11.The Department told us that its scaling down of contracted-out welfare-to-work programmes should be “seen alongside the package of reform and measures agreed to deliver [its employment ambitions] including more early intervention support from Jobcentre Plus when claimants first leave work”. This support will be initially provided by JCP’s Work Coaches (see Box 1), who will be responsible for providing front-line support to individuals with a wide range of needs.
Box 1: The Work Coach role
Work Coaches are front-line DWP staff based in Jobcentres. The Department introduced the role of Work Coach in 2013. It is a similar job description to the previous JCP Adviser role. Work Coaches’ main responsibilities include:
12.UC claimants will receive support from the same Work Coach throughout their claim, whether they are in or out of work. The Minister for Employment, Damian Hinds MP (the Minister), told us that a “key advantage” of this approach is that “as somebody changes between benefits, they stick with the same Work Coach”, who can “get to know them better”, building an understanding of their needs and their changing circumstances. The Department told us that Work Coaches are “vital” for the success of UC and to JCP supporting claimants effectively. The Minister explained:
I think the work, the role that our Work Coaches do is amazing. They can turn people’s lives round, help them in all sorts of ways to make really big differences for their lives and the lives of their families, and that is a great thing.
13.To fulfil this role successfully, we heard that Work Coaches must provide personalised advice and build relationships, developing trust and rapport with claimants. They must have the ability to draw out details of claimants’ skills and ambitions, even when they are very low in confidence. The role further requires Work Coaches to have a good understanding of claimants’ barriers to work, and for claimants to feel comfortable disclosing and discussing these personal issues. We received evidence from several homelessness charities emphasising that this is particularly important to ensuring that Work Coaches can support claimants with more complex needs. The Department agreed that these skills and characteristics are essential for the Work Coach model to function effectively.
14.Work Coaches must also use their discretion to judge which work search interventions and conditions will best support a person to return to employment. Conditions can be enforced by sanctions that reduce, suspend or end access to benefits if a claimant fails to fulfil them. The decision on whether to sanction a claimant is not ultimately made by the Work Coach, but by a Decision Maker. The Work Coach does, however, decide whether or not to refer the case to a Decision Maker by raising a “doubt” if they believe that a claimant has not fulfilled a mandatory requirement.
15.Although Work Coaches are required to consider individual needs in agreeing a personalised Claimant Commitment, the DWP does not monitor the extent to which claimants feel this has been the case. We heard some evidence that Work Coaches are referring non-compliant claimants for sanctions less often than a few years previously, where they believe this is in claimants’ interests. This may suggest that greater discretion is being exercised. The Minister told us that the Department is undertaking a large trial of different approaches to in-work conditionality, the results of which will affect the way that the conditionality and sanctioning element of the Work Coach role develops in future.
16.Several witnesses outlined a tension between the dual Work Coach roles of setting and applying conditionality and providing employment support, particularly as the support element rests on developing a good working relationship. The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), a trade body, told us that many jobseekers view the Jobcentre as a “policing structure”, focused on judging their behaviour and removing their benefits. Similarly, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union, which represents the majority of JCP staff, stated:
The focus on conditionality has led to claimants viewing Jobcentre staff as “enforcers” of the benefit regime, solely employed to administer conditionality by the threat and imposition of sanctions. This has resulted in many cases of Jobcentre staff being perceived as the enemy, particularly by those vulnerable claimants with complex needs.
17.Other witnesses echoed this, suggesting the sanctioning regime means that claimants with complex needs will be less likely to be open and honest about the issues that may affect their ability to find and retain work. Matthew Oakley, of the Social Market Foundation think-tank, told us that this would limit claimants’ chances of finding work. Nicola Whiteman of the Papworth Trust, a disability charity, suggested it created an “any job will do” attitude, when instead Work Coaches should focus on identifying “roles that are right and appropriate for the individual” so that they are able to remain in work.
18.Matthew Oakley suggested minimising this tension by separating the employment service from benefits administration in JCP. Other witnesses suggested Work Coaches could:
19.The Disability Benefits Consortium, a coalition of over 60 charities and organisations, told us that Work Coaches’ ability to vary conditionality appropriately is dependent on them having a good understanding of the barriers to work that an individual’s circumstances might create. More than half of disputed ESA sanction decisions are overturned, suggesting that this is not currently always the case. Crisis, which represents homeless people, called for more comprehensive guidance for Work Coaches on setting conditionality requirements for vulnerable claimants, including examples illustrating the circumstances in which different levels of conditionality would be appropriate.
20.ERSA told us that JCP advisers will need a “an increase in the allotted time available with individual jobseekers” if they are to provide appropriate support, citing concerns that high caseloads and plans for more frequent interviews will not afford Work Coaches enough time to provide quality advice. In particular, the complex barriers to working, experienced by some people, can require a longer amount of face-to-face time to overcome. Each Work Coach is responsible for a caseload of around 100 unemployed claimants and conducts 10 to 20 claimant interviews per day. Interviews for new claims last around 40 minutes, and consist of checking claimant details, agreeing a Claimant Commitment, and diagnosing job readiness and identifying support needs. Fortnightly job search reviews last around 10 minutes. Working Links, an employment support provider that is part-owned by DWP, told us that a “one size fits all” approach to determining contact time between Coaches and claimants “may not offer the necessary support to certain people and could also offer more resource than necessary to those who are closer to the labour market”. They, and others, such as Crisis and Remploy, which provides employment support to disabled people, therefore recommended that JCP adjust the frequency and length of face-to-face meetings according to the needs of the claimant.
21.Much of whether JCP can achieve its objectives in supporting claimants with complex needs rests on Work Coaches and their relationships with claimants. Work Coaches are tasked with referring claimants for possible sanctions at the same time as supporting them into and in work. This combined role may mean that many claimants see JCP staff as policemen rather than genuine coaches, potentially undermining claimant trust and confidence. Trustful, positive and personalised support is central to the Work Coach model working effectively, but currently the Department has little means of assessing how far this is being delivered.
22.We recommend the Department set out how it will support Work Coaches to strike the right balance between coaching and conditionality—potentially conflicting elements of their role. Work Coaches should be given more comprehensive guidance on how to adopt a flexible approach to conditionality for vulnerable groups of claimants, such as those with health conditions or housing problems. The guidance should include multiple examples illustrating the circumstances in which different levels of conditionality, including frequency of meetings, would be appropriate and effective.
23.We recommend that the Department monitor the extent to which claimants consider Claimant Commitments personalised. This should include adding a question on this topic to the annual Claimant Experience survey.
24.In UC, Work Coaches have mixed caseloads and support claimants with a wide range of needs. They do not specialise in supporting particular categories of claimants. As such, there has been a decline in the numbers of specialist employment advisers: for example, those specialising in issues around disability employment (see Figure 4), or who focus on lone parents or young people. The Minister told us that the Department had adopted a mixed caseload approach while recognising that “there is always going to be a debate about whether your frontline staff should be specialists in one area or [ … ] generalists able to cover a range of areas”.
Figure 4: Number of Disability Employment Advisers, 2009–10 to 2014–15
25.Both the PCS Union and Crisis suggested that the prevailing model, of generalist support, places “considerable expectations” on Work Coaches to have a very wide and detailed understanding of the capacity for work of claimants within their caseloads. We heard doubts about the extent to which Work Coaches possess this. Homeless Link, a membership body, told us, for example, that their member organisations felt that JCP staff are often “unable to identify the needs and barriers of vulnerable claimants”, while Mind, a mental health charity, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists had “little confidence” that the “skills, experience, capacity and culture of Work Coaches” could deliver a good service for people with mental health conditions.
26.JCP retaining and building a disability specialist-coaching model, including for claimants with mental health conditions, was widely supported. Rt Hon. Stephen Crabb, the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, agreed that JCP needs to develop more expertise in supporting people with health conditions given the new operating model. The Department told us that 509 Disability Employment Advisers (an increase of 300) and 50 Work Psychologists will support Work Coaches in JCP. The Minister told us that under UC, Disability Employment Advisers will work as “coaches to Work Coaches”, providing an additional source of specialist advice rather than working with claimants directly.
27.Other witnesses called for specialist support for additional claimant groups, including those who have experienced homelessness and domestic violence; people seeking to progress in work; self-employed claimants; lone parents, and people with drug and alcohol addictions. Remploy told us that since each Jobcentre will have a wide range of knowledge and experience amongst its staff, “it would be prudent to allow those Work Coaches who have more experience of working with specific groups [ … ] to have a caseload that reflects this”. The Department told us that it is “open” to thinking about whether additional specialisms could be necessary in future, identifying self-employment as a possible example.
28.Alongside working directly with claimants, the Department also expects Work Coaches to act as a “gateway to a wide range of support that disabled people and people with health conditions can access”. This includes making referrals to external specialist support. It requires Work Coaches to have a good understanding of what support is available and appropriate for their claimants’ needs. Witnesses also told us that referrals to external support should generally come sooner in the process than later, as claimants are not best served by receiving support from JCP alone for extended periods. The Department recognised that claimants need to be able access support “very quickly”. The Minister told us that all Work Coaches can use a “district provision tool”, setting out all of the support available locally for individuals with a range of different barriers.
29.While the overall aim of JCP is supporting the work progression of unemployed claimants and lower-paid workers, the Work Coach role offers the Department a similar opportunity for supporting progression amongst its own staff. Stephen Crabb told us that the Work Coach role is “as meaningful” as other professional roles including “nurses and firefighters”. The Institute for Employability Professionals, a membership body, agreed, telling us that accreditation and formal training provision would be appropriate for Work Coaches given their responsibilities as public servants supporting people with complex needs. The Minister told us that the Department is committed to providing Work Coaches with “more training and development”, including trialling a professional accreditation programme for Work Coaches delivering the new model (see Appendix 1). New Work Coaches will work towards Level 3 accreditation in their first year of employment, and the Department is exploring how to manage accreditation to Level 4 for existing staff.
30.The DWP told us that it aims to “attract the best talent” to work in Jobcentres. Work Coaches can be appointed at either the higher Executive Officer (EO) or lower Assistant Officer (AO) level. All new Work Coach and Disability Employment Adviser posts are advertised at the EO level, with a salary ranging from £22,000 to £25,230 outside London, and £23,505 to £29,290 in London. The Minister told us this reflects a decision to increase the proportion of Work Coaches at the higher grade. We welcome this move.
31.The Minister told us the Department’s decision to recruit 3,000 new Work Coaches at EO level, as well as seeking to promote existing Coaches, means that claimants are “more likely, more often” to see a higher grade EO Work Coach. 38% of JCP’s existing Coaches have progressed to EO level. The Department also told us that successful EO Work Coaches can progress further in JCP, going on to a Higher Executive Officer grade by becoming a Work Coach Team Leader who is responsible for managing a team of nine other Coaches. The promotion to Team Leader, however, does not recognise the specialist skills and knowledge that Work Coaches may have developed. The specialist Disability Employment Adviser role does not involve progression to a higher grade. We heard evidence that creating such a progression route could reward and incentivise the development of specialist skills, helping to ensure that claimants receive the support that they need.
32.In the 2015 JCP staff survey, 62% of staff agreed or strongly agreed that there were opportunities to develop their career—exceeding the Civil Service benchmark of 41%. Policy Exchange, a think-tank, stated that JCP follows a “hierarchical grading structure and fixed pay increases for JCP staff regardless of performance”. Several other witnesses suggested, however, that a key indicator for progression and assessment of Coaches should be the individual’s performance in supporting claimants into, or closer to work. The Department told us that it had deliberately avoiding setting “targets” for individual Work Coaches in terms of supporting claimants. All Work Coaches, however, are expected to give “the best possible service to their client base” and to provide “good quality time to everybody they see, including those who are very far away from the labour market”.
33.It is concerning that as JCP moves towards directly supporting more claimants with complex needs it is also moving away from specialism, towards a generalist Work Coach model. Some of the claimants that Work Coaches support will have significant and complex needs that require knowledge, understanding, and dedicated coaching to overcome. Others will require much less support, and may be well served by a generalist approach. The Work Coach role needs to develop in such a way that it can account for these different ways of working, and recognise Work Coaches’ skills and abilities in supporting their clients accordingly.
34.Claimants should not be left with only JCP support for long periods of time. If Work Coaches fail to identify claimant needs quickly and accurately it will hamper efforts to offer them the right additional support to move them closer to work. Identifying what support is appropriate, at which point in a claim, again requires a level of specialist knowledge on behalf of Work Coaches that the generalist model will not always provide.
35.There is a clear case for allowing some Work Coaches to specialise in directly helping smaller numbers of specific claimant groups with complex needs, while others can help general cases and retain a higher caseload. We recommend that progression to a Senior Work Coach role, at Higher Executive Officer grade, should be available to those Work Coaches who have demonstrated a capacity to support specific claimant groups such as disabled people, homeless claimants, self-employed claimants, lone parents, or those with drug and alcohol problems. Senior Work Coaches should continue to provide front-line support to claimants with substantial barriers to work, so that DWP staff increasingly master the greater “skills” demands that will be placed on them by the Government. We also recommend that assessment of the performance of Work Coaches be based on evidence of developing specialist skills, offering personalised support and supporting claimants to progress into and in work.
36.Patrick Hughes, a former Jobcentre Plus regional director, suggested that the 35 to 40 JCP district managers and “hundreds” of delivery managers offered an “opportunity to deliver change”, providing that they were skilled appropriately. The DWP states it has “improved” managers’ training, focusing on the skills and capability needed to deliver cultural change. The Minister also told us that branch managers are currently responsible for monitoring whether Work Coaches are performing well, using an “appraisal system that they will run through with their individual Work Coaches”. As such, they have an important role in ensuring that the Department is delivering effective support.
37.Witnesses noted, however, that leadership capability varies across different regions. Tony Wilson, of the Learning and Work Institute, said that in some places, strategic and operational leadership “just does not happen” and depends on “how managers see their role”. He emphasised that there will be some managers “who will be good at process”, but that they “may not get the outcomes”. He therefore called for “clear direction centrally” about the “expectations of managers”. The PCS Union shared this concern, reporting “significant numbers of inexperienced and untrained managers”. It said this was largely due to a “shortfall” in the general management grade, with a large proportion “acting up” into this grade from a lower level.
38.An organisation the size of JCP must rely on its middle managers, at district and branch level, to deliver the new services that the Department requires. We heard, however, that the capabilities of managers vary across regions. We are concerned that without a strong understanding amongst district managers of the direction and purpose of new reforms, and good management of Work Coaches by branch managers, JCP will struggle to deliver the services expected.
39.We recommend the Department set out its expectations of district managers in delivering change and ensure that they are equipped to do this. We further recommend that the Department commission an independent assessment of JCP district managers’ ability to deliver large-scale change. Similarly, branch managers have an important role in ensuring Work Coaches can carry out their extensive new functions. We recommend that the Department ensure that clear guidelines on expectations of helping claimants into, and closer to, employment are incorporated into the Work Coach appraisal system, to be used by branch managers.
13 DWP )
14 Department for Work and Pensions, , October 2013
15 Work and Pensions Committee, , Session 2015-16, HC 549, May 2016, para 3
16 (Damian Hinds), DWP ()
17 (Damian Hinds), DWP (), DWP, , April 2016. See also: Working Links (), learndirect Limited (), Remploy ()
18 See, for example, (Keith Faulkner), (Nicola Whiteman & Matthew Green), Institute of Employability Professionals (), Bright Sparks Consulting Ltd (), Child Poverty Action Group (), The Intraining Group (), The Lived Experiences of Welfare Reform Study (), UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) (), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (), Employment Related Services Association (), Plymouth City Council (), Sight for Surrey ()
19 Crisis, , February 2016, Remploy (), Citizens Advice ()
20 Centrepoint, Crisis, ERSA, Homeless Link, Salvation Army, St Mungo’s (). See also: Salvation Army (), Revolving Doors Agency ()
21 (Paul Williams), (Damian Hinds)
22 DWP ()
23 Watts, B., et al., , Joseph Rowntree Foundation, September 2014
24 Adcock, A., & Kennedy, S., , House of Commons Library, November 2015. The Decision Maker should attempt to obtain evidence from the claimant, as well as from the Work Coach and make a decision on whether to apply a sanction.
25 Note: The DWP’s (p.53) asks ‘whether staff encountered in person understood my particular circumstances’, but does not ask claimants whether their conditions are appropriate to them.
26 Private discussion with the NAO, Crisis (). The NAO reported that Jobcentre staff referred half the proportion of claimants to Decision Makers in 2015 as they did in 2013.
27 (Damian Hinds)
28 See, for example, (Matthew Oakley), (Tony Wilson), (Cathy Corcoran), (Nicola Whiteman), Gingerbread (), Child Poverty Action Group (), Crisis (), Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (), Association of Employment and Learning Providers (), Scope (), Mind and Royal College of Psychiatrists (), Royal British Legion Industries (), Disability Benefits Consortium (), The Lived Experiences of Welfare Reform Study (), Inclusion London (), North East Combined Authority (), Plymouth City Council (), Recruitment and Employment Confederation ()
29 ERSA ()
30 Public and Commercial Services Union (). See also: YMCA England (), Learning and Work Institute ()
31 (Kirsty McHugh), Working Links (), Child Poverty Action Group (), Oxfam Cymru (), Salvation Army (), Learning and Work Institute (), Employment Related Services Association (), ENABLE Scotland (), Citizens Advice (), Hind, D., , Policy Exchange, August 2016, p.44
32 (Matthew Oakley)
33 (Nicola Whiteman). See also: Gingerbread (), GIPSIL ()
34 See, for example, Working Links (), Learning and Work Institute (), Association of Employment and Learning Providers (), Recruitment and Employment Confederation (), Local Government Association (). Note: our predecessor Committee rejected this suggestion during previous period of intense welfare reform, when JCP proved to be cost effective. See Work and Pensions Committee, , Session 2013–14, HC 479, January 2014
35 (Keith Faulkner), (Kirsty McHugh), Royal British Legion Industries (), Inclusion London (), Centrepoint (), Child Poverty Action Group (), Crisis (), Employment Related Services Association (), The Lived Experiences of Welfare Reform Study (), National Autistic Society ()
36 Child Poverty Action Group ()
37 Beale, E., Standard note number SN/EP/850: New Deal for Lone Parents, House of Commons Library, 2009
38 (Keith Faulkner). See also: Citizens Advice ()
39 Royal British Legion Industries (), Citizens Advice Scotland (), Social Security Advisory Committee, , July 2016, p. 44
40 Disability Benefits Consortium (). See also: Gingerbread (), Parkinson’s UK (), ENABLE Scotland (), Joseph Rowntree Foundation ()
41 Social Security Advisory Committee, , July 2016, p. 13
42 Crisis (). See also: Disability Benefits Consortium (), Parkinson’s UK (), Gingerbread ()
43 ERSA (). See also: (Brian Bell and Nicola Whiteman), , London Councils (), North East Combined Authority (), Remploy (), Gingerbread (), Young Women’s Trust (), Working Links (), Serco (), Salvation Army (), GIPSIL (), Revolving Doors Agency (), Citizens Advice (), Oakley, M. . Joseph Rowntree Foundation, November 2015
44 Essex County Council (), Working Links (), Serco (), learndirect Limited (), Mind and Royal College of Psychiatrists ()
45 Personal correspondence with DWP officials
46 National Audit Office. , February 2013, see Figure 3
47 Working Links (). See also: Gingerbread ()
48 Working Links (), Serco (), , Salvation Army (), London Councils (), Remploy (), National Autistic Society (), Crisis ()
49 DWP (). The DWP introduced the Work Coach role in 2013 - see: DWP, , October 2013
50 Learning and Work Institute ()
51 (Damian Hinds)
52 Crisis (), Public and Commercial Services Union ()
53 See, for example, (Tony Wilson), (Matthew Oakley), (Patrick Hughes) (Kirsty McHugh), Working Links (), Salvation Army (), The Intraining Group (, Institute of Employability Professionals (), Employment Related Services Association (), Crisis (), The Intraining Group (), Centrepoint (), Scope (), Mind and Royal College of Psychiatrists (), London Councils (), Plymouth City Council (), Disability Benefits Consortium (), Parkinson’s UK (), Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) (), Young Women’s Trust (), Aspiedent CIC (), National Autistic Society (), Action on Hearing Loss (), Inclusion London (), Rethink Mental Illness ()
54 Homeless Link ()
55 Mind and Royal College of Psychiatrists ()
56 (Tony Wilson), (Tony Wilson), (Patrick Hughes), Working Links (), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (), Public and Commercial Services Union (), Remploy (), Aspiedent CIC (), National Autistic Society (, DEG0060), ENABLE Scotland (), Disability Benefits Consortium (), Action on Hearing Loss (), Inclusion London (), Citizens Advice (), Bright Sparks Consulting Ltd (), Dimensions UK Ltd (), Salford Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service (), Scope (), ERSA (), Mind and Royal College of Psychiatrists (), Plymouth City Council (), United Response (), Macmillan Cancer Support (), MS Society (), Shaw Trust (), Rethink Mental Illness ()
57 (Damian Hinds), DWP ()
58 (Damian Hinds)
59 Crisis (), Centrepoint, Crisis, ERSA, Homeless Link, the Salvation Army, St Mungo’s (), Young Women’s Trust (), Homeless Link ()
60 Citizens Advice ()
61 Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (), Citizens Advice ()
62 Gingerbread (), 4Children ()
63 Revolving Doors Agency ()
64 Remploy ()
65 (Damian Hinds).
66 DWP )
67 ERSA (), Scope (), Leonard Cheshire Disability (), Papworth Trust (), Centrepoint, Crisis, Homeless Link, ERSA, Salvation Army and St. Mungo’s (), Kennedy Scott (), Shaw Trust ()
68 (Matthew Oakley), (Nicola Whiteman), ERSA (), Association of Employment and Learning Providers (), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (), Plymouth City Council (), London Councils (), National Autistic Society (), Action on Hearing Loss (), The Lived Experiences of Welfare Reform Study (), The Work Foundation (), Joseph Rowntree Foundation ()
69 (Paul Williams)
70 (Damian Hinds)
71 (Stephen Crabb, HC 997-i)
72 Institute of Employability Professionals ()
73 (Damian Hinds)
74 DWP (), (Damian Hinds)
75 (Damian Hinds)
76 DWP ()
77 DWP ()
78 (Damian Hinds)
79 (Damian Hinds)
80 (Paul Williams)
81 (Paul Williams). Note: in 2016–17 the ratio of Team Leaders to Work Coaches will drop to 1:9. In 2015–16 it was 1:12.
82 Personal correspondence with DWP officials
83 Remploy (), Salvation Army (), UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) (), Hind, D., , Policy Exchange, August 2016, p.48
84 DWP (); Cabinet Office, , November 2015
85 Hind, D., , Policy Exchange, August 2016, p.48
86 Bright Sparks Consulting Ltd (), Hind, D., , Policy Exchange, August 2016, p.45, Passmore, J. , Institute of Leadership and Management, September 2014, p.2
87 (Damian Hinds)
88 (Patrick Hughes)
89 DWP ()
90 (Damian Hinds)
91 (Tony Wilson)
92 Public and Commercial Services Union ()
7 November 2016