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CPA report Changes in Jobcentres

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts has published a report on Responding to change in jobcentres.

With recent changes to the use of Universal Jobmatch, the imminent changes with Universal Credit, and questions being raised about the future of employment services, this report looks at the performance of Jobcentre Plus and how effectively it supports the needs of claimants.

In light of the experience of JSA claimants in many areas being sanctioned for not using Universal Jobmatch, it is interesting that the report highlights the risk of sanctions unfairly penalising vulnerable claimants, and the fact that they are applied inconsistently.  It also recognsies the increasing burden that JCP are putting on already pressured community based resources to support claimants with using IT.  With the imminent introduction of Universal Credit and the online application, as well as Universal Jobmatch, this is going to become an increasing problem, and it is good that the report recognises these key issues.

The report concludes that the number of people who stop claiming benefits is a flawed measure of jobcentres’ effectiveness.  DWP chooses to monitor the number of people leaving benefits rather than track job destinations because it is less expensive to administer.  In a typical head in the sand approach, DWP considers that the high level of people reclaiming benefits reflects the dynamism of the labour market rather than the performance of jobcentres.  Under Universal Credit DWP feels it will have better access to data about destination of those leaving benefits.

Citizen's Advice has seen a rise in the number of inquiries about benefit sanctions of 25% in the second quarter of 2012-2013 and 45% in the third quarter.  This included people with limited literacy, mild mental health problems and learning difficulties.  Citizens Advice are concerned that jobcentres are pushing people into hardship without fully exploring with claimants why they were unable to meet their requirements for claiming JSA.  This is something many employability professionals are reporting - JCP staff are keen to sanction claimants with little consideration of the individual circumstances. Work Programme providers are required to go to great lengths to ensure that ESA participants in particular, understand their responsibilities before taking forward sanction action.  W2W Solutions suggest that this approach should be taken by all parties for every potential sanction.

It is interesting that DWP state that there are no targets for the rate or number of people who are sanctioned by jobcentres.  This is contrary feedback from many organisations who have good links with local JCP staff.  There is an interesting/entertaining section of the oral evidence given to the Committee of Public Accounts on Monday 11 March 2013 (Q71 to Q91) in Round 12 of Margaret Hodge vs Robert Devereux, which discusses sanctions.  RD is adamant that there are no targets for JCP staff to achieve sanctions.  There is mention however of local flexibility.  Is it likely that individual district of JCP managers are implementing targets as part of this local flexibility?    

Other conculsions made in the report are:
 
  • Jobcentres have increased flexibility to take local need into account, but the Department does not yet know enough about what works and why. The Department should gather information on how different jobcentres are managing caseloads and play a stronger role in identifying, evaluating and disseminating good practice.
  • Concern that increased flexibility for jobcentres may leave greater scope for ‘parking’ harder-to-help claimants such as those with disabilities.  The Department should review its ability to support disabled claimants, particularly in light of low outcomes for these groups on the Work Programme, and it should follow up in future evaluation work to test more rigorously whether ‘parking’ of claimants is occurring.
  • Technology can improve the services available to jobseekers, but some claimants will struggle with online access and need more support from third parties. The Department should ensure that there is sufficient support in place to assist vulnerable claimants. It should also include an assessment of the burden on third party advisers in helping people online as part of its monitoring of online take-up under Universal Credit and predecessors such as Jobseeker’s Allowance Online.

 

The Work & Pensions Select Committee will shortly be embarking on its inquiry into the effectiveness of JCP as a public sector employer, so this scrutiny is far from over for Jobcentre Plus.

19 June 2013


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