Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-239)|
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
220. I am not entirely convinced that is true.
Surely quite a lot of people who are making claims, particularly
for the first time, might have expectations that the system is
designed not only to give them what they are entitled to but to
steer them towards work.
(Ms Johnson) Our experience of talking in depth with
clients was that they did not have an expectation about what the
personal adviser interview was about, other than sorting out their
benefit. In the very initial round of our research, we did have
questions like, "Did you come away from the start-up and
interview understanding what the next stage was all about?",
and people on the whole had very little recollection about the
wider purpose of that PA meeting being explained to them. There
were exceptions but that variation was found across offices and
across models, so it seemed to be down to individual staff making
extra effort to explain to claimants what this new process was
about, but it was not a rule.
221. That is something which can be learnt and
built in if one wants it?
(Ms Johnson) Yes.
222. When we went on the visit last week to
look at the experience, we had a sense, which anecdotally has
been known to me elsewhere, that once a client does seize upon
the concept of a personal adviser, what can happen, assuming the
relationship is all right, is that they then home in on that person
as being someone who could be a support to them through the process,
which actually does not really work. Did you get that or is that
completely masked by people's lack of understanding of what was
(Ms Davies) Can you explain what you mean by "homing
in on that person"?
223. They would ring back asking to speak to
Marilyn, or whoever, because they got hold of the concept of personal
adviser and interpreted it as meaning something possibly more
ambitious than the scheme was actually going to deliver, and liked
the idea of that identified key person who could support them
through the whole process.
(Ms Davies) We have certainly found that in a number
of instances, but it is not representative of the whole and we
are talking about small numbers here. In general, across all the
clients we interviewed, people did very much identify and like
the idea of having a personal adviser as someone who they dealt
with on a one-to-one basis, as it was often quoted. Where clients
established a good rapport with their personal adviser within
the initial meeting and they were generally work-motivated and
they had plans either to go into training or education or develop
their skills a little further, a whole host of things, then, yes,
they would go back to their adviser on a regular basis. We certainly
have seen in the interview and in the clients we have met, there
is a core of people who are going back increasingly on a regular
basis and will contact in some cases their personal adviser on
a weekly basis.
224. Is there a differentiation between client
groups in that?
(Ms Davies) There is, and it tends to be more work-focussed
lone parents, who have an overall plan and strategy they want
to follow, and they are getting support and confirmation from
their personal adviser this is the right route to go down.
(Professor Marsh) We have been studying lone parents
going to work for a very long period of timewe have a ten
year cohort, for exampleand one thing we have learned is
that they do not go to work until they are ready. Intervention,
help and advice can help them get ready sooner but it is not something
which happens overnight and it is not something which happens
in 32 minutes.
(Professor Marsh) One thing I found so difficult to
understand is why those we have studied over a long period seem
to put work aside, put it aside, put it aside, and then just go
to work. It seems to happen so fast. So they reach a point when
they just change their minds and they move a very long distance
in a very short time, and in this research I think that is very
difficult to capture. One thing I do hope is that the other research
we have done over the years will also be added into the consideration
of how you build on this initial work which has been doneand
these certainly are early days for ONEand to try to incorporate
more clearly when you can identify when people would most benefit
226. Presumably what we have to capture on that
is the extent to which people reach that cliff edge, if you like,
of change because of information which helps them deal with risk-aversity,
which is a huge issue, the confidence of knowing there is a benefits
package which might be there, in-work benefits and so forth, and
to what extent it is to do with overcoming the real barriers like
child care, and this particular model did not enable us to draw
an awful lot of that out.
(Professor Marsh) In these early days in the first
few months of the system everyone was feeling their way, including
the people who were administering it. It would be very surprising
to find that everybody was 100 per cent expert on this point.
There will be a period of learning which will go on for two or
(Ms Johnson) On the point that Vicky was making about
engaging with clients, and that lone parents at the moment were
those who were most likely to sustain contact with personal advisers
and the whole ONE process, that is not to say that others are
not interested. What we have found is there is quite a lot of
latent interest in engaging with the process and when we spoke
to carers and widows as groupswhich are groups not covered
by the quantitative researchand we spoke to some people
with health problems as well, there were people who expressed
an intention and desire to go back for further help and advice
in the future, but what we found is that that intention is not
necessarily followed through in practice. In a way, that potential
to engage with these people is then lost through some hold-up
in the process.
227. To go back to Karen Buck's earlier question
about the perception clients had of the personal adviser, I was
surprised when you said that their expectation was not different
under the new system from the old system because that is not what
we have been told when we have been out visiting offices. We have
been told, on the one hand, people who have never had an experience
of the Benefits Agency personally have an image, and we were told
that their image was that of the series Bread, sitting
in front of the screen and shouting at this unhelpful person behind
the screen, and that, on the other hand, for those who had an
experience of the Benefits Agency, all too often it actually was
that sort of experience. So both of them noticed something different
when they walked in through the door in the new layout and then
being treated with courtesy and sitting down in front of somebody
and having this gentle chat with them. I am trying to reconcile
what we were told by the personal advisers whom we met and what
you are telling us. Can you try and bridge that gap? Have I misunderstood
(Ms Davies) No, I do not think so. When we were talking
about expectation, we were asking people what they were expecting
before they went into the service, and you are very much right
that new claimants, people who have had no prior experience of
claiming benefits before, often had a lot of pre-conceptions about
what to expect, they had heard horror stories all over the place,
and often after they had got into the offices they were pleasantly
surprised and it was better than they had expected. But the main
thing is that they did not go in expecting to talk about work,
they still expected to talk about benefits, and in some cases
their experience changed their attitudes and when they came out
they were more aware that work was an issue and an aspect of the
service and services were there to support people, but their pre-conceptions
of the system were very much more about the environment and what
it was going to be like going in there and the questions they
were going to get rather than the opportunity to talk about work.
Does that mirror what you heard?
228. One of the things we were told was that
their initial phone back contact, asking them those sorts of questions
and then also advising them what information to bring along to
the personal adviser interview, helped them in their expectation,
so they would have a clearer idea of what sort of questions would
be asked of them, but you are saying that even that was still
very much benefits-focussed rather than work-focussed?
(Ms Davies) That was in the call centre model presumably?
229. In one of your earlier replies you said
that it applied across all the different models. Did it not? Are
you talking about a different experience depending whether it
was a call centre or a benefits model?
(Ms Davies) You mean on a regular basis?
(Ms Davies) At the initial start-up the call centres
contacted people over the telephone and talked through their claim
with them, and there is some discussion about what the purpose
of the PA meeting was, but I think it is fair to say their expectations
from the small amount of work we did were not any variations with
other models. We are not necessarily very well placed to comment
on that, Alan could do that a bit more. We could explain why there
had been variation, had there been, but people still went to their
meeting and, without listening into the conversation over the
telephone, it is difficult to understand exactly why that message
did not get through.
(Professor Marsh) As you would expect, the JSA clients
talked about work. The different balance was experienced by the
lone parents and sick and disabled clients.
231. Can I pursue the different models, the
telephone model and also the private and voluntary sector model
and the basic model. What differences did you note between the
different models? How significant were those differences? Did
you find one model was more successful than another?
(Professor Marsh) Based solely on the comments of
clients, the private and voluntary sector model clients had the
most negative things to say. They had fewer meetings, they received
less help and advice, they had fewer discussions about child care
and about finding work, they were told less about in-work benefits
and discussed health problems lessand there was a correspondence,
I believe, between the quantitative surveys we did and the qualitative
workwhereas the call centre model came out on these dimensions
better, particularly the JSA clients who said they were treated
rather well. None of this added up to any decisive verdict in
favour of one model or another, since again the differences were
232. Can I move on to those who have gone through
the personal capability assessment (PCA) and have been deemed
to be fit for work. It is quite a sensitive area and it is at
a difficult time. If they have failed the personal capability
assessment and they are expected to have a trigger interview with
the personal adviser, how successful do you think the personal
advisers are at that stage in dealing with someone who probably
thinks they should still be able to claim the disabled benefits,
and are they able to focus on talking about work and their options?
(Ms Davies) The short answer would be no, not very.
As you rightly say, many of the clients who had gone through their
PCA and had gone on to jobseekers allowance felt they should still
be on incapacity benefit. They had that very much had that in
the forefront of their mind, and that is what they wanted to talk
to their personal advisers about. Often the personal advisers
were not able to provide the information they needed, in order
to answer why they had changed benefits and what was going to
happen now, and they did not feel ready to discuss work with their
233. Was the training of the personal advisers
at fault or the fact, as I have found from my own life, that people
feel very uncomfortable with the whole issue of sickness and disability
and never quite know what to say, so the whole nature of what
they expect to do is one which needs a great deal of sensitivity
and needs somebody who actually understands and appreciates the
disability and has a positive view of work? Is it as simple as
that or are there more complex issues at stake?
(Ms Davies) My opinion is that it is a mixture of
the two. We cannot say from the research because we did not have
the opportunity to talk to personal advisers, but I think there
is a question there about personal advisers' confidence about
addressing these issues with their clients and then whether they
think it is appropriate to raise work themselves, but I should
emphasise that is not something we specifically looked at in our
(Professor Marsh) Something I find remarkable about
all of this is how little has come through that smacks of resentment
at being compelled to have this interview to account for yourself
and be asked, "Did you find a job?" I was quite braced
for a lot of that to come through particularly, if I may say so,
from sick and disabled clients, many of whom are plainly sick
and disabled and plainly would have a problem working, being called
up within days and asked, "What are you doing about getting
a job?". I would take encouragement from that that they are
getting the tone right. I have discussed this in other public
fora and said, you can imagine the catastrophic tone which you
can adopt which would cause a great deal of resentment. Equally,
many of us in this field of social equality have said, if only
someone could say to people, even if they were newly claiming
disability benefit, "Look, there maybe something we can do,
we might be able to help", that is such a different tone,
but it is the same interview.
234. Did the ONE pilots solve the problem I
found? In Aberdeen we have Pathfinder, and we previously did not.
One of my constituents was deemed to be capable of work under
the personal capability assessment, the Benefits Agency deemed
her capable of work, and when she went along to the Employment
Service they said, "you are really not ready for work, there
is nothing we can offer you". She went backwards and forwards.
Does the ONE system actually solve that problem or is it still
happening, is it still a problem?
(Ms Davies) There is certainly a decision taken regarding
the extent to which personal advisers can meaningfully and actively
discuss work with different clients. I think that is a decision
that is taken on an individual basis with each individual client,
regardless of whether they are lone parents. In this case, where
we have sick and disabled clients, PAs do take each case individually
and determine it from that. The important thing to emphasise is
that clients made it clear to us that, while personal advisers
would shape and structure the interview, the clients very much
were able to take a lead in what they were willing to discuss.
In some instances clients suggested that superficial questions
were asked, if you like, but more detailed questions were not
necessarily raised and because they were not asked the client
themselves did not willingly offer the information. You have this
gap, if you like, which is not being bridged.
235. One of the biggest criticisms of the "all
work test" was that it was all or nothing and that is why
the personal capability assessment was introduced. I still get
a sense in the conventional system it is still all or nothing:
you are either ready to work or not ready to work. Does the ONE
pilot appreciate that people with disabilities might be able to
do some work, but not full-time work? It is quite a shift in attitude;
it is not a case of you cannot work or you can workpeople
can be quite disabled, very disabled and still be able to do some
work. Does the new system, this system, allow them to be able
to balance that and work that out?
(Ms Davies) I think we have a variety of evidence
that supports both arguments, so again there is no clear picture.
We have people claiming sickness and disability benefit, and they
may have made a repeat claim, and they considered before they
went into their personal adviser meeting work was not an option
for them, and through discussions with their personal adviser
and by exploring different routes, such as part-time and different
types of work, the personal adviser has changed that person's
attitude to think that work is an option and it could be an option
in the medium term. You have that in one instance. In other cases
we have clients who, as you say, feel work is an option, would
like to discuss it but for whatever reason their personal adviser
did not explore it with them and they went away thinking it is
a missed opportunity.
(Ms Johnson) Clearly from what Vicky Davies is saying
there is the potential within ONE to help people in that situation
better than has possibly been the case previously.
236. It depends on the personal adviser.
(Ms Johnson) It depends very much on the personal
adviser whether they want to raise the subject of work. From our
wider experience of work, it is almost as though the personal
adviser is being overly sensitive to the person with a health
problem or a disability and feeling they do not want to work and
they are overly sympathetic, rather than saying, there are things
that you can do and approaching the subject in a slightly different
237. This question is to Professor Marsh. Your
survey included a substantial proportion of clients from ethnic
minority groups, what did your research find regarding the quality
of the service they received?
(Professor Marsh) On some reports they received the
worst service. Fewer of them attended the personal adviser meeting,
fewer of them discussed work benefits, fewer had things they mentioned
they liked about the service. Those of Pakistani origin seemed
to get, in many respects, the larger difference, but overall,
again, these differences were small. You will see in the Report
that we did have a scare at one point, if I can put it that way.
It did appear from the first order comparisons that there was
something about the ONE service that prevented people from ethnic
minorities getting jobs. This would, of course, have been the
first negative finding that ONE could find, and it was a very
important one, and the difference was large. We did an additional
amount of research and discovered, as I think you would expect,
it had something to do with the areas in which these people lived
and the kind of ethnic minority groups they were and what was
happening in the control areas. There is an appendix on that which
I hope carefully explains why that difference is there. It is
worth drawing attention to it.
238. Do you think there is a case for further
research into the Department for Work and Pensions treatment of
ethnic minority groups?
(Professor Marsh) This data provides a rich source
of data research. Many of the notes I have made in this meeting
point to things we can look at, even in this analysis of the second
tranche of Cohort Two. One in ten of these huge flow samples are
ethnic minority, for example. I may have started on what sounded
to be a negative note but you do not see these resources at the
public service on this scale very often. These flow samples, these
huge numbers of people flowing through the system at the same
time, having the same experience at the same time, looking at
the difference in the process, it is a wonderful opportunity,
it is one of the best research opportunities of this kind we have
had. It will give you an enormous amount of original information.
(Ms Johnson) In terms of considering the needs of
ethnic minorities, it is further worth noting that we too sought
to establish whether the experiences and outcomes of people from
ethnic minority groups were any different from those in other
client groups. We were not able to draw any meaningful conclusions
from our work on account of the diversity within our ethnic minority
sample, there were so many different sub groups numbers were not
large enough to have rigorous evidence to draw conclusions. That
is a further point for consideration.
239. Does the work that your Review did, qualitative
or quantitative, give you any sense that there were increases
in crisis loan applications in any of the pilot areas you were
looking at? Social fund crisis loans, the work you did did not
give you any sense that there would be an increase in those?
(Ms Davies) Not in that respect, no, although we did
have a number of clients who reported back to us they had asked
for crisis loans and the personal advisers' knowledge about how
to go about claiming for one tends to be lacking.