it seems as if it is not-in Work Choice, is Work Choice much more appropriate than the Work Programme for people with disabilities?

Robert Trotter: It is certainly delivering more appropriate support.

Q105 Chair: But some of that could be because the people with the worst disabilities, the more severe disabilities, are not getting anywhere near it, and the people who are going on to it are JSA claimants with a health problem, and are therefore much closer to the labour market anyway.

Robert Trotter: That is a reasonable point. That also comes back to the earlier question of the assessment of support needs and the identification of groups. For instance, on the question of JSA versus ESA, it has been very interesting to see, as the work capability assessment kicked in, how, to use the technical term, the kind of blend of impairments on JSA has changed. Whereas in the past it might have been more reasonable to assume that ESA customers were primarily disabled people and JSA customers were not, we are increasingly seeing that change. It is therefore very difficult to analyse the performance of a programme in terms of whether it is supporting disabled people necessarily, when that is the kind of variable we have to work with.

Q106 Sheila Gilmore: The DWP has just issued a statement saying that it is going to pilot some programmes with people on ESA in the WRAG group to test meetings with healthcare professionals, as opposed to meetings with JCP, presumably specialists. Have you got any views on that?

Robert Trotter: It is certainly welcome that the Department has recognised that the ESA WRAG group customers are not particularly getting a good deal currently, and the introduction of healthcare occupational therapy into the world of employment support is a positive step in some senses. It recognises the support to manage conditions and things like social care more generally are quite an important part of getting back into work. The concerns we would probably raise are that the pilot has some mandatory elements attached to the delivery of the healthcare, and there is a question there in terms of whether you would see disabled people, therefore, sanctioned for not attending, for instance, a doctor’s appointment. There is a question there in terms of how that plays out, but it is positive that they are trying stuff, and we will definitely be watching to see what the results are.

Chair: We are on to conditionality and sanctions, and Debbie has got the first set of questions.

Q107 Debbie Abrahams: Could you first of all just very briefly say whether you agree with the use of conditionality with unemployment benefits, and then, specifically around sanctions, whether you feel that they are a useful tool to use in that. Please respond very briefly, if that is okay.

Robert Trotter: The evidence shows that sanctioning disabled people makes their lives more difficult without necessarily making them more likely to go into work.

Debbie Abrahams: Fiona?

Fiona Weir: The principle that if somebody can work, they should work, is absolutely straightforward-no problems at all. We have problems with designing the whole system around a small number who might not want to work when the vast majority do, because in practice what we find is sanctions often undermine the process of supporting people into work, and they certainly cause a lot of misery. We would also say there are some real problems with the extent to which a child should be affected by the sanctions regime.

Chris Johnes: On the principles of people’s responsibilities when they get support from the state, I would agree with Fiona. I am very clear that we believe people have responsibilities and that some degree of sanctioning regime may be appropriate for people who absolutely refuse to meet those responsibilities. However, it is important to note when I say that that our experience of the current sanctioning regime is that many of the people who are being sanctioned are not that at all.

Debbie Abrahams: We are going to come on to that.

Niall Cooper: I would echo what the previous two have said. We are not opposed in principle to conditionality. The degree of conditionality, the way it is implemented, is where the real issues are.

Seyi Obakin: That is true. We agree with conditionality, and we think there should be sanctions, but we also think that sanctions in the hands of uncaring people or untrained people just make things worse for everybody.

Q108 Debbie Abrahams: Thank you. That is fantastic. We have a clear consensus then of the principle bring agreed and the appropriateness, but not the practice. Could we just move on, then, to your experience? Within the evidence that you have submitted, you have given your experience. In my own personal experience as a constituency MP, I have seen the use of inappropriate sanctions, but could you give us your experience of what sanctions you think have been used inappropriately, and then the scale of that? That is very important, because when we have had evidence from Ministers and from officials, it has been said that there is no policy around sanctioning, but there does seem to be inappropriate sanctioning that is taking place. Again, do you mind starting, Robert?

Robert Trotter: Sure. I do not necessarily have any evidence on the scale of sanctioning within our client group. There are various examples of the impact being quite negative. The general point I would make is that disabled people can face a range of quite significant barriers to work, for instance the absence of social care, transport, attitude, confidence, motivation. It is questionable in a lot of the cases that we see within our employment services whether the threat of removing the state’s financial support will necessarily resolve those issues.

Debbie Abrahams: That is very helpful. Thank you.

Fiona Weir: On the scale of sanctions, on income support they have been going down; on JSA they seem to be going up. We have not had any data since October, which is what everyone is really keen to have a look at, because obviously with the higher levels of sanctions kicking in, that is going to be particularly vital. We get a steady stream on our helpline, but we cannot use that to quantify it. People obviously phone us when they have a negative experience, so it is not a representative group. All I can say is that every week we get a few calls from somebody, and the kinds of examples are that sometimes there are lots of mistakes: somebody who had a hospital appointment or something, or was going to a job interview and rang the Jobcentre Plus and they wrongly recorded it, or have no record of recording it, so they are sanctioned for missing their job search interview.

Other times they are sanctioned for things that they should not be because the flexibilities are meant to apply, so the examples are refusing a job that is a night job when you have got a fiveyear-old child, or a 6 a.m. start when you have got an 11yearold child; refusing a job for 40 hours plus, which single parents are not expected to take; and giving up a job because your parents cannot look after the kids any more and the afterschool club does not take them over nine. Most of the ones we are finding would not be happening if there was a better understanding of flexibilities, and about 32% of sanctioned decisions are being found in favour of the claimant, i.e. they are poor sanction decisions. This means a lot of precious Jobcentre Plus time is being wasted in examining a bad sanction decision and reversing it, whereas if we just got the training and the understanding in place earlier, we would not be getting to this situation.

Debbie Abrahams: It is also a stress on the claimant and their family.

Fiona Weir: There is massive stress, massive financial hardship, and I really cannot see how a single-parent family could possibly cope for three months without benefits. We are talking about potentially really serious levels of hardship for children that we have to say we think are completely unacceptable in any circumstances, but the thought that that might happen because somebody missed a workfocused interview just seems to have completely lost the sense of what this is all about. It is about getting people into jobs, and as far as we are concerned, sanctions are becoming part of the problem now, not part of the solution.

Q109 Graham Evans: Can you give us examples of sanctions that are justified?

Fiona Weir: If you had an extreme case of somebody being really difficult and just determined, fair enough, although I have to say that those are the kinds of people who probably are slightly better at avoiding the sanctions.

Q110 Graham Evans: So do you agree with sanctions? Of course, there are mistakes made, but you are disagreeing with any sanction except in extreme cases.

Fiona Weir: I do not think they should play a role except in extreme cases. They are getting in the way. They are a problem. They are catching a lot of vulnerable people up in them; they are not achieving the aim they are meant to achieve. If you apply them, it should be extremely light touch, but at the moment you need to keep your eye on the ball, which is getting people into work, and I do not think sanctions are helping one bit.

Q111 Chair: This inquiry is about the effectiveness of Jobcentre Plus. Are you saying that there is a lack of training of Jobcentre Plus staff who are misinterpreting the guidelines and therefore are wrongly applying sanctions?

Fiona Weir: Yes. It is the training issue to understand, and the time with your claimant to put it together with understanding their needs, so those two things.

Q112 Sheila Gilmore: I would like to just come in; I was going to ask Fiona another question about single parents, and Glenda kind of moved on to that unexpectedly. On this question of the flexibilities, they were in regulations. Is it your understanding that these regulations still apply, and when do you expect them to stop applying in terms of the new regulations?

Fiona Weir: In the Universal Credit regulations, only one of the 12 went in in its entirety.

Q113 Sheila Gilmore: I have constituents who have felt that maybe they were no longer in application because they were getting those sorts of comments-"You have got to take a job in the evening" or whatever-and when I looked it up, it looked as though they were still in application. Have you got any information on when the change comes in?

Fiona Weir: I am not sure exactly when the change from regulations to guidance kicks in, sorry.

Q114 Chair: But the point is they are still active. These are still the regs as they are.

Fiona Weir: Our point, I think, is that they are misunderstood now in regulation, so when you move them into the softer form of guidance, the chances of them being adhered to become weaker, and the chances of being able to point to the regulations to overturn a bad sanction decision are harmed.

Q115 Chair: So, the changes are that what was in regulation has moved to guidance; they are identical, but one is guidance and one is reg.

Fiona Weir: They are not quite. Some have been modified, so there have been some small changes as well.

Q116 Chair: But you are saying that Jobcentre Plus advisers are applying the regulations wrongly, but even if it was guidance, it would still be wrong.

Fiona Weir: They are applying them inconsistently, and therefore that patchy, inconsistent implementation, we think, will get worse in the weaker form of guidance.

Q117 Debbie Abrahams: Did Chris, Niall or Seyi want to add anything in terms of their experience? As I say, I am thinking about the scale as well as the appropriateness.

Chris Johnes: On the scale, the Citizens Advice Bureau have produced statistics showing that the numbers of inquiries they have had to do with sanctions have tripled from Quarter 1 to Quarter 3 of 2012. There was a significant increase. There are two things I would like to flag up: one is our experience and our partner’s when Universal Jobmatch was brought in. It was very clearly stated in guidance when it came in that it was not mandatory to use the Universal Jobmatch online system rather than the paper system. We have had significant numbers of people being sanctioned, even in the trial stage, for using a paper system and evidencing it, rather than using the online system. When a concerted representation was made to regional DWP staff, they were told by DWP staff that this was an error and it should not be happening, but it continued to happen in local Jobcentre offices.

The other issue, linked to that, has been the experience of many of our partners who lack IT access. They will go to a local job club or they will go to a local community centre. They will spend two whole days doing their job search, and the next two whole days they will not do any, because it costs a lot to get to the community centre. Even though they are making the required number that they have to do over a week, they are getting sanctioned for not spreading them out evenly. We have got a case in our Walking the Breadline report on that as well.

The other thing we have found extremely concerning has been the use of sanctions particularly, but not only, against people who have been sent to food banks. When the sanctions are then challenged by a professional worker-food bank manager, community development worker-the sanctions have been withdrawn. That suggests that the person applying the sanctions does not even have confidence in the way they are being applied, which suggests a degree of arbitrariness, and they are not well founded sanctions in that case. It also suggests that a different level of importance is being given to the voice of the professional rather than the unemployed claimant, and that is almost getting to the level of firstclass and secondclass citizens, and I do not think that is acceptable.

Seyi Obakin: I can only stress the points that Chris just made about training. Although the guidelines are there, I do not think they apply the guidelines, and I am not sure whether that is because they do not understand the guidelines or they just do not know that the guidelines are there. They certainly do not take account of the positive steps that young people themselves are making to get a job or to improve their own prospects, so you get Jobcentre Plus advisers saying to young people they are not there to help young people make a career; they are there to get them a job. If a young person has been doing some good stuff to help them get into long-term sustainable employment, they are still being sanctioned.

A young person went to a Jobcentre and told them that he had a university interview at the same time at which they had given him an appointment. He went ahead of time, he told them, they took the records from him; still he was sanctioned for going to that university appointment. That is completely ludicrous. Another young person has been looking for work, has established some contacts, and was called for an interview. He was sanctioned because he went to that interview rather than complete the number of applications he was yet to complete on Jobmatch. Eventually he got that job, but he was sanctioned still. How ludicrous is that?

Q118 Debbie Abrahams: I could not agree more.

Niall Cooper: Yes. In our submission, we included one story of Stephen, and it just illustrates the level of hardship. He is an exoffender, so he has got a lot of issues to deal with. We have been working with him since the autumn, and since January he has been sanctioned four times. I think we counted he has had 22 weeks without any benefits since January. In that time, he was on a training course, and he has been walking five miles backwards and forwards to go to the training course. He has to walk to go to the dropin centre to get access to food. He has to walk to the Jobcentre to sign on, and in one eightweek period he lost two stones in weight. It is the wider impact that sanctions have in terms of health costs.

As an exoffender going 22 weeks without income, there are people in his community that are well able to exploit that by encouraging him to go back to a life of crime, and he said himself, "In prison you get fed. Currently, I am not getting fed. I don’t have the money to feed myself." The litany of the reasons he has been sanctioned are the same. First, he was on a training course when he was supposed to attend an interview; the training course was really important to him, so he missed an interview. Second, while sanctioned, therefore not getting any income, he missed a signing on, because he was not getting any money, so he did not understand that he had still to sign on. Third, he would apply for 12 jobs in the fortnight but was sanctioned because they were all put on the system in one week. Fourth, he missed an appointment he was not aware he was supposed to attend. None of those are because he is actively resisting. He is desperate to find work; he went on a training course.

Q119 Jane Ellison: Sorry, Chairman, can I just jump in? That is a really difficult case, and we have all seen people like that. I have got someone very similar to that that I deal with. I suppose defining the whole system by the extreme cases is quite difficult. Can you give us some sense of how typical that case may be, and how many you see like that?

Niall Cooper: We work with relatively small numbers of people, but we did not actively go out to find that as a story.

Jane Ellison: How many people?

Niall Cooper: That is from a group of exoffenders we are working with.

Jane Ellison: Sorry, how many is that? I am just trying to understand the scale- whether that is illustrative of hundreds of cases, thousands, or a small number of people who, we all agree, have very complex needs.

Niall Cooper: All I can talk about is his case.

Jane Ellison: So you cannot put a number on it.

Graham Evans: But in terms of scale, how many people are you talking about?

Niall Cooper: We are working with a group of 12 exoffenders, and that is one story, but he is not the only person who has had experience of sanctions within that group.

Q120 Graham Evans: In Salford, can you name what sorts of employers you deal with in terms of trying to find these people employment?

Niall Cooper: That is not the work we do.

Q121 Graham Evans: No, but would it be helpful for you to know local employers that could engage with people like Stephen?

Niall Cooper: It might be, but, as I said, that is not the project that we are working with. We are working with exoffenders on issues that they want to identify. As it is in Stephen’s case, he wants to get work; he was on a training course. We do not provide training courses.

Q122 Graham Evans: The reason why I mention that, Chairman, is that we had evidence here from Timpson, who are located not very far away from there, and they engage with exoffenders. That is the reason.

Niall Cooper: Fine. I will happily make that connection.

Q123 Chair: To bring it back again to Jobcentre Plus, have you got any sense of whether or not the data that my colleagues are looking for about how widespread this is, and to whom it is happening, is being collected by Jobcentre Plus at an individual office level?

Fiona Weir: There is a database that breaks down quite a few of the categories, but it is not as detailed as we would like.

Q124 Chair: Who feeds into that? Obviously the Jobcentre themselves are doing the sanctioning. There will be those headline figures of the numbers of people who have been sanctioned, but from that is there a breakdown of the inappropriate sanctions, the sanctions that were put on but immediately lifted because of a challenge by a professional, or the number of people who fulfilled the sanction and found themselves immediately into another sanction?

Fiona Weir: They have got three categories: the ones that are found for the claimant, the ones that are found against the claimant, and a third category called "Reserved", which means they would apply if the claimant is still on JSA, so they are very broad.

Chair: What I am trying to get to is how the Jobcentre Plus advisers learn that they have made a mistake. Is that fed back? Do they learn, or is it just "these things happen"? It is alright if you do not have a sense of it, but that is illustrative as well.

Q125 Stephen Lloyd: I suppose that-anecdotally, like some of my colleagues round the table-in the last few weeks there has been a spike of sanctions in my own constituency, which I am interested in, obviously, when I talk to my local Jobcentre Plus. I do not suppose you would know the answer-we need to go to DWP-but what we are asking is, one, what sets a train in motion that suddenly starts spiking or increasing sanctions? Two, what are the outcomes of the sanctions? Do they lead to other sanctions or do they lead to people trying harder to get a job or whatever? I suppose where we are coming from is that we need to know from the DWP-if you cannot provide it, and I am sure you cannot-why the sudden spike and what are the outcomes of it? From what you are all saying, and I take it you are agreeing, and I have to agree with you from my own experience in my constituency, we are getting the odd spike in the sanctions over the last few months, so I agree with you there. I suppose one question we struggle with is all of you said that you agree with the principle of conditionality and sanctions while at the same time caveating it, and to be fair it would not be a completely unfair assessment from my perspective to say that you all agree with sanctions but we do not want to overdo it. Now, I know that is a little unfair, but could perhaps one or two of you give some sort of idea about where you think sanctions could be used and how they could be used more effectively by JCP?

Seyi Obakin: If someone is clearly not engaging and is clearly not doing the right things, sanctions are appropriate. Where it is falling down right now is even when someone is doing the right things, if he is not doing the prescribed things that enable the adviser to tick a box, he gets sanctioned.

Stephen Lloyd: Right. It is too rigid, in other words.

Seyi Obakin: We are not opposed to sanctioning young people. They have got to take responsibility, but when they are taking responsibility and they still get sanctioned, that is disheartening. It is demotivating.

Q126 Stephen Lloyd: So are you saying it is the lack of flexibility for the Jobcentre advisers about when they can give a sanction?

Seyi Obakin: Yes.

Stephen Lloyd: So, in other words, if Mr or Mrs A is doing exactly what they should do on the tin, they do not get a sanction, but if they are not, they get a sanction, while in fact they might be trying to get a job; they are just not doing it in the prescribed way.

Seyi Obakin: Yes, exactly. That is exactly what I am saying.

Stephen Lloyd: Thank you.

Q127 Debbie Abrahams: Just a very quick one-one sentence answers if at all possible-around the appeal process. Do you support clients that want to appeal their sanctions, and what is the sort of outcome? Whoever would like to answer that, please do. It does not have to be in order.

Seyi Obakin: Yes, we do, and more often than not when we support an appeal the sanction is overturned, but that is because we understand what the rules are.

Debbie Abrahams: Fantastic.

Fiona Weir: We advise on the helpline. I should just say as a caveat on the sanctions, we would not support a level of punitive sanctions that causes real hardship in children’s lives. There is really a duty of care towards children that we need to look very seriously at in this current system. We are going to see some really horrible cases in the coming couple of years, and I do not think those levels are acceptable.

Stephen Lloyd: Where would you support a sanction, then?

Debbie Abrahams: It is my question, Stephen.

Fiona Weir: With any system it is really hard to get the level right. We expect drivers to drive within the speed limit; even though it is dangerous and you could kill somebody by driving over, we do not have this whole punitive apparatus affecting all drivers because a few disregard the rules, and it is no different from any other area. We have got a bit swept away on a tide of getting tough on particular claimants, which has been a theme across successive Governments, and we need to step back and think what is reasonable.

Q128 Debbie Abrahams: Sorry, we have to bring it back; we have still got lots to get through. Niall, did you have your hand up just to say something about appeals? Just quickly.

Niall Cooper: It was on the proportionality, and the wider impact. The Social Security Advisory Committee in 2006 said the DWP ought to commission research into the impact of sanctions on hardship, and on health and other issues, and no research has been commissioned, so we do not know what the impact of sanctions is.

Chair: The others are not the kinds of organisations that take up individual cases anyway.

Chris Johnes: No.

Chair: On to Anne Marie and food poverty.

Q129 Anne Marie Morris: This is for Niall or Chris. When you undertook your food bank research, you concluded that benefit sanctions were a significant contributory factor to the need for them, the takeup. How did you go about that research? How did you pick the people that you interviewed? Was it open questions, so they came up with the categorisations, or did you have specific categorisations that included benefits, if you like? I am just trying to understand exactly how you conducted it, just to understand the validity of the results in the grand scheme of trying to sort out the food bank situation.

Niall Cooper: The report we produced was a mixture of evidence. The hard, quantitative evidence, came largely from the Trussell Trust, who collect data.

Q130 Anne Marie Morris: But how do they collect it?

Niall Cooper: You would need to talk to them, but they have a system for reporting from each food bank. I presume they do it online.

Chris Johnes: I can answer that. When you go to a Trussell Trust food bank, you get asked your reasons for needing the food support, and it is a simple questionnaire. They are very clear. Obviously, there is a number around income and benefits, and they are very clear about the distinction between benefit delays and benefit sanctions, and not having enough money, full stop.

Q131 Anne Marie Morris: How many questions are nothing to do with benefits?

Chris Johnes: Quite a lot. For example, you might have been made homeless because of domestic violence or suddenly lost your job. There is a range of reasons why you suddenly might have no money, some of which are nothing to do with the benefits system at all, and there are a range of questions which meet those. The questionnaire is adapted to take into account the different experiences of people coming in, so it is an evolving process to make sure that it captures the main experiences of why people end up using their food banks.

Q132 Anne Marie Morris: Do we have a copy of that questionnaire, because it would be quite helpful for us?

Chris Johnes: We can access that for you.

Q133 Anne Marie Morris: That would be smashing. Does every single person get asked, or is there a sampling?

Chris Johnes: No, it is every single person, because they are trying to keep an accurate track on what is going on in their area. It also helps them for future planning-what is going to come.1

Anne Marie Morris: That is very helpful.

Q134 Chair: So you are saying it is done even for the people who return. I do not know how often they are allowed to get a food parcel from the Trussell Trust.

Chris Johnes: Trussell Trust generally has a rule of three weeks, although interestingly in their latest figures they are saying that because people are getting severely sanctioned, they are doing much more extended support, but they are generally trying to give three food parcels to tide you over an immediate problem as a principle.

Q135 Chair: So the questionnaire, if they are a returner-a returnee, I suppose, is the phrase-they would go through the questionnaire again, because their circumstances may have changed since the previous time.

Chris Johnes: Yes, they would. Most returnees would return after a while, if you like, not straight away.

Q136 Anne Marie Morris: Having got that data, clearly in the mind of the individual if I answer these questions in a certain way, I am going to get the food. If I do not, I will not.

Chris Johnes: No. That is not the case, because getting the food has already been arranged by the fact they have been referred by a professional. They could be a health visitor, it could be a social worker, a police officer-it could Jobcentre Plus.

Stephen Lloyd: It could be an MP’s constituency office like mine.

Chris Johnes: Yes, sorry, indeed. You have to get a referral from a professional to get access to the food, so you get the referral which gets you there and then you tick the box about why you are there, so it is not linked to your eligibility. That has already been determined elsewhere.

Q137 Anne Marie Morris: Right, okay, and in terms of the professional, who is the one that does the referral, what check do they do? They are clearly conscious that they want to ensure someone who they feel is vulnerable gets fed.

Chris Johnes: To be honest, I am not aware of that. I can find out if the Trussell Trust gives guidance and share it with you.

Anne Marie Morris: That would be helpful.

Q138 Graham Evans: Chris, you mentioned there the people who can refer, and you mentioned Jobcentre Plus. That is a relatively recent thing, isn’t it? Why was Jobcentre Plus previously not allowed to make referrals to food banks?

Chris Johnes: I am aware that this is something that happened with the change of Government after 2010. The decision was made not long after that. My understanding was that it was something to do with recognising that one of the causes of hardship was delays in benefits as people transitioned, normally from work to outofwork. There is usually a delay in processing payments, and that has always been one of the trigger points of hardship, if you like, a change in circumstances, and that was when Jobcentre Plus came in. That is my understanding; there may be different views on that. You could argue that Jobcentre Plus could do it faster, but it is not necessarily a fault of Jobcentre Plus but a function of the system, and therefore there was a necessary kind of bridging period.

Q139 Graham Evans: But does that perhaps explain why there is a greater awareness of food banks and thus the increase in availability?

Chris Johnes: Given that food banks’ use is not determined by customer demand but by health professional demand, that is unlikely to be a major factor.

Q140 Sheila Gilmore: Are there statistics that you know of, and there may not be, on where the referral has come from?

Chris Johnes: There will be. We could find them out for you.

Q141 Sheila Gilmore: Because I have read somewhere, it might be wrong, that the number of referrals through Jobcentres is still quite low.

Chris Johnes: It is relatively low, yes.

Sheila Gilmore: So it is not necessarily because they have suddenly referred it that it has spiked.

Q142 Chair: I think some people are under the impression that you go to a food bank every week and you pick up your food, but that is not the case.

Chris Johnes: No.

Chair: If it is a Jobcentre Plus referral, you get three referrals in a year.

Anne Marie Morris: It is anybody’s referral. That is not a Jobcentre Plus rule, is it?

Chris Johnes: No, that is a Trussell Trust rule.

Chair: Oh, right, so they could only get three in the year.

Chris Johnes: There are some independent food banks that work in different ways and have their own rules, but the majority of them are run by Trussell Trust.

Chair: Sorry, Anne Marie, for the interruption.

Q143 Anne Marie Morris: That is alright. What about the others? There are lots of food banks, not just the Trussell Trust. Any response in relation to those? Are there still three applications in a year and that is it? How do they work?

Niall Cooper: They work by literally whatever rules they want, so those that follow the Trussell Trust model will take referrals; the majority do, but there will be food banks that will take people off the street. The impression we get and the evidence we have put in the report is that lots of churches and other groups are setting up food banks in response to the needs they are seeing in their communities, so it is response to need.

Q144 Anne Marie Morris: In a sense, because they do not have the structure of the Trussell Trust, there is a perceived need and actual need, and I doubt they have got the mechanisms, unless you believe otherwise, to work out the difference. I am just trying to understand and get some clarity around why food bank demand seems to be going up, because clearly demand and supply is linked. If there is more supply, generally demand goes up. I am not suggesting one should ration it, but if there is not a way of trying to really drill down into why people need it, you can come up with a lovely headline statistic that says, "We are in crisis, people cannot find food and therefore the need for food banks has gone up." There could instead be an issue about, "Well, the supply is there, so, hold on a minute, free food: let’s have some."

Chris Johnes: Just to add a bit of qualitative evidence to that-and it can only be qualitative-a lot of the other food banks are supplied by an organisation called FareShare, which is also partnered with Oxfam, and they reckon they provide something like 10 million meals a year, and they provide them for a range of the kinds of centres that Niall has talked about. Having been to and worked with a number of those different centres, frankly the need of most people using FareShare support is at a much greater level than that of the people using Trussell Trust support. People using Trussell Trust support almost always have homes; they have somewhere to go to. They have somewhere they can cook the food. People who use the others often go and get a meal. There is a very high proportion of people who are on the verge of destitution, so the need in our experience there is often worse than the need of people using Trussell Trust. Again, there is no universal rule, but they are feeding an awful lot of people a year who are clearly not even in a position to take the dried food home and cook it for themselves.

The other thing is we have got very, very clear reported evidence that people do not like using emergency food support. They feel very ashamed doing it; it is felt as a sign of their own personal failure, so it is not something you do just because it is there or because it is free.

Q145 Anne Marie Morris: What is the nature of that evidence?

Chris Johnes: Interviews with people on a widespread basis.

Q146 Anne Marie Morris: Is this something that has been put into a report and made quantitative?

Chris Johnes: Yes, it is in several reports. It is in our report; it is also in several others about the use of food banks.

Anne Marie Morris: That is helpful.

Q147 Chair: Again, to bring it back to Jobcentre Plus, we have talked a bit about sanctions and that is one reason why people might use a food bank, but in your report you talked a lot about benefit delay. Again, what evidence have we got that that is the same as it has always been-there has always been this delay in getting benefits-or is that getting worse? What is the role of Jobcentre Plus in all of this? Are they just failing to pay people’s benefit on time in the way that they used to, or has it always been that way?

Niall Cooper: The latest figures from Trussell Trust’s system, which were only out last week, for the period from April to June, show 33% of referrals were due to benefit delays. That is a slight increase on the previous quarter.

Q148 Chair: What percentage were sanctions?

Niall Cooper: They do not specifically list in the information we have got here the breakdown for sanctions.

Q149 Chair: So in fact the delay could be sanctions as well; in other words, there is a delay because they are not getting any money.

Niall Cooper: Yes, and the other context I should put on these figures is the numbers in the last quarter have gone up 200% from the previous year, so it is 33% above a significantly higher figure. The evidence from Trussell Trust would be that the numbers of people that are being referred to food banks as a result in delays in benefits is going up.

Chair: And that is before the introduction of Universal Credit.

Niall Cooper: Yes, but it is clearly after many of the welfare changes have come in.

Q150 Chair: Some people have seen the amount of money they get in their hands effectively cut because they have got an extra bedroom or whatever. What proportion of the people presenting at Trussell Trust have not got any money but do not have enough because they are having to crosssubsidise housing costs that they did not previously have to, or they have been moved from Incapacity Benefit onto JSA?

Niall Cooper: Where the Trussell Trust have a more detailed breakdown, the other figure they have provided is that the number going to food banks because of benefit changes-and "changes" could cover a multitude of sins-has gone up from 12% to 19%, so will probably be as a result of some of the changes that have come in since April. As I said, without drilling into the details as to whether those details are captured in their form, we could not give more information.

Q151 Jane Ellison: Obviously, food banks have become a real political hot potato, and you have seen how regularly it is raised in Parliament. This Committee is currently giving Ministers a hard time about the use of official statistics, so we are really interested in the drilldown on these stats and the work being done to understand this, because, if you like, it is just as political in a different direction. It is really important we quantify this. Quite a few benefit changes have only really happened in the last couple of months, so how much awareness is there in a broad sense in your sector, if I can group you all together a bit, of the need to do some of this real drilldown on the stats and to understand what benefit changes really mean? For example, for us as a Committee, knowing and understanding which changes that might be linked to is much more helpful than a sort of catchall.

Niall Cooper: We have been aware certainly for the past year or two of the growth of food banks, and we are concerned. Many of the people who run food banks are conflicted: they want to provide some immediate support-they are driven by that-but they do not feel that is necessarily what they want to be doing in the long term. That is why we produced the report, to say what the underlying drivers are, and clearly welfare is only one of the drivers.

We did it on the basis of the information that was available to us, but for us that has identified that there is a big enough problem that there needs to be more research, and that is really in a sense our call to the Committee: to look at this and to take evidence, and indeed for the DWP to take the issue seriously enough to commission their own research, rather than just kind of bat off and say, "The national figures are that the number having benefit delays is going down." There is a mismatch, clearly, between that and the experience of food banks. We do not have all the answers to that.

Sheila Gilmore: Sorry, could I just follow that up? All the statistics that are being thrown around at the moment are being collected by, for example, organisations like the Trussell Trust, which are voluntary organisations, so I am not sure whether the previous question was suggesting they should be doing that kind of indepth research at the same time.

Chair: Are you suggesting it should be the DWP doing that research?

Jane Ellison: Not really. If I could just clarify my question, picking up the point you made, where you say welfare changes, understanding which ones at which point, given that some are only just kicking in, is really relevant to our work.

Stephen Lloyd: Jane, I think that it is a good point. Trussell Trust do compile info, because I get it from my local food bank. It would be really useful for the Committee to see that data, because some of it is pretty grim but some of it about some of the cohorts using the food banks is quite surprising. It is probably worth us asking Trussell Trust.

Sheila Gilmore: But it is also worth realising that they are voluntary organisations, and maybe their categorisation is not going to be exactly on a par with what a Government Department might do.

Q152 Chair: We are now having a discussion amongst ourselves, but to get back to the point, one of the recommendations in your report was that this Committee look at the issue, and just by coincidence we happen to be looking at the role of Jobcentre Plus. As Jobcentre Plus is responsible for the sanction regime and the payment of benefits, it seems obvious, but I would like to be clear as to what your expectation was with regard to what you think we as a Committee should be asking for. Is it that more detailed data is kept by the food banks about whom they are giving it to? Is it that the DWP should be looking at this in more detail? Obviously, as a Committee, our job is to make recommendations to Government, so I still have not got, quite, a sense of what you expected from us.

Niall Cooper: The straight answer is we would encourage you to take more evidence from whatever sources, so from Trussell Trust, from other food banks, about what their experience on the ground is, and whatever data they are in their capacity able to collect. We would expect DWP and the Government at the very least to collect data on the referrals that Jobcentre Plus and potentially other public agencies are making to food banks and, more fundamentally, to drill down precisely into what aspects of welfare are driving this problem: whether it is to do with the administration of benefits, delays and errors, whether it is sanctions and conditionality, or whether it is specific aspects of the welfare reform programme. Going forward, our concern is that Universal Credit does not unintentionally make matters worse. It is clearly not the aim of Universal Credit, and not the aim of DWP policy generally, to make people destitute, but the risk is certainly things like the fourweek claiming payment period: we see at the moment people struggle to get through two weeks, and that is one of the reasons people end up going to food banks.

Q153 Graham Evans: But the fact is if you are in work, if you are a working person, you tend to get paid monthly, and there is the objective of getting people to manage their finances, as people do when in work.

Niall Cooper: No, that is perfectly laudable. The reality, though, is that if your income is so low that your incomings and outgoings barely match, and only match in some cases because you do not have your heating on or you pay the minimum for food, then that is where the risk is.

Q154 Stephen Lloyd: I would agree, and the Select Committee made that point very, very strongly to the Secretary of State in the DWP. What we were told is that they had taken that on board and they had made some adjustments, and that they were more confident now than, say, six months ago that people who were not able to cope with a fourweek payment would be spotted and assisted. Are you saying that is not true-that they have not made those adjustments?

Niall Cooper: At the moment, most of this is theory. What we would be saying is as the policy is rolled out-at the moment, about 100 people have been through the system-there should be really robust monitoring to ensure whatever in theory is in place is in place.

Chair: Indeed, that is part of the role of our Committee, and we intend to do exactly that. Graham has got some questions on digital exclusion.

Q155 Graham Evans: The Government has put "digital by default" at the heart of Universal Credit and Universal Jobmatch, and most jobs in the 21st century require some form of IT. I would be interested to see if the panel agree with the Government’s digital-by-default policy.

Robert Trotter: I would make a quick point that there is always going to be a group of disabled people who would feel more effectively supported offline, and currently, however accessible a website is, it is very difficult to make these things perfect. I would definitely have empathy with the designers in the GDS2 or wherever trying to do that work. The challenge is less about digital by default and more about thinking about the backup options.

Chair: How you identify those people.

Fiona Weir: We are big enthusiasts of online and we work very hard to try to get more single parents online, but you do have to have safeguards in place for people who are not there. The kinds of examples people are giving us are that they often do not have a PC at home, and so they will often come into the Jobcentre to use theirs, but then they are often paying £7 bus fare to come in and use Universal Jobmatch in the Jobcentre and so on, so it is just complicated. People need training; they need the access to the technology.

Q156 Graham Evans: You deal with an awful lot of young people, don’t you? By the nature of them, they are IT savvy.

Fiona Weir: Single parents often are. The smartphone use is quite high because they tend not to have a landline for the telephone or necessarily a personal computer. They use it for everything. It is multipurpose, but there are a significant minority who really cannot cope.

Graham Evans: Cannot cope with what?

Fiona Weir: They cannot cope online at the moment. They need quite basic training; they are very scared of it. People with English as a second language often have problems on a very basic level around numeracy and literacy, before you even get on to how you use an Excel spread sheet.

Q157 Graham Evans: The nature of looking for jobs for these people highlights people who may have an issue; therefore, we can target and help and support those people, so you do agree with digital by default.

Fiona Weir: As long as it is supportive for those who are not ready, and as long as it is properly planned through, it is obviously more effective long term. We have no problems with that as a long-term goal.

Chris Johnes: The point about digital by default, in addition to what Fiona has said, must be recognising that while it is essential, as I agree, for people to develop the skills, we must not assume that everyone has to have access to a PC at home, which goes back to our examples of Universal Jobmatch earlier. We must recognise that people need public access in certain circumstances, libraries, Jobcentres, community centres and so on, and that that will bring certain patterns of use with it. In other words, we should not expect people to have access every single day because of all the costs, but they should have access over a regular period, and some flexibility needs to be built into that one.

Niall Cooper: The issue is really challenging for many people in poor communities that do not have access to PCs at home, and access is not the same as being fully functioning. Again, coming back to a previous conversation, a real risk is that if people that do not understand do not have access, do not have a full understanding and therefore do not fill in the forms properly, they will end up falling through the safety net. They will make errors that will then have severe consequences.

Graham Evans: But, again, those people can be targeted. There is a clear group of people that have an issue with online and IT, and if we are looking at getting them into a job, the likelihood is they will need to learn it, so we can focus support and help on that group of people.

Chris Johnes: Yes, as long as the first step is support, not sanctioning, and it is identified as a need for extra support.

Seyi Obakin: Focusing support in the way you talked about there is easier said than done. We do not agree that digital should be a default. We think most young people we work with are digitally literate, that is okay; many of them simply do not have enough money to secure internet access, and they do not have enough resources to get access to digital in their homes. This is where it really falls down for them. Take something like careers advice. That is all going digital, but the young people I work with are so far behind that the kind of advice they can get on that digital platform is simply not efficient for them. They need someone to talk to who understands their circumstances and can give them advice tailored to those circumstances. The problem that I have got with digital is that it is the default.

Q158 Graham Evans: In terms of Jobcentre Plus and how we can identify these groups of people that you have all identified, are you communicating with Jobcentre Plus to make sure that when single people come in from your client base, they get the right specialist attention and understanding? Do you liaise and feed back to the Jobcentre Plus so that they do have that specialist intervention early on?

Seyi Obakin: Yes we do, but the results are patchy. Sometimes Jobcentre Plus is happy for us to work with them in that kind of way, and they listen; other times they just do not want to know, even when the young person has said, "I give these guys permission to speak on my behalf; they understand my issues and I am not worried about this." Some Jobcentres still will not listen.

Q159 Graham Evans: So in terms of that example you have given there, they do not want to know-this is a Jobcentre that does not want to know. What correspondence or representations have you made?

Seyi Obakin: To whom? To the Jobcentre?

Graham Evans: To the Jobcentre Plus, yes.

Seyi Obakin: We will follow it up with the Jobcentre. We will send the key worker there, and we will just keep batting away at the job, but we should not have to do that.

Jane Ellison: Which Jobcentre was it?

Seyi Obakin: I could give you specific ones. I have not got them here, but I can send them to you.

Graham Evans: We are interested in specific ones, because we are talking about best practice, Chairman, because we have seen Jobcentre Pluses that are motivated and all they want to do is help clients get into jobs, in our experience.

Seyi Obakin: I do not deny that at all.

Graham Evans: If we hear of any particular Jobcentre, then that needs to be reported so best practice can be introduced. It is about leadership and management, and that is what we are keen to understand.

Seyi Obakin: I am happy to share that with you, and send that to the Committee.

Chris Johnes: Just a quick point in response to Graham and his point: I understand that, but from where we sit, where we might be trying to improve the relationship with a particular local Jobcentre, raising it formally is more likely to bring down the shutters than open the door.

Stephen Lloyd: Come to us and we will do it. We do not have to tell them where we got the information.

Chris Johnes: Unfortunately, the kind of quiet word behind closed doors is more likely to get a change in local approach than a more formal approach.

Q160 Graham Evans: I am just concerned by that statement about shutters. No Jobcentre Plus manager should be bringing down shutters. What sort of engagement do you have with your local Jobcentre in terms of network meetings or informal meetings? Do you have a rapport with these organisations within your local Jobcentre?

Chris Johnes: In the programmes we work in, it varies quite a lot. There are some areas where we sit on advisory groups and the relationships are open and clear, and you can raise quite difficult issues in an open way. There are other areas where the Jobcentres are more defensive, where that is more difficult. Frankly, this is not a Jobcentre problem; this is a public sector problem, and I have worked across the public sector. Many other bodies are very defensive towards criticism, and formalising stuff means that they will not work with you, and you have to be aware of that on a casebycase basis, if your aim is to get the shortterm improvement for your clients or your beneficiaries rather than systemic change. If it was systemic change, I would be coming to this Committee and the Department or whatever, but I would be taking the hit on the shortterm benefits, and those are the different balances we have to play off in our roles.

Chair: Thanks very much. The bells have gone, which tells us that the House is now sitting, which is why some of our colleagues have disappeared off. They have got questions in the Chamber. Can I thank you very much for coming along? I know this is a first experience for some of you, appearing in front of a Select Committee. I appreciate it is not that easy either. Thank you anyway. The evidence you have given today will certainly help us in compiling our report.

[1] T he witness subsequently clarified that the questionnaire referred to is completed by the professional referring a client to a foodbank, not the client.

[2] Government Digital Service

Prepared 18th October 2013