Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
1. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, may
I call the Committee to order by welcoming our four guests. May
I say hello to John Wheatley from the National Association of
Citizens Advice Bureaux? John is a frequent flyer in terms of
appearing in front of the Committee, has helped us with some other
previous pieces of work and we are pleased to see him again. We
have Craig Lane from Newport CAB, Richard Kramer from Mencap who
is the head of campaigns. Lucy Birkinshaw is a social policy worker
at DIAL UK. You are all welcome. Thank you very much for taking
the trouble to put in the written submissions which have helped
us enormously. We are in the course of an important piece of work
for the Committee, looking at the lessons for the Jobcentre Plus
policy changes which the Government are introducing which can
be derived from the ONE pilots. May I start by asking each of
you whether there is anything which is obvious that you want to
add to your statement about what difference ONE has made, briefly
as an opening framework, then we can start with some of the more
(Mr Wheatley) The only thing to add really
is that when we first heard about the single gateway we were very
curious as to what this meant. It sounded like a rather narrow
channel through which everyone would have to pass before their
claim for benefit or their search for work was progressed. As
time has gone on, we have come to regard the ONE pilots as a useful
learning exercise with some good things which have come out and
also some bad things where problems need to be addressed for the
(Mr Lane) I would just emphasise that the problems,
where we have seen them, have related to poor accountability and
the level of staff training and expertise in dealing with claimants.
The overall impression of ONE is that it could have been better.
(Mr Kramer) Mencap has always welcomed the idea being
put into practice of one-stop shops in terms of offering advice
on benefits and employment. The background is that people with
a learning disability are probably one of the most marginalised
groups in the workforce and the Government has produced a White
Paper which says only ten per cent of people with a learning disability
are working, so anything which is offering benefits without bureaucracy
and more tailored advice on work is going to be a good thing.
2. Thank you for being so concise. Let me just
ask whether you were particularly aware of the new work focus
to all this, in the minds of your clients and the people you represent?
Was there a proper appreciation and has the message from Government
got through about the essential new element which is the work
focus element in the course of the ONE pilot?
(Mr Wheatley) It is an interesting question how far
people have in mind what the Government wants them to have in
mind. In reality a lot of people simply want to know how they
get the advice they need, where they have to go. It is quite clear
already from what is happening in the ONE offices that people
do have to take a different attitude to the way they approach
their claims, the sort of advice they are going to get. I do not
have any direct experience of it. Craig is probably a better person
to talk to about this than I. My impression is that there is a
sense that work is the thing.
(Mr Lane) My experience relates to a Call Centre pilot
on the Gwent borders. Many of our clients just see it as a new
mechanism; it is the route into their benefits. We have had no
particular feedback that the work focus was particularly intrusive
or over-emphasised; we have had very little feedback on that element
of the interviews. It has just been another stage in the process.
We have had some comments on appropriateness, when somebody has
had a recent change of circumstances which required a claim to
be made or someone who has commenced a severe illness or who has
caring responsibilities they did not have before. There are issues
about appropriateness of having an interview at that point when
maybe it might be much more useful in six months' time.
3. Richard, finish off that section and in particular
could you refer to the submission you have made where you say
that as an organisation you did not have good links with the two
Deloitte pilots, but you did have good links with the Warwickshire
pilot. Could you compare the efforts taken to promote work amongst
your claimants with learning disabilities in the context of the
private sector pilots?
(Mr Kramer) Where it has worked very well, as it did
in Warwickshire, was where the voluntary sectorand when
I say that, Mencap's Employment Service; we have our own Employment
Service in 30 local authoritieshave been engaged from the
very start. I was just drawing up a list of things: engaging the
training and delivering disability work training, being involved
in local discussion groups, going to open meetings with the ONE
team and being involved from the start. That is where it has worked
well. Obviously in Leeds it has not worked well for other reasons.
The other point is that there has been good awareness amongst
Mencap staff where the ONE team have made the attempt to involve
people locally; there is very poor awareness amongst people with
a learning disability themselves, even when they have gone through
the ONE process. It is a very typical comment for a disability
organisation to make but in terms of accessibility of materials
and ONE service reaching out to specialist colleges and day centres
where many people, new claimants, may be and going from there
to the ONE service, ONE has not been as effective as that. It
has not reached out sufficiently to people with a learning disability.
4. May I probe something Craig was saying in
his very useful introductory remarks? He referred to some concerns
over the level of staff training and expertise. One of the things
which is most interesting about this for us as a Select Committee
is to probe the extent to which it is actually working, that one
person is able to deliver both the benefits advice and the work
help. Clearly we want to know how effective that is in the pilots
and whether it is actually working. I have heard some circumstantial
evidence that it is not making much impact because those who give
the ONE part of the advice then say it would be helpful if you
talked to so and so, who will give you the views on the work approach,
for example. When you mentioned the level of staff training and
expertise, was that what you had in mind or are there other aspects
of training which in your experience and that of your colleagues
needs to be beefed up?
(Mr Lane) This is in relation to the training across
the whole range of benefits that ONE deals with. Usually local
authority administered benefits have not been accessed through
the same people who were dealing with job-seeking benefits and
Income Support. The staff who were drawn together to operate the
Call Centres were drawn from the Employment Service, from the
Benefits Agency and from local authorities. In our area they came
from several local authorities with staff being drawn together
from a lot of different organisations, each of which would have
had expertise in a different area. In the feedback we have had
from clients is that they have not been adequately experienced
or knowledgeable enough to give the correct advice across the
whole range of benefits. There are examples of incorrect advice,
examples of inappropriate advice and incomplete advice.
5. So you have not found compelling evidence
of the expertise in fundamentally two different areas residing
in one person.
(Mr Lane) We have had no reports back in relation
to expertise in relation to the job seeking function and the work
element of it. Our experience has related entirely to accessing
the benefit system.
6. Do any of the other witnesses have a reflection
(Mr Kramer) May I bring in a different dimension.
Where it has worked is where the ONE adviser is involving the
disability employment adviser (DEA) at the right time, where the
ONE adviser has a generally good knowledge in disability but knows
when to refer to a disability employment adviser and an early
referral is made, but the personal adviser is still the case manager
and so still takes responsibility for the whole exercise and involves
Mencap and other groups. Then, if all those elements come together
at the beginning, people are getting the right advice on employment
and benefits. Where that is not happening, in some of the other
areas, people are not always getting the right benefit advice
or the right tailored work support. The role of the DEA is very
(Mr Wheatley) We never really thought it was realistically
possible for the personal adviser role to live up to everything
which was expected of one individual. People were drawn from the
Employment Service and the Benefits Agency and they inevitably
had different experiences and different work histories. Some of
the ONE advisers I have met have been extremely competent people,
very knowledgeable about the benefits system and have learned
very fast from colleagues about job placements and relationships
with employers. It has been a steep learning curve. The worry
we always had from the outset was that it might be possible to
do this as a pilot exercise, where you were able to attract the
best people from your staff to these key jobs, but that if you
tried to do that nationally, it would be more difficult with the
current staffing arrangements in the department. To some extent
that is borne out with the arrangements for the Jobcentre Plus,
where a separate financial assessor will be the benefits person
the money person and a personal adviser will concentrate
more on the work.
(Ms Birkinshaw) From DIAL UK's point of view, all
the feedback we have had in the main criticised the lack of knowledge
about disability benefits and the specific needs of disabled people
in relation to work and benefits. That has gone throughout, even
in the positive feedback we have had, that has been a starting
point when it first started out. The one positive point has been
in the Suffolk area, where there has been a lot of building on
relationships between ONE and the DIALs in those areas. They now
have a DIAL worker who goes in and sits in on some of the ONE
assessments and the ONE meetings and helps out the ONE adviser,
who passes over to this worker in areas they do not know about.
That is one way they are working together, but there are other
areas where there is no contact; contact has been declined. When
ONE has been approached to talk to DIALs about disability awareness
training and things like that, there has been no response. In
the main, there has been a criticism of the lack of knowledge
around the specific disability benefits and the more complex things
like linking rules and things like that.
7. Who funds the DIAL worker who sits in the
(Ms Birkinshaw) DIAL is employing them and they go
in on a voluntary basis to help out.
8. So this is DIAL, the charity, overseeing
(Ms Birkinshaw) DIAL is providing one of its part-time
workers to sit in on occasions.
9. Would it be fair to say that where that service
does not exist, it might not exist simply because DIAL does not
have the money or the resources?
(Ms Birkinshaw) Take Leeds as an example. The DIAL
in Leeds has tried to contact the ONE management on several occasions
to arrange meetings and to set up some kind of feedback and feeding
in of disability benefits issues, and to participate in training.
They just have had no response from the ONE management in that
area, despite it being on the same public/private and voluntary
sector standing as the Suffolk area. There has just been no attempt
on the part of the ONE team to involve DIAL in anything to do
10. You were talking also about some example
of good collaboration between Mencap and ONE. What are the characteristics
of a ONE project which do successfully engage with this specialist
and user-based service? Is it just down to the individual entrepreneurship
of the local manager? Is it down to well-funded local organisations?
What actually works?
(Mr Kramer) It works where ONE uses the experience
they have in the team, perhaps it is the disability employment
adviser, reaching out to local groups at the start. In Warwickshire
they publicised their successes as well and tried to spread good
practice. We tried to work with ONE very closely and we produced
"Taking Care of Business"a good guide to employing
people with a learning disability. That is where it works well.
If you look at Leeds, we would echo exactly what DIAL UK was saying.
There was an initial meeting. We tried to get involved and it
has proved difficult. What happens is that clients have come to
Mencap saying something is wrong with their benefit. People may
not have been told about various disability benefits. In some
cases people have been told they should be working when it does
not seem they are capable of working. There have been problems.
It is the early intervention of the voluntary sectors that makes
11. What, if anything, could central government
do to make it work, to build on the best practice and make sure
that applies everywhere?
(Mr Kramer) They need to monitor the work of the disability
employment advisers and look at their workload and how they are
linking in. There needs to be an expectation to link in with specialist
agencies, perhaps on a more formal basis, so they can give that
support from the start. Disability-related benefits are complicated.
They need to look at training with the voluntary sector as well.
We always talk about disability awareness training, but there
is a big difference between identifying someone with a learning
disability and giving them advice on work opportunities and realising
what it means for someone to interact in the labour market. Trying
to make it as mainstream as possible, reaching out to day services
and colleges where people with learning disability are moving
from and then they are going to go to ONE, so you need to contact
them first and establish links with people with a learning disability.
(Mr Wheatley) I would agree with that entirely. My
general impression is that the areas where liaison between ONE
and the CABs is strongest are the areas where the fewest problems
are reported. ONE generally has been extremely good at liaising
with the voluntary sector and it would be nice to see that formalised
in some way so the bureaux have a direct input regularly into
what the problems are, and there is a mechanism for getting those
problems addressed and people told what the situation is. That
forestalls a lot of problems.
12. And not just being left to whether there
is some sort of personal chemistry between the people in charge
at local level.
(Mr Wheatley) Very much not, no. It needs to be something
which is formal and happening in every area.
13. One of the key anxieties around this whole
area was about compulsion to attend interviews. Certainly I and
other people were quite worried about that. I was just about persuaded
on the balance of probability that the idea of bringing people
in to connect them with the workplace would outweigh some of the
disadvantage. What is your assessment of the balance of advantages
(Mr Wheatley) We were concerned about compulsion.
What we have not seen is any real complaint from Citizens Advice
Bureaux that people have been forced to attend inappropriately,
that people have been dragged in from remote areas at short notice.
We have not seen complaints of that kind. There are issues about
when something is identified as being compulsory, when an interview
becomes compulsory; there are issues about how that is determined
which perhaps Craig can mention. We have some concerns about how
far compulsion might be extended. We notice that in the Employment
Bill at the moment there is a proposal to bring partners of people
claiming benefit within the scope of compulsory interviews. We
are cautious about the degree of discretion this will give to
staff about whether people are called in or not, and what personal
circumstances might be taken into account, where to hold an interview
might not be appropriate. We have not seen particular complaints
about compulsion, other than deciding when or not it is appropriate.
14. Do you think there might be a consequence
for the quality of the process? What you are saying is that there
is no particular evidence at the moment that people are being
dragged in inappropriately or that it is having a fall-out in
terms of attendance at interviews. Does it change the relationship
(Mr Wheatley) I am not sure we have any evidence either
way on that. As I understand it, people do get a series of letters
and approaches, and certainly within the ONE pilots advisers and
staff working there have been very conscious that they need to
use this tool in a sensitive manner. It has not been bandied about
15. Any other evidence?
(Ms Birkinshaw) The only feedback we have is that
there is a slight distrust amongst some claimants of the process,
in that it is a small number but some have said they are not going
to claim benefit because they are worried they are going to be
forced into work. There are some concerns about the independence
of the process where you are claiming benefits and looking at
job prospects as well. It is not a massive number of people who
are bringing up that concern, but it certainly is there. The only
other area where there has been some concern about the appropriateness
of it is in relation to ICA, invalid care allowance. Again, there
has been a couple of examples where carers have been loath to
carry on claiming carers' benefit because they were worried that
they were going to be forced into work when their circumstances
showed they could not work.
16. Forgive me, but that seems a slightly perverse
logic that people would rather go without any income at all than
face the opportunity of being
(Ms Birkinshaw) They have been persuaded. Talking
to some of our advisers, they have talked through the problem,
but there is that slight mistrust out there because of the linking
between benefits and employment and because of the emphasis on
the work focus. It has been got round because of the strength
of advisers in DIALs. I still think there is that underlying mistrust.
17. So some worries, some fears for the future,
but no particular evidence at the moment that it is having a serious
(Ms Birkinshaw) No.
18. Do any of you have any experience of sanctions,
people getting their Income Support docked 20 per cent because
they do not turn up?
(Mr Lane) I have experience not of sanctions in terms
of a reduction in benefit, but sanctions in access to Social Fund,
because there has been an amendment to the Social Fund directions
to deny access to crisis loans, to limit access to crisis loans
on failure to participate. We have experience of that.
19. We talked a little bit about quality and
training in the earlier questions. How successful is ONE in terms
of engaging the non-JSA claimants? You talked a little bit about
particular client groups but also thinking about lone parents
and the extent to which the advisers are able, through their skills
and training, and willing to engage in what might be more personal
and sensitive lines of questioning about job readiness.
(Mr Lane) We have seen some good examples in the New
Deal for Lone Parents. Our feedback from clients about the practice
which has operated there has been very positive. If the same principles,
skills and approaches are brought into the ONE scheme, then we
would see that to be a useful thing. The feedback we had was that
it was supportive.