The future of Jobcentre Plus Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.Allied to wider economic trends, JCP has performed well in recent years in supporting claimants who are closer to the labour market into work. It is, in part, a victim of its own success, as to further reduce unemployment, it must now focus on ensuring that it has measures in place that can offer equally effective support to a caseload of claimants with much more varied, complex and substantial barriers to work. (Paragraph 9)

The vital role of Jobcentre Plus staff

2.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. (Paragraph 21)

3.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. (Paragraph 22)

4.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. (Paragraph 23)

5.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. (Paragraph 33)

6.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. (Paragraph 34)

7.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. (Paragraph 35)

8.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. (Paragraph 38)

9.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. (Paragraph 39)

Learning about “what works”

10.JCP will be the gateway for ensuring the right people are referred to the right support at the right time. It may prove ineffective, however, in supporting vulnerable claimants if it is unable to work closely with other local organisations to address the broader social and health issues which affect claimants’ employability. JCP has limited organisational experience of this way of working. While we welcome the Department’s overall flexible, experimental approach to new provision, it needs to ensure that this is matched with clear guidance on, and promotion of, the opportunities for joint working. (Paragraph 51)

11.The Flexible Support Fund is a potentially important resource that JCP can use to develop its partnership working with other organisations. However, it is underused and under-publicised. We recommend that the Department take steps to promote the Fund for this purpose, and that it monitors the extent of uptake and the purposes for which it is used. This should include identifying its use by individual Jobcentres. (Paragraph 52)

12.There is significant support for allowing JCP districts greater control of their budgets, and for integrating health and employment budgets in particular, to help JCP address the full range of barriers to work. This should extend beyond the Flexible Support Fund which, while valuable, is also discretionary. (Paragraph 53)

13.We recommend that JCP districts should be allocated their own health budgets for the remaining financial years during this Spending Review period, with the expectation that this will be spent on developing partnerships to address health-related barriers to work. Clear and common success measures should be agreed with local areas, including the proportion of people who find sustained employment through these programmes. (Paragraph 53)

14.We recommend the Department set an evaluation framework that local areas can use to test different approaches to local delivery, and produce information on “what works”, before moving to fuller devolution of JCP employment services. This should form the basis for a national framework of minimum service standards that central government can use to hold local areas to account. The evaluation framework should clearly set out performance measures that can be applied across the whole of the JCP caseload, including claimants who are a long way from the labour market. This means that metrics should be applicable to claimants who have not yet moved onto Universal Credit, and should be appropriate for measuring progress towards work as well as moves into work. (Paragraph 56)

The Work and Health Programme

15.It is disappointing that DWP’s plans for the Work and Health Programme do not involve expanding on Work Choice’s successes in supporting disabled people into work. We are concerned that the resources allocated to the scheme do not match its ambition. This is especially so given that the Government has committed to making significant in-roads into the disability employment gap, and the Department’s own recognition that it needs to do much more to help disabled claimants. With this in mind, our recommendations for the Work and Health Programme focus on getting the best possible results from the smaller contracted-out service. (Paragraph 61)

16.There is a clear consensus that people with disabilities and work-limiting health conditions should not be mandated to take part in the Work and Health Programme. Indeed, mandation could be self-defeating, making poor use of limited space on the programme and undermining relationships with the specialist support organisations alongside which JCP needs to work. We are pleased that the Department has confirmed that participation in the Work and Health Programme will be voluntary for disabled people on ESA and those with limited capability for work on Universal Credit. (Paragraph 66)

17.We recommend the Department clarify whether and how mandation will apply to disabled people and those with health conditions on JSA or the Universal Credit equivalent. The Department should produce guidance for Work Coaches on making referral decisions, mandation and the eligibility criteria for the Programme. This should encompass the use of discretion in potentially complex situations such as where an individual with a health condition has been unemployed for more than two years but may stand to benefit from external provision, or is claiming JSA or the Universal Credit equivalent. (Paragraph 66)

18.To maximise the impact of the Work and Health Programme in supporting jobseekers with complex needs, the Department will need to ensure it offers something distinct from general JCP provision. We are pleased that the Department agreed with our recommendation that there should be a strong emphasis on integrated provision. We also recommend that, given the generalist approach prevailing in JCP, there is clear case for contracts to be let to specialist providers. The Department will also need to ensure that payment structures for the Programme incentivise providers to invest in supporting the more substantially disadvantaged jobseekers within the cohort. In particular, small, specialist providers may need enhanced financial security to participate. This could be achieved through implementing “milestone” payments, or through an “accelerator model”. (Paragraph 72)

19.Commissioning for the Work and Health Programme should prioritise providers that demonstrate provision that goes beyond what is routinely available to jobseekers in JCP. We recommend that specialist providers should be prominently represented, and that the Department should set out clearly how it will ensure that such organisations are not made financially vulnerable through their participation: for example, by guaranteeing minimum referral volumes. Payment by Results should be maintained, but with a substantial service fee, reflecting the greater needs of the cohort that Work and Health Programme will serve—particularly those claimants who will be most difficult to place into work. (Paragraph 73)

Building confidence in JCP

20.The Department’s plans for reforming JCP involve a number of experimental and un-tested approaches, and require significant cultural as well as practical change. We welcome the Department’s ambition, but the doubt remains as to whether the Department may be attempting to achieve too much, too quickly. (Paragraph 76)

21.The Department should set out the key policy objectives that JCP must deliver over the next five years, and should give a clear indication of how JCP districts and individual Jobcentres should prioritise their delivery. This should include details of how the timing of policy objectives links with the roll-out of Universal Credit. (Paragraph 76)

22.JCP has responded well in the past to fluctuating claimant numbers. The planned changes to JCP services mean, however, that if staffing levels do not increase significantly, it will need to deliver much more with fewer resources. This problem could be exacerbated by an economic downturn and consequent increase in claimant numbers. JCP’s plans are at best based on uncertain and unclear forecasts, and may not reflect the time required for activities to support its more complex claimant population. We are concerned that the Department has no real idea how many Work Coaches it needs, less so will need, to provide its ambitious service. (Paragraph 83)

23.The Department must assess future staffing levels required to deliver the planned changes to JCP services, alongside the introduction of Universal Credit and scaled down contracted-out support. We recommend the Department set out a clearer framework for assessing the volume and complexity of demand, and its staffing consequences, in response to this report. The caseload of claimants coming into regular contact with JCP may also change as a result of the review of the Work Capability Assessment announced in the Department’s Work, Health and Disability green paper. We recommend the Department review its staffing needs once it has decided on a course of action. (Paragraph 84)

24.The current open plan physical layout of Jobcentre Plus gives insufficient privacy to claimants when disclosing their personal barriers to working, particularly for those with physical or mental health conditions. (Paragraph 87)

25.JCP should configure its office space when it renews its estate in 2018 so that appointments between claimants and Work Coaches can be held in private, on a genuine one-to-one basis. (Paragraph 87)

26.Jobcentre Plus increasingly serves claimants through digital channels of contact, requiring them to record work search evidence online, use Universal Jobmatch for finding job vacancies, and receive online advice from Work Coaches. Such services are clearly the future for a large proportion of JCP activities. One in four UK adults lacks basic digital skills, however, and more than one in ten have never used the internet at all. JCP is not doing enough to identify any support a claimant needs before being introduced to online resources: some advisors have assumed that access to a computer or the internet equates to the ability to use it. This risks significant numbers not being able to comply with their work search requirements. (Paragraph 91)

27.Jobcentre Plus should include a digital skills assessment in the Claimant Commitment interview which goes beyond simply asking if a claimant has access to the internet or a computer. This should draw on the good practice examples of digital skills assessments that are used by specialist support centres. Having poor IT skills should, for example, be grounds for claimants to be offered longer meetings with their Work Coaches. (Paragraph 91)

28.Changes to JCP services will mean that the Jobcentre will become much more than the place where people sign on to benefits. Current JCP performance measures tell us little about how effectively JCP is fulfilling its more holistic role, and do not focus on getting people into appropriate, sustainable employment and helping them to progress in work. It is not clear when new measures of sustained earnings for Universal Credit programmes will be fully in place, given delays to the Universal Credit roll-out. In any case, relying on Real Time Information as the sole measure of progress fails to tell the whole story of JCP’s effectiveness. JCP must ensure that it has good quality data available on its progress in supporting all of its claimants into work, including those who are a long way from the labour market, who may need substantial pre-employment support. (Paragraph 97)

29.We recommend that by the end of 2016 the Department set JCP similar performance targets of sustained earnings over time as it plans to introduce for Universal Credit. These measures must apply to all claimants in JCP, not just those claiming Universal Credit. We further recommend that JCP introduce a more holistic set of performance measures, including “distance travelled” towards work such as take-up of volunteering or skills training, customer satisfaction, and the number of claimants restarting their claims. These performance data must be routinely published. These measures will increase transparency, enable better decision-making on future provision, and help drive the necessary change in the culture and behaviour of JCP. (Paragraph 98)

30.The scale of the task ahead for the Department in reforming JCP reflects the scale of its ambition. Trying new methods and seeking to reach groups previously left behind by the welfare system is risky; things will go wrong and the Department will need to adapt accordingly. But it should be congratulated for taking those risks. (Paragraph 99)

7 November 2016