Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 196-199)




  196. Welcome ladies and gentlemen, I declare the formal part of the Committee's proceedings this afternoon open. I welcome Professor Alan Marsh, who is Deputy Director of the Policy Studies Institute and Head of the Social Security Research Team. We are also lucky to have Vicky Davies, who is the Senior Research Manager of ECOTEC Social Policy Group, and Clare Johnson, Associate Director of ECOTEC Social Policy Group. You are all three very welcome. The Committee, as you know, is in the course of an inquiry into the ONE pilots and the lessons which can be learned from the ONE pilots for Jobcentre Plus. We have been interested in and have had the benefit of your written research which helps us enormously in terms of what you have been doing for the Department. Maybe the sensible thing would be to say a little about what you believe the bullet points, the main headline results, of your research are for the Committee and for the inquiry, so we may take the questioning from there. What do you think really has been the outcome of the research work you have done on the Department's behalf?
  (Professor Marsh) This is a large evaluation, Chairman, an enormous number of people were interviewed and enormous resources went into it. In case I do not get a chance to say this, I had better say it at once, this is not the strongest evaluation design deployed by social science to evaluate an initiative, it could not be because of the time and the strategy. One would have preferred, for example, to have done a lot of research in these pilot and control areas before the introduction of the ONE experiment. This luxury was not available, so all of this is post hoc, so one has to try statistically to provide controls for an awful lot of things one might have designed into the experiment if more time had been available. This is no one's fault but you should bear this in mind. Although it is a very well large, well-resourced study, it struggles to find its effects, because it is all post hoc. Is that clear to everybody?

  197. That is very useful. Thank you.
  (Professor Marsh) Looking at the work that I did—and I also represent my colleagues in the Office for National Statistics who did the bulk of the research—one can detect in those who were put through the ONE experience improvements in their experience compared to those who have gone through the conventional system in the control areas. More of them were exposed to good advice, more of them were aware they had got some good advice, broadly they evaluated their experience better, and all these differences are statistically significant. Between you and I when you have samples as large as these most things are statistically significant, but there were differences and there was improvement, which is good. The differences were small. How small is small and how large is large is a matter for judgment, and you have read the figures for yourself and you may want to ask me some questions about that. If there is disappointment, perhaps it is that it seemed very clear that the advice that flowed through the ONE system to people who are newly compelled to listen to this advice had more to do with benefits than it had to do with jobs—this, at least, is what they said—which probably was not fully the intention. For example, getting on for a third of people, who were lone parents newly exposed to this advice, said, yes, they discussed the possibility of getting a job, and this was only 10 per cent among those going through the conventional system, so that has to be better and that was quite a large difference although still less than a third. One would have expected all of them somehow to say, "Yes, I remember talking about jobs", and that was very interesting. Among the sick and disabled clients newly brought into the system and compelled to have an interview at the second stage, they were interested, but the differences again were small. So we are starting from a rather small base. The employment outcomes were very uncertain. Yes, in the first stage and the voluntary stage, we found that lone parents did seem to get jobs quicker, but that difference faded when we interviewed them some months later. In the second compulsory stage, and this is my last point, we found the same effects for sick and disabled clients. Yes, more of them seemed to get jobs in the ONE areas than in the control areas, a small difference but statistically significant. We await the last tranche of research which will tell us whether this difference survived the intervening period of time. They are my bullet points.

  198. Thank you. Vicky, from your perspective?
  (Ms Davies) The first thing I should emphasise is the nature of the research we conducted. Ours was very much qualitative in-depth research just with clients who had been involved in the ONE pilot areas, so we have not covered the control areas in the same way that Alan has. To a certain extent our findings should not be taken as representative of the wider population of people who have gone through the ONE service. Instead, what they do is they explore in more detail what is working, the impact the different aspects of the service have on clients, and their attitudes and behaviour both towards the benefits system and the labour market more widely. So it is very much about the softer things that influence individuals' choices about claiming benefit and moving into work, rather than broad brush quantitative statistics which can be taken as representative of the wider population. So everything we discuss here today from our perspective is very much from the clients, what clients have told us and our interpretation of that. I think the first important thing to say is that although there are some broad findings within different client groups, within lone parents for example, and when people claim sickness and disability benefits, there is considerable variety of both experience but also outcome in terms of whether they move into work or not, and that is very important to recognise. We handle this by considering people's position in the labour market, so whether people perceive themselves to be job-ready and looking for work as an immediate priority or whether it is something more distant and something for them to look at in the medium to longer term. I think it is fair to say that apart from job seekers, who obviously are looking for work immediately and must be available, we found examples of lone parents, sick and disabled clients, carers and widows, in all of those groups, so that demonstrates the variety there is; you have widows who were in part-time work, you have carers who were also in part-time work. So I think great care needs to be taken when thinking of the actual implications more widely about certain client groups. As Alan has already said, the clients' experiences and expectations of the service were very clearly dominated by benefits, and to a certain extent the service they received therefore was dominated by benefits although there was some discussion about work. This was primarily because clients are concerned about their financial security, it is their immediate concern, and from our research in three rounds so far it is fair to say that a lot of those concerns generally were addressed fairly early in order that discussions could move on to work. Going on to the employment outcomes, it became clear to us that the most significant impact with clients tended to be with those who were already work-motivated, who were already thinking about going back to work, or who were interested in going back to work, rather than those clients who had not even considered it an option and who were perhaps a bit more distant from the labour market. Also for some clients, it became quite clear from their position, their personal circumstances and their situation, that it was not always appropriate to go through the ONE service. The classic example was people claiming sick or disability benefits who already had a job to go to, so discussions with the personal adviser to a large extent were irrelevant and clients perceived these to be a waste of time because they had plans. Job seekers: nothing different really from what had gone before, it was the same process and the impact is quite difficult to unpick to determine what is new about ONE and what the additionality has been. Overall there is quite a fine balance to be achieved, both between different client groups but also within them about when work should be raised, when it is appropriate, whether people should be called in for work focussed interviews. I think it is quite difficult to be very specific about what that fine balance is.

Mr Mitchell

  199. Of course the key to this whole process, ONE pilots, is that the interview is focussed on work. Can you tell us what your research found about the extent to which work and training were discussed in personal adviser interviews with the different client groups? Some of these points I am going to make you have touched upon in your introductory remarks, but I do not think that matters. Why is it you think that only a relatively small proportion of non-JSA claimants received advice about jobs and training?
  (Professor Marsh) They are low; among the sick and disabled particularly low, just 12 per cent in the pilot areas discussed jobs and even fewer, training. Even amongst those who managed to get case loaded, that is to say they went back for another interview, still only a third of those appeared to be discussing jobs. It must have something to do with the training and expectations of the people who are giving the advice, and the expectation of the people who attended the interviews. I think a lot of people will somehow have expected that since they came there to claim a benefit, benefit was what this person wanted to talk to them about.

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