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Government's approach to employment support risky, say MPs

8 January 2016

In a Special Report published by the Work and Pensions Committee, the Government responds to the Committee's October 2015 Report on welfare-to-work.

Government plans and further scrutiny

The Government confirms its broad plans for the structure of employment support set out in the recent Spending Review:

  • Broadly flat investment in the range of employment support but much greater focus on more intensive Jobcentre Plus support in the earlier months of benefit claims
  • From 2017, a single contracted employment programme, the Health and Work Programme, for unemployed people with health conditions and disabilities and claimants who have been out of work for at least two years (claimants are typically referred to the current Work Programme at nine or 12 months). This will entail a substantial reduction in funding for contracted welfare-to-work provision.

While the Committee is encouraged by aspects of the Government's response to its Report, notably its intention to develop a characteristic-based assessment of claimants' barriers to employment, it notes that the above approach rejects two of the Committee's central recommendations: that the Government maintain two contracted employment programmes, including a separate specialist programme for disabled people; and that, in general, claimants should be referred to contracted providers earlier.

The Committee intends to scrutinise the Government's plans, including implications for the commitment to halve the "disability employment gap" and the future role of Jobcentre Plus, in a number of inquiries during 2016.

Chair's comment

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee said:

"We found from our visits that many claimants should be referred to contractors early and not be kept warehoused at Jobcentre Plus. To help choose these candidates who need extra help quickly, and would thereby find work more quickly, we suggested that a simple set of indicators be developed to help distinguish them. We are pleased that the Government is exploring this option. But its approach, of identifying early those claimants who will need extra help to gain employment, is blown sky high by what appears to be its intention that claimants remain in the Jobcentre Plus system for at least two years prior to referral. This will undoubtedly cost taxpayers far more than a reformed system along the lines the Committee proposes".

Further information

Image: PA