For well over a year now Ministers have been lauding the increase in jobs and the fall in unemployment, but little noticed in the most recent labour market statistics was an increase in the number of people claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA). In total 2.53 million are now claiming ESA, an increase of 60,000 people over the last 12 months. As usual the ESA numbers are hidden away in the official statistics, with government and media focussing on the (smaller) unemployment figures.
The main programme for ESA claimants is the Work Programme but since it started in June 2011 there have been just 292,000 ESA claimants join it and according to the latest statistics only 8% have secured a sustained job. Beyond ESA there are many more people with disabilities who are out of work – a total of 3.6 million people are disabled and not working. Even on the Work Programme less than half of the disabled people are ESA claimants. By ‘disability’ we mean all of those people that have mental and physical health conditions that limit their ability to work, and half of all those on ESA have mental health problems.
All three main political Parties recognise that something more should be done. The Conservatives say they “will aim to halve the disability employment gap”, Labour “will introduce a specialist support programme” and the LibDems will “simplify and streamline back-to-work support for people with disabilities.” So what needs to happen to make this a reality?
Inclusion worked with 22 organisations to develop radical new proposals in our report Fit for Purpose and in Ten Policies for Ten People we boiled this down to six practical proposals to start the process of reform. First and foremost is separating support for disabled people from the Work Programme. We need to re-structure employment and skills support for disabled people so that it reflects the different levels of support that people need. This would open up the possibility of recognising a greater range of outcomes, including qualifications. A basic principle that will need to run through the design of new policies will be greater ‘personalisation’ – recognising that each person’s combination of health and employability issues is often unique.
To deliver this means that there needs to be a drive for stronger partnerships between employment and skills providers, health services and local support. As a country we have singularly failed to join up these services for the individual. Support delivered by silos is invariably ineffective and inefficient and we need to foster (at all levels) a new capability in our services – one which brings together health, skills and jobs. Making this work for the individual needs highly qualified Personal Advisors, with manageable caseloads, who is there to provide support and not just to administer a welfare benefits.
A more local approach to planning and commissioning services could provide the drive to foster partnerships between health, employment and skills. This is why we propose a clear national framework which will enable new approaches to devolving and pooling budgets. However, in doing this we must not lose sight of the lessons we have already learned through previous programmes, pilots, and local initiatives. Hence our proposal to establish a ‘What Works Unit’ to collect, review and disseminate best practice.
Whilst unemployment may continue to go down, we can’t ignore the larger and increasing numbers on ESA. We can do better for people with health and disability problems but it will take a government which is determined to follow up on their manifesto commitment and understand this should be a national priority rather than an inconvenient statistic to be hidden.
If you are a Work Programme provider or an Independent Training Provider, and you are planning to hold an event to encourage people to take up your provision, then I have some news that should be of interest.
NIACE is operating a free service where you can register your events and maximise the number of participants who attend. The NIACE events calendar provides a practical method for you to encourage people to attend the events that you are already planning to deliver this summer. Under the banner of ‘The Festival of Learning’ NIACE is using the events registered to publicise the range and breadth of adult learning activities that take place.
The benefits of uploading your event to the Festival of Learning events calendar are:
• Increase the potential for your events to be seen by a new audience
• National Careers Service advisors actively promote the events listed to clients as opportunities to get back into education and employment
• Selected events will be shared or highlighted on social media and on NIACE’s website
• Selected events will be mentioned in NIACE press releases during the Festival of Learning.
In addition, NIACE has produced a Festival of Learning Toolkit that is jam packed with tips and suggestions on how to host an event, generate press coverage and boost your social media profile and reach. Other resources you’ll find online include web and social media banners, posters and logos.
One of the aims of the Festival of Learning is to encourage adults to take part in all types of learning activities and NIACE has chosen #lovetolearn as the festival’s overarching theme.
NIACE would love it if you could encourage your adult learners, event participants and event staff to share with us what it is that they love to learn. By using the hashtag #lovetolearn on social media (Facebook / Twitter / Instagram etc) and maybe even including a relevant image or a video the message will be picked up by NIACE and shared across our accounts to promote the importance of all forms of adult learning. We hope that by capturing the feedback from as many people as possible, we can clearly demonstrate to policy makers the breadth of learning that adults are interested in, highlighting the need to continue to fund learning opportunities for adults, particularly targeting the most vulnerable in society.
In conclusion, the Festival of Learning provides a unique opportunity for you to highlight the work that you do to a national audience by registering your events in May and June on NIACE's free online events listing You will add your organisation’s contribution to the voices of the hundreds of other learning organisations who have already registered their events , and will have the opportunity to influence policy by actively demonstrating the importance of adult learning to people’s lives.
Key dates: Festival of Learning 1 May – 30 June, Adult Learners' Week 13 - 19 June
Ian Bond (27/04/2015).
Duncan Melville looks at social security spending plans from the party manifestos
Yesterday, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published its analysis of the tax and spending plans that have been set out by the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP. Most comment has focused on the overall differences in the parties’ tax and spending plans. Here I try to dig a little deeper into the differences the parties’ outline for the future of welfare spending. The table below summarises the parties’ welfare spending plans and the IFS assessment of them.
There are big differences in the parties’ announced plans for welfare spending, but a lot of what might actually happen post-election is unknown. The Conservatives have proposed the biggest reductions in welfare spending, £12 billion and at the same time pledged not find these savings from spending on pensioners. Hence all £12 billion would need to be found from welfare spending on people of working age and their families. As the IFS has stated, finding cuts of this magnitude “will entail some very difficult choices”.
Last month the BBC reported on some options which the Conservatives had asked DWP officials to consider. These proposals do not feature in the Conservative manifesto, but they do outline the scale of the task required to get to £12 billion of welfare savings.
Overall for the six proposals which could be costed, the savings amount to £5.8 billion. So even if implemented with the Conservatives’ specific proposals the savings would total £7.1 billion still £4.9 billion short of the target of £12 billion of savings.
Where might this additional £4.9 billion be found? The IFS has produced estimates for the savings in welfare spending of different policy options in their February Green Budget. As an example, abolishing child benefit and incorporating it into universal credit could, according to the IFS, save £4.8 billion but remove entitlement for 4.3 million families. The savings from this would overlap to some extent with the £1.0 billion savings from limiting child benefit to two children per family explored by DWP, so the combined savings from these two measures enacted together would be less than £5.8 billion. Hence, a little more might be needed to get us to £4.9 billion. Cutting housing benefit by reducing the ceiling on what can be paid from the cheapest 30% to the cheapest 20% of properties is estimated to save £400 million – reducing help to £1.5 million claimants by on average £6 a week.
What is clear is that finding a further £12 billion of welfare savings will inevitably involve a radical shrinking in the scope of the welfare state and hit hard the pockets of the poorest in society.
There are currently 743,000 young people not in employment, education and training (NEET) in the UK; and there has been a 30 per cent rise in young people who are not claiming Jobseekers Allowance, which means that young people are increasingly disengaged from the support available. In addition to this, there is also the hidden issue of underemployment and zero hour contracts, which young people are three times more likely to do. For example Local Government Association research estimates that 40 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds are underemployed by a total of two billion hours of work a year. Whilst inequalities in the labour market remain for BME young people, including a 50 per cent unemployment rate for young black men.
Therefore, policymakers and employment and training providers face the challenge of connecting disengaged young people to the labour market, supporting them into jobs that are both fulfilling and sustainable and delivering programmes that are genuinely universal.
With this in mind, delegates at the Youth Employment Summit 2015 came together to discuss topics including the challenges for young people, what successful youth employment programmes should look like and what reforms are needed in the sector to ensure that young people are able to reach their full potential. They also got the opportunity to learn more about what the political parties are offering young people ahead of the General Election, as young representatives from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green Party discussed their parties manifestos ‘for change’.
The Youth Panel formed an important element of the day’s proceedings. Young people spoke of their experiences within the education system and labour market, assessed the proposals pitched to them by a mix of organisations and held the young politicians to account on their policies.
Showcases enabled attendees to meet organisations that work with young people and learn more about examples of best practice in the sector through presentations and demonstrations with staff and young people who had participated in the programmes.
Concerns raised included that there has been a lack of opportunities for young people (especially within the creative industries) in recent years, that the quality of support has not been good enough and that programmes often overlap. It was widely felt that the service user voice in both the design and delivery of programmes was vital; as was quality assurance to ensure that funding was being directed appropriately.
Policies highlighted by the young politicians, included building 2000 more youth centres and making the minimum wage equivalent to the living wage (the Green Party), a job guarantee for young people who have been unemployed for more than six months (Labour Party), two-thirds off bus travel for young people (Liberal Democrats) and getting JCP advisors to liaise with school careers services (the Conservatives).
The role of mentors became a theme of the day, as many of the young people and speakers talked of the importance of having a trusted adult who could advise and support the individual. Whilst it was recognised that mentors are particularly valuable for disadvantaged youth who do not currently have the support mechanisms in place to succeed.
There was much discussion about the role of schools and careers services in improving young people’s employment prospects. It was generally felt that there is too much focus on academia and exams in school and not enough encouragement around soft skills and extracurricular activities. Suggestions put forward by the speakers included that pupil’s needed contact with employers as soon as possible in order for them to gain practical experience and understanding, and that there needed to be stronger messages to young people about their options. Furthermore, there was consensus that better quality careers information, advice and guidance in schools would enable young people to be aware of what skills are needed in their desired career path.
There was also agreement that more needed to be done to strengthen the apprenticeship system so that the training provided sets young people up for careers rather than just the job that they are going into, and because progression beyond apprenticeship completion is low. Recommendations included that there should be a guaranteed job at the end of the scheme and that a measure that identifies whether apprenticeship completers were able to find a sustainable job should be introduced. There was also some debate around whether we should be encouraging employers or setting down expectations around hiring young people into entry level of apprenticeship roles.
Lastly, there were several conversations about how to make Jobcentre’s more appealing for younger claimants. It became clear that the Jobcentre approach to young people needs to change, and that there needs to be significant improvements in the quality of advice being given to young people because, as one speaker emphasised, “all young people have abilities, they need to be able to act on that potential and access the relevant support.”
In reference to the young politicians and the youth ambassadors present, chair Laura-Jane Rawlings stated that “if they are representative of young people today then we’re going to be alright” – a fitting summary to an exciting and inspiring day.
The youth ambassadors said that they would like to see more young people, especially 16-19 year olds, at the Convention later this year, as well as greater discussion about those young people who are most disadvantaged, such as young carers and young people with disabilities or who are homeless. They questioned whether the sector had missed an opportunity by not publishing a shared manifesto ahead of the election, and wondered whether such organisations should be collaborating more to get the best results possible for young people. At a policy level they spoke of their desire for more youth centres, a continued, if not greater focus on the issues raised throughout the day and a Minister for Youth Employment. There was also an agreement that the postcode lottery needs to end so that young people should have access to the best services regardless of where they live or what they need support with.
Inclusion will take these recommendations on board for the Youth Employment Convention in November; and like many of the Summit’s delegates and the organisations that they represent, we will be working to ensure that the issues around youth employment remain in the spotlight during the post election period, so that policies which help young people find and stay in work get implemented.
NIACE ‘s manifesto – Skills for Prosperity, launched in June last year – detailed 6 priority actions for the next Government. As the main political parties for this year’s General Election launch their manifestos, Inclusion's Dave Simmonds and the NIACE senior team reflect on the proposals for learning and skills and highlight what’s missing.
What's in the Labour manifesto for employment, learning and skills? David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, highlights the ‘good hooks’ in the Labour Party Manifesto for NIACE to ‘get stuck into’ aswell as the missed opportunities.
Can the Greens deliver 'the Common Good?' Steve Mulligan, Assistant Director for Policy and Public Affairs, praises the Green Party for their clear commitment to lifelong learning but questions whether they have been too ambitious.
The Conservative manifesto: jobs, skills and growth. Stephen Evans, NIACE Deputy Chief Executive, believes that a Right to Train is as important as the flagship Right to Buy policy from the Conservative Party.
A serious migration – reacting to the UKIP manifesto. Tom Stannard, NIACE Deputy Chief Executive, discusses why the UKIP manifesto remains too heavy in emphasis on the needs of young people alone and ignores the needs of the working age population.
It’s Education, Education, Education for the LibDems. Dave Simmonds, the Chief Executive of the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, takes a look at the series of ‘sensible and welcome commitments and proposals’ in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto.
Learning and skills will work for Wales and strengthen Scotland. Aaron Hill, Policy & Public Affairs Officer at NIACE Cymru discusses the Plaid Cymru and the SNP manifestos and examines their proposals for learning and skills.
Dan Finn, Professor at the University of Portsmouth, writes:
In the UK, despite some variation in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, government ministers and Whitehall control most aspects of welfare to work (WtoW) policy. In contrast to other OECD countries, local government plays only a limited role. As the General Election approaches, and following the decision to give more welfare powers to Scotland, the debate on devolving such powers in England has intensified.
The approach of the Coalition Government to WtoW devolution in England has been mixed. City and Growth Deals empower local authorities and partnerships to analyse employment and skills needs in their areas, identify priorities and develop better coordinated approaches. But such negotiated deals are a comparatively weak form of devolution and it is unclear whether they will translate into substantive changes, not least due to the conditional commitment of government departments.
The DWP, in particular remains wedded to a strong ‘centralised’ approach to localism, worried that national priorities should not be eclipsed by divergent local priorities or capacities. Local flexibility given to Jobcentres is constrained by national targets and intended only to complement mainstream activity. Joint working is largely restricted to provision for people ineligible for or poorly served by existing programmes. Greater flexibility has been extended only through centrally-commissioned payment-by-results programmes delivered by prime providers who are themselves weakly connected with local authorities.
Calls for more radical approaches to devolution have increased. Many proposals suggest devolution of the Work Programme and other DWP employment programmes, with others proposing the devolution of benefit budgets with local government actors free to set their own benefit conditionality and payment rates.
A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report published today reviews these devolution proposals in the context of the experience of four countries with a strong tendency towards decentralisation – the USA, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany. In each country devolution has involved changes in the financing of welfare benefits and responsibilities for employment and skills programmes. In three of the countries lower tiers of government can design and organise benefits and WtoW service delivery financed through devolved block grants. In Germany devolution has driven improved inter-institutional collaboration between the Public Employment Service and local government.
Comparative findings show that devolution has contributed to service integration, welfare caseload reductions and increased employment, although views differ on the quality of the outcomes secured. It seems that allowing lower tiers of government to fund services, finance benefit payments and implement programmes has encouraged innovation and facilitated better targeted and co-ordinated services. Additionally, it has incentivised lower tiers of government to keep unemployment low.
The success of WtoW devolution relies on managing critical challenges.
The first issue concerns accountability. WtoW policies have national significance and central government is accountable for setting priorities and managing public finances. National objectives often are the basis for negotiated agreements and targets with local government actors, and, as in the USA or Canada, may be monitored and managed through performance reporting systems; central or regional scrutiny and evaluation; and the incentives and sanctions embedded in conditional central funding. Such mechanisms are important to mitigate the potential for misaligned or conflicting incentives that exist in multi-tiered policy systems.
Funding too may be a challenge. Most proposals suggest that where local councils or partnerships in England become responsible for particular claimant groups, especially the most disadvantaged, they should offer higher performance and, by investing some of their own resources, assume greater financial risk for service delivery. The most radical propose that, in return, local areas would receive a significant share of the central benefit expenditure saved. Such an approach is analogous to block grant funding and the model in the Netherlands illustrates how such devolution may be secured whilst retaining strong national benefit entitlements.
There are issues too about the role of the Jobcentre network in any devolution of local WtoW services. The role of Jobcentres is changing but there are variations in how DWP Districts and Jobcentres engage with partnerships, councils and contracted providers. The development of local Universal Credit support services will require greater partnership working and fuller integration of employment and benefits services. Greater devolution of how Jobcentres work with local government is required and more coherent partnership agreements, as exist in Germany, would help facilitate integrated and more locally accountable service delivery.
A further challenge concerns differential capacity in terms of management, resources, and the appetite for devolution amongst local stakeholders. It would not be feasible for most areas to immediately acquire the DWP’s expertise in designing payment, procurement and performance management systems. Canada’s differential approach to ‘labour market agreements’ and the use of state-based ‘waivers’ in the US allowed provincial and state governments to negotiate and test different levels of responsibility before moving to fuller devolution. This differentiated and experimental approach to WtoW devolution should be an explicit national policy for City and Growth Deals, rather than a tacit local objective.
A final challenge concerns equity. There is a potential conflict between the norm of equal treatment and devolution of employment services or benefit entitlements. Variety should be accommodated but underpinned by national minimum standards, especially where programmes are mandatory. Devolved budgetary systems must also balance performance-related incentives and sanctions with the necessity for maintaining investment in and provision of support for all welfare claimants, especially in areas with weak labour markets or which experience ‘economic shocks’.
Dan Finn is a Professor at the University of Portsmouth and the JRF report can be found here.
Support to help people move into work was not a particular focus of yesterday’s budget. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s economic forecasts predicting continued economic and employment growth with the unemployment rate falling slightly to 5.3% by the end of this year and staying at this level through to 2019 will bring some cheer of improved employment prospects for those without work, (and their predictions are in line with the general consensus amongst independent economic forecasters). In addition, there were some welcome measures to improve the employment prospects of people with mental health conditions. However, perhaps the main point of interest is around the OBR’s expectation of continued spending on incapacity benefits through to 2019-20
Successive OBR incapacity benefits expenditure forecasts since March 2011
People on incapacity benefits, the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) being the current incarnation of this form of financial support, are amongst the most disadvantaged and distanced from work: on the latest data around 60% of those in receipt of ESA had been so for five years or more. The dramatic change of view on the part of the OBR between 2013 and 2014 reflects the collapse of the Atos Work Capacity Assessment contract. The OBR now expects that expenditure on incapacity benefits in 2015-16 will be £4.5 billion higher than they had thought back in March 2011 – a whopping 44% increase. Additionally, the Work Programme has struggled to get ESA claimants into work with much lower movement into sustainable employment than for clients on Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), see chart below for the latest figures which came out today.
Two-year job outcome performance by Work Programme payment group
The fact that the OBR has further revised up its view as to the expected level of expenditure on incapacity benefits in the next five years and so the forecast numbers of people expected to be on ESA indicates that the current and long standing failure to address the deep seated problems of this disadvantaged group are anticipated to continue. Hence, a key priority for whichever party or parties form the Government after 7 May should be to do better, both in the interests of economic efficiency (using the skills of this group productively) and of social inclusion.
This blog was written by Duncan Melville, Chief Economist at Inclusion.
The weekend’s announcement of a government review of welfare for those with drug or weight problems was nothing if not brazen. In one of its first acts in 2010, this government cancelled pilots of mandatory treatment plans for problem drug users on benefits – pilots that themselves had followed a 2008 Drugs Strategy, a DWP White Paper, and extensive research and consultation with drugs charities and support groups.
Indeed, the government went as far as repealing legislative powers (created by Labour in 2009) that would have enabled them to require problem drug users on benefit to agree to treatment plans or face sanction. So ironically, this reform-minded government inherited a position where it could require drug users to agree to treatment plans, it renounced these powers, and it will only now be able to deliver on its plans by… legislating through yet another Welfare Reform Act.
The government had very clear reasons for abandoning Labour’s plans. And it was right to do so. As Lord Freud put it:
“First, it mandates claimants to do something, such as being tested for drugs, that is not directly about helping people to approach the labour market. That does not mean that entering treatment is not the right approach to help many claimants who are substance dependent to address their barriers to work, but - and this leads to my second reason - claimants enter treatment for a series of complex reasons, and whether or not they succeed also depends on a series of complex reasons. Forcing claimants to answer, for example, questions about possible drug use, requiring them to attend substance-related assessments about drug use and insisting that claimants enter a mandatory rehabilitation plan if they decline to enter treatment voluntarily would be asking them to do something a large proportion of them would not want to do. If we took the approach of the previous Government, we would create a high risk of those claimants immediately failing these requirements and having to be sanctioned.
“Finally, we consider that the previous Government's approach towards substance or alcohol-dependent claimants would be one that all the evidence from treatment providers and agencies who are experts in this area, as well as SSAC which consulted with those organisations, say would not succeed.”
I would go further still: mandatory treatment plans would require Jobcentre Plus advisers to act like health professionals, and health professionals to act like Jobcentre Plus advisers: enforcing ‘conditionality’, reporting on those who fail to meet those conditions, and providing the evidence so that ‘offenders’ can be sanctioned. It is inconceivable that doctors, nurses and other health professionals would consider that this was consistent with medical ethics (as the chair of the Health Select Committee has been pointing out ) – even if they had the time or inclination to act as gatekeepers for the benefits system, and even if they believed that quasi-compulsory treatment was likely to work. What is more, threatening drug users with sanction will make them less likely to disclose their drug use, and less likely to seek support.
The one saving grace of the 2008/9 reforms was its plans for improving access to drugs treatment for those on benefits. This included improved sharing of information, co-location of services, and the creation of full-time ‘Drug Co-ordinators’ in every Jobcentre Plus District – which evaluation evidence from DWP (pdf) suggested had been valuable both in linking up services and supporting frontline advisers.
And this is where the brass neck in Saturday’s announcement really shows. In 2010, the Government not only cancelled the pilots of mandatory plans, but also promised a ‘radical rethink’ of support for problem drug users on benefit. In theory, this was to involve more tailored support – with problem drug users given the choice of entering treatment or being subject to stringent enforcement of benefit conditions. In reality however, the ‘District Drug Co-ordinator’ role was abandoned in 2011, treatment services have seen ever increasing caseloads and reduced funding, while partnerships between employment and drug recovery services have deteriorated – as Drugscope’s ‘State of the Sector’, out last week, has shown.
The reports this weekend suggest that Dame Carol Black does at least want to focus on how we can improve services and support for those with drug problems on benefits. In our view, this should mean two immediate priorities:
The irony and great pity here is that the government started from the right place in its 2010 announcement, and in its Social Justice Strategy it began to set out how it could deliver on this. The announcement on Saturday shows just how little progress it has made since.