The future of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) is one of change. Against the backdrop of a changed labour market, the Universal Credit roll-out and the scaling down of contracted-out welfare-to-work programmes, JCP will be expected to provide employment support to a broader and more challenging caseload of claimants. The Department for Work and Pensions’ success in supporting such people will largely rely on getting it right within JCP. This represents a considerable challenge.
Culturally, JCP must ensure that it becomes an inspirational place from which individuals find and succeed in work. JCP Work Coaches—front-line advisors—will play a pivotal role. Too often, JCP staff have been cast in the role of policemen rather than supporters who help people progress to and in work. Major changes will be required of Work Coaches. There is a case for some Work Coaches to specialise in helping specific claimant groups, while others take a higher caseload of more general cases. There should also be a clearer route for Work Coaches themselves to progress in their careers in providing tailored employment support, reflecting the increased demands of today’s labour market.
The success of the new Work Coach model will depend, in part, on Coaches’ awareness that they are not experts in all areas—including disability and health conditions. They must, therefore, embrace working alongside more knowledgeable third parties and charities. To make a success of its new, expanded role, JCP will have to ensure that it is open to working in ways that are increasingly flexible, adaptable and experimental. It must strengthen working relationships with employers and other external partners in order to ensure that specialist support is available to claimants when it is needed. It will also need to demonstrate an ability to learn on the job and adapt its provision, both to changing labour market circumstances and as it learns what works in supporting claimants. This new role will also need to be reflected in its opening hours.
We welcome the Department’s aim of providing improved, innovative support to those who have been inadequately served within the current system. We do not, however, downplay the scale of the challenge that JCP faces in supporting its more varied and complex caseload of claimants. The changes required are significant: not just operational, but also cultural transformation. These concerns form the heart of our report.
7 November 2016