Welfare-to-work Contents

2 A more systematic assessment

16.Many of the barriers to employment are well known: illiteracy and innumeracy, and poor general educational attainment; weak employment history; contact with the criminal justice system; physical and mental ill-health and disabilities; alcohol and substance misuse, and more general indicators of a chaotic lifestyle; housing problems and homelessness; and long-term caring responsibilities. Much of the evidence to our inquiry emphasised the importance of identifying these types of characteristics at an early stage in benefit claims, to enable referral to the right support at the right time. Shaw Trust, a specialist provider of employment support for disabled people, echoed the view of many witnesses when it told us that “a robust upfront assessment […] is the crucial missing piece of the jigsaw.”19

Reliability of the current approach to assessment

17.A number of welfare-to-work practitioners reported that the current approach to the assessment of out-of-work benefit claimants was too often inadequate or inconsistent, and that some crucial characteristics tended to be missed. A joint submission from the Employment Related Services Association (ESRA, the welfare-to-work trade body) and homelessness charities, for example, reported that homelessness was not consistently identified by JCP at the beginning of claims.20 Others reported that key characteristics known to affect employability, such as drug and alcohol problems and ill-health, particularly mental ill-health, were also not systematically identified.21 The Work Programme provider we spoke to in Ramsgate told us that it sometimes received little or no useful information about claimants’ characteristics, despite the fact that these claimants had been continuously claiming benefit, and therefore in regular contact with JCP, for several months.

18.The Department has been considering this issue for at least the last two years. Our predecessor Committee made two relevant recommendations to the Department in May 2013:

i)In the short-term it should concentrate on more consistently identifying JSA claimants with specific barriers, including homelessness and drug and alcohol problems, and more consistently referring them to the Work Programme Early Entrant payment group; and

ii)In the longer-term it should develop a “much more thorough, needs-based assessment of jobseekers’ needs, which could determine the type of services required by each jobseeker […].”

The Government’s response, in September 2013, was that it was “exploring whether we can more effectively identify and segment those claimants who are likely to be particularly difficult to help back into sustained employment.”22 The Department’s written submission to our inquiry confirmed that it was still considering how to develop “more tailored, flexible and personalised support based on an assessment of the needs and the strengths of each individual”.23 In response to our request for further details, DWP said that it was developing a new system which might identify characteristics such as “age, health/disabilities, homelessness, drug/alcohol misuse and ex-offender status.”24

Potential for a more systematic, characteristic-based approach

19.Work Programme participants are currently largely categorised according to the benefit they claim, which acts as a proxy for needs. Some witnesses emphasised that the introduction of Universal Credit, which will replace six in-work and out-of-work tax credits and benefits, including income-based JSA and ESA, presented an opportunity to re-think this categorisation and focus on identifying characteristics which are known to be strong indicators of likelihood of long-term unemployment.25

20.Other government schemes, such as the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Troubled Families programme and the Ministry of Justice’s Offender Pathways have successfully implemented characteristic-based assessments to identify people who would benefit most from support. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) noted that Offender Pathways identifies nine distinct characteristics which are known to affect likelihood of recidivism, for example.26

21.A characteristic-based assessment is used in the Australian employment support system, in which a Jobseeker Classification Instrument (JSCI) allocates jobseekers to one of four “work streams” depending on the level of individual support required. The assessment takes in 18 categories of personal circumstances, including: work experience; educational attainment; disability; and criminal convictions. The JSCI draws on a questionnaire of up to 49 questions to the claimant, to produce an individual “score”, which determines the work stream to which the claimant is referred. Our predecessor Committee recommended that DWP consider adopting a similar approach, adapted for the GB context.27 A number of witnesses to our inquiry made the same recommendation.28

22.Providing unemployed people with the right help at the right time depends on understanding the barriers which are likely to stand in the way of them making a swift return to work. If the Department is to produce the desired step-change in helping long-term unemployed people back into employment, it is vital that we more fully understand which characteristics present the greatest barriers to working, and design and test more innovative and effective provision to address them (see chapter 6).

23.Too often in the current system characteristics which are known to be strong indicators of the likelihood of long-term unemployment are not being identified early enough. This is largely due to the lack of a systematic and thorough assessment shared across the welfare-to-work sector. The time between now and the start of the new welfare-to-work contracts in 2017 is an opportunity to develop such an assessment. We strongly support the Department’s intention to do so.

24.The Department must develop a new standardised assessment of claimants’ barriers to work, to be completed at an early point in claims by JCP. The new assessment should be based on a check-list of characteristics, including: illiteracy and innumeracy, and poor general educational attainment; employment history over the last four years; contact with the criminal justice system; physical and mental ill-health and disabilities; housing problems and homelessness; drug and alcohol misuse; and long-term caring responsibilities. The assessment should be reviewed every three months, to reflect the fact that these types of characteristics are not always immediately disclosed or easily identifiable, and to ensure that an effective service, tailored to a claimant’s circumstances, can be developed over time. It should be shared with all contracted providers and local partners at the point of referral from JCP. We recommend that a new assessment is in place at the start of the new contracts which will replace current Work Programme and Work Choice provision in 2017. We further recommend that the Department and contracted providers track the job outcomes of different groups of claimants, broken down by the characteristics identified in the assessment, and report this data to a What Work Centre, as recommended in Chapter 6 of this Report.

19 Shaw Trust (WTW0054). See also, The British Psychological Society (WTW0055); ERSA, St. Mungo’s Broadway, Crisis and Homeless Link (WTW0005); Association of Employment and Learning Providers (WTW0046)

20 ERSA, St. Mungo’s Broadway, Crisis and Homeless Link (WTW0005)

21 See, for example, Making Every Adult Matter coalition (WTW0036); The British Psychological Society (WTW0055)

22 Work and Pensions Committee, Second Special Report of Session 2013–14, Can the Work Programme work for all user groups? Government Response to the Committee’s First Report of Session 2013-14, HC 627

23 DWP (WTW0057)

24 DWP (WTW0064)

25 See, for example, Association of Employment and Learning Providers (WTW0046); Q128 [Robyn Fairman]

26 Association of Employment and Learning Providers (WTW0046)

27 Work and Pensions Committee, First Report of Session 2013–14, Can the Work Programme work for all user groups?, HC 162

28 See, for example, Essex County Council (WTW0012); Maximus (WTW0016); Shaw Trust (WTW0054)