Promoting social inclusion in the labour market

April 2012 Archive


What do Jobcentre Plus vacancies tell us about the state of the economy?

Posted in DWP programmes by

Written by Paul Bivand, Associate Director of Statistics and Analysis at Inclusion

Briefly, the past year has seen an improvement in the number of Jobcentre Plus vacancies.* In fact, once you account for seasonal changes there are now more new vacancies being notified to Jobcentre Plus than there have been at any point since summer 2008.

The improvement is concentrated in vacancies for full-time jobs. Last quarter the number for full-time vacancies was slightly down but is still only 10,000 a week below the 70,000 2007 peak.

Vacancies for part-time jobs overall have shown less improvement, though there have been odd monthly changes resulting from things like the 108,000 vacancies for bank residential care staff for one company that were notified in one week.

Chart one shows the patterns for Jobcentre Plus vacancies since 2004 – with the raw data as published on Nomis and our seasonally adjusted estimates. We’ve shown these as weekly numbers. This means that when ministers say ‘X no of vacancies are notified to Jobcentre Plus each week’, we are showing the same picture.

You can see that the figures you get from Nomis vary wildly around the seasonally adjusted line. We’ve not only seasonally adjusted the figures but also averaged vacancy notifications over each three months so it’s easier to see trends.

Chart two shows just the past two years, with all vacancies and full-time vacancies. These figures are just the seasonally adjusted estimates. There is considerable variation but the figures show a small but distinct improvement in all vacancies. Full-time vacancies have been down 3.8% since peaking in the quarter from October to December 2011.

To get a clearer view of the impact of the state of the economy on vacancies it is necessary to correct for the fact that some of the vacancies are in occupations with a very high staff turnover. We do this by dividing the new vacancies by the numbers of new Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants. As Work Programme prime providers will know, we analyse this for each contract package area and by detailed occupation group. Further details on our statistics offer page are available in the statistics area of the website.

Chart 3 shows the ratio of new Jobcentre Plus vacancies to new Jobseeker’s Allowance claims, both seasonally adjusted. A ratio above one means that more new vacancies are notified than there are new Jobseeker’s Allowance claims. A ratio below one means that there are more new Jobseeker’s Allowance claims than new vacancies.

The rate was as high as 2.07 before the recession, so even though the number of vacancies is increasing, we shouldn’t get carried away, since the number of new Jobseeker’s Allowance claims is far higher than it was before the recession. And what is more, there are far more people already unemployed and competing for these jobs: the number of vacancies per unemployed person currently stands at 5.6.

The recent trend over the past 11 months for the ratio of new Jobcentre Plus vacancies to new Jobseeker’s Allowance claims has been upward. This is driven both by vacancies improving and also by declining new Jobseeker’s Allowance claims. The increase in Jobseeker’s Allowance numbers, as we have said in our regularly monthly analysis, is driven not by more people losing jobs but by people staying on benefit longer. This increase is for all durations of claim and therefore is not just accounted for by programmes coming to an end that stopped counting people as unemployed because they moved from Jobseeker’s Allowance onto a training allowance.

New Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are (with certain exceptions for some lone parents etc.) expected to look for full-time work. The ratio of new full-time vacancies to all new Jobseeker’s Allowance claims remains below one, showing that the job market is not buoyant enough to cut into the numbers of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants. This ratio began to improve in 2011, and now the fall in new Jobseeker’s Allowance claims is roughly equal to the fall in full-time vacancies, leaving a broadly unchanging picture.

While this may suggest some green shoots, we’re a long way from a ‘jobs spring’. Realistically, we need to see at least two new vacancies for every new unemployed person if we’re going to make progress on tackling the effects of the recession, particularly long-term unemployment. And for that to happen, we need – more than anything – a return to growth.

(*) I’ve used the term ‘Jobcentre Plus vacancies’ throughout. These are now actually notified through, the employer portal for dealings with government.



Jobcentre Plus vacancies

Posted in DWP programmes by

Written by Paul Bivand, Associate Director of Statistics and Analysis at Inclusion.

On Easter Monday, the Guardian published a series of articles on Jobcentre Plus vacancies.

It had obtained an extract of the vacancy database for 22 February through the Freedom of Information Act.

The Guardian's analysis concentrates on two issues.

First, whether the vacancies were for jobs of 24 hours or more per week – this is relevant because of the change to tax credits: the minimum number of hours of work to ensure eligibility has risen from 16 to 24 hours (although it’s a bit more complicated than that).

Second, whether the 24 hour plus jobs were temporary or permanent.

The paper’s conclusion was that only 52% of available positions were of a sufficient number of hours to meet the new 24-hour requirement over a long-term period.

If only the hours of work were analysed, the Guardian found that at least 24,000 job positions did not offer enough guaranteed hours for families to qualify for Working Tax Credit.

The data the Guardian received are available online at the Guardian datastore for others to analyse, in the form of a large, zipped, tab-separated values text file containing 112,000 records.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be posting a copy in due course. The DWP publishes data released through freedom of information requests after three months on its ‘Information released under the Freedom of Information Act that is of wider general interest’ page.

The DWP version should contain a series of explanatory notes, which the Guardian unaccountably failed to include in their publication.

The Guardian interpreted the 112,000 records as individual vacancies. This doesn't look right. These could be vacancy orders – with potentially multiple vacancies. The difference is shown by a discussion in the NOMIS forum. One company placed 19,008 vacancies on 27 January for jobs in caring personal services. This appeared as 192 orders. These 19,008 could have been zero-hour contracts, as there are some in this occupation group in the Guardian database. The NOMIS figures for February show 283,252 live unfilled vacancies and 444,279 live vacancies. Therefore, unless vacancies fell dramatically within February, the Guardian's figures are hiding multiple vacancies.

It is unfortunate that the Guardian didn't see fit to talk to users of Jobcentre vacancy data to identify some of these wrinkles.

What does this release add that we didn't have already?

First, the hours information: the NOMIS data identifies part-time and full-time vacancies (full time defined as 30 hours or more). The detail gives a finer breakdown and enables the Guardian to identify vacancies of 24 hours or more (subject to the mis-identification of numbers of vacancies).

Second, and requiring extra work, the NOMIS releases describe vacancies as full or part time (and permanent or temporary) and give the occupation. The Guardian data enable a snapshot analysis of part-time vacancies by occupation, which we'll be looking into. No great surprises for welfare to work advisers, as we all know that part-time jobs are more common in some occupations than others, but useful additional data.

It would be nice if the NOMIS releases broke down the occupation information by whether vacancies are full time or part time. Maybe that can go on the wish list.

Labour Market Statistics from the Office for National Statistics were released on Wednesday. Inclusion's regular labour market analysis is available here.

A short blog post showing how the trends in Jobcentre Plus vacancies compare with other sources of information on the labour market will be published shortly.



Supporting the homeless into work – with or without the Work Programme?

A fortnight ago the Single Homeless Project (SHP) announced they were handing back their Work Programme contract in London because the £600 up-front fee they were receiving from their “prime” provider was not enough to cover the costs of support that they were providing to their customers. This has caused understandable concern within the sector, as specialist organisations like SHP have a critical role to play in delivering support to people furthest from work.

However while the implications may be far reaching for the Work Programme (but only time will tell), what this means for the homeless and vulnerably housed is less clear-cut. Before SHP’s withdrawal, there were only two specialist homeless organisations in Work Programme supply chains, with almost all of the support for homeless people being provided by specialist organisations outside of the Work Programme.

The recent Homeless Link conference on employment had a number of examples of best practice from small, third sector organisations who were supporting people into work, often without the financial backing of the Work Programme. I have outlined a couple of examples below which demonstrate the importance of building employability skills, social enterprise, working with employers and building relationships with Jobcentre Plus.

First, Cricklewood Homeless Concern (CHC) outlined how their employment focused model had supported 77 homeless people into work last year. In this model, all clients have the opportunity to develop employability skills and to access training immediately, while recognising that they may not be ready to move back into employment straight away. CHC believe that by giving clients the opportunity to become involved in training and the chance to start thinking about work, this supports their recovery rather than hinders it. Inclusion reported a similar finding in our evaluation of the Single Homeless Enterprise Project for St Mungo’s. Clients who were still recovering from homelessness benefitted from being involved in training under the social enterprise models delivered by St Mungo’s. The focus and attention required to continue with the course helped many of the clients stay focused on recovery rather than relapse.

CHC’s employment focused model also included a strong connection with local employers. So a further lesson is that employer engagement is critical to success. In CHC’s case, they went as far as to scan large employers’ audit reports to identify those that needed to improve their corporate social responsibility, and used this to market themselves.

Another common approach to supporting homeless people was around developing social enterprise models. For example the Shekinah Mission, based in Plymouth, has set up a succession of successful social enterprises that have supported a number of homeless people into work. John Hamblin, Chief Executive of Shekinah outlined how structured support and the provision of tangible employability skills are key to supporting homeless people into work. Indeed, in his view, many social enterprises and pre-employment programmes are too ‘soft’ in that the skills learnt do not then meet homeless people’s needs for the world of work.

The final lesson from the conference was very different, but perhaps the cheapest and quickest solution to supporting homeless people into work. This was developing a relationship with their district Jobcentre Plus (JCP) Manager. Many speakers, including Martin Hill from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), emphasised that JCP District Managers are being given more flexibilities to provide support for hard to reach groups. Homeless Link themselves have produced guidance on working with Jobcentre Plus. The advice from DWP and other speakers was to take advantage of the increase in autonomy of JCP District Managers and tell them what support homeless people need.

Overall, supporting this hard to reach group into work is challenging and specialist organisations are doing it almost exclusively outside the Work Programme. The work of Homeless Link and others has helped to provide some clear lessons on what works, the question now is how far the Work Programme can or should learn from this.


Homelessness and employment

Posted in Disadvantaged groups by

Tony Wilson, the Director of Policy at Inclusion, presented at the Homeless Link conference on 28 March on homelessness and employment. The presentation considered implications for the homeless and those supporting them of the overall labour market and government policy contexts.

View Tony Wilson's presentation at the Homeless Link conference.