Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2002
MP, MR LEIGH
320. Minister, I would like to move on to some
of the training aspects as far as the staff are concerned. I wonder
if you could kindly expand on some of the issues in your memorandum
which you were kind enough to give us. They were that advisers
often did not have the full range of skills or enough time to
identify and address clients' needs, nor the ability to undertake
the appropriate discussions about work, nor indeed to refer clients
to the relevant specialist provisions or to undertake case loading
properly. It is a very large number of tasks that you are asking
staff to do. I wonder if you could expand on how those staff are
going to be skilled up sufficiently to take on those tasks?
(Mr Brown) We most certainly did learn things from
the ONE Pilots. Assessing somebody's benefit entitlement is a
skilled job. It has to be done very carefully and it is absolutely
clear that the clients are relying on that assessment for further
decision making about what they should be looking for in the labour
market, what impact it would have on their present income. I am
very keen that we offer a first class service on both the benefit
calculation and on the mentoring, the proactive work to help clients
into work. This is all done realistically and things are properly
explained to people. That means that people have to be properly
trained to deliver the service. On the details of what training
is offered, and what backup resources there are that people in
the front line can call on for specialist calculations or specialist
advice on particular job opportunities, and maybe the training
that is required to get into the job, I would like to ask Leigh
to set this out because it is more a management issue than a policy
(Mr Lewis) Thank you. Just to say, I think we did
inevitably learn some lessons from the ONE Pilots. We have learnt
lessons about training, though it is worth saying that there is
clear evidence from the evaluation that our customers welcomed
the relationship with their personal advisers in ONE. That is
a great improvement and they overwhelmingly thought that the service
they received was good. We have in designing the Jobcentre Plus
training taken account of lessons learnt. One was that we needed
to put more context around the training so that our advisers had
a better understanding of the overall intent of what we were trying
to do. Every personal adviser in the Jobcentre Plus office has
been through a three day programme which was called New Beginnings
which did not happen in ONE and is a major investment, as you
will appreciate. We place greater emphasis on ensuring that personal
advisers understand the importance of customers themselves understanding
the service, what it entails and what is available to them. We
have provided more information for our advisers on handling sensitive
issues and barriers. We have provided, for example, more information
on carers, and that has been a very specific area where we have
given more in-depth training to Jobcentre Plus advisers. We have
worked with a whole range of organisations more closely than I
think we did, such as the Mental Health Foundation, on some of
the barriers that people with mental health difficulties can face.
Particularly relevant to your point, we have given advisers more
time, encouraged advisers to spend more time actually getting
out and visiting those specialist organisations to whom they are
able to refer people who are going to need additional and extra
support. So we have in a pretty comprehensive way sought to make
the training for personal advisers in Jobcentre Plus more comprehensive
than it was in the ONE Pilot.
321. I am very pleased to hear that. Can I just
ask you one specific point. Thinking specifically of ES staff,
I understand that the training for BA staff for one benefit can
take 12 weeks sometimes, what are you doing specifically to get
that benefit knowledge to ES staff who have to have that range
of skills available?
(Mr Lewis) One thing we have actually done is, in
a sense, broken up the process. One of the lessons that I think
we did learn from the ONE Pilots was that to expect an individual
personal adviser to be able him or herself to be a complete expert
on the entire range of benefit issues and the entire range of
labour market issues was demanding a great deal of any one individual.
We also knew that our customers wanted to believe that benefit
issues were being dealt with before they in their minds comfortably
turned to wanting to be able to talk about employment issues.
Therefore a key difference, actually, in Jobcentre Plus is that
when a customer comes in at the beginning of their claim, they
first meet a benefit expert who has greater knowledge of the benefit
side of the picture and who can begin to establish that the customer
is claiming the right benefit, that they are bringing in the right
information and so on. Then they meet a personal adviser and that
adviser can spend more time dealing with those aspirations of
that individual, their training needs, their labour market opportunities
and so on, without that personal adviser themselves having to
be expert in every conceivable benefit issue.
322. I am pleased you have come back to the
role of the personal adviser which takes me on to my next question.
We understand again from your memorandum that you are keen to
encourage the maximum possible contact between clients and their
personal advisers. The evidence we have seen and the discussions
we have had with personal advisers suggests that the time they
have for case loading is in fact extremely limited. We heard only
two weeks ago in High Wycombe from some personal advisers of the
difficulties they have when their clients ring them of being able
to get back to them and actually maintaining that personal relationship,
which we understand is important. Is it not going to require considerable
extra resources in terms of staff allocation and staff timing
to get this real personal one to one relationship going between
staff and clients?
(Mr Brown) These are early days. We have rolled out
the Jobcentre Plus format in 53 offices from the autumn up to
Christmas and we have further roll outs planned. We will be able
to make an assessment of how much time is needed. Clearly it will
vary, frankly, between client and client. As we say in the memorandum
we do want to provide a good proactive service, one that the client
believes they can rely on and do so with certainty. I think it
will vary with the client. If there are particular issues there,
then frankly it will be for the head of the service, Leigh, and
for the management to resolve. All the evidence we have, a little
bit from the ONE Pilots but actually more so from the Action Areas
for Jobs where there is a proactive approach and some flexibility
to the individual advisers and outreach work, all of the evidence
we have shows that if you stick with the person and help them
through their job search and encourage them, you get a better
result than just by saying "Here are the jobs, go and get
one". It is probably better to ask Leigh on the point of
detail because I do not want to be drawn into the management issues.
323. In terms of time allocation the personal
advisers we spoke to in High Wycombe two weeks ago were saying
they had a half hour slot in their schedule to do it. How realistically,
if someone rings back wanting further advice, are personal advisers
going to be able to maintain that one to one relationship with
that sort of time allocation in their weekly schedule?
(Mr Lewis) I think it would be a brave Chief Executive
of any organisation who came and said that they had all the resource
they could ever conceivably want for any eventuality in any situation.
What I am sure of is that we have some very, very substantial
resources indeed for the task which we are being asked to undertake,
both for the initial contacts with our customers where we have
20 minutes for the initial discussion with the financial assessor,
45-60 minutes for the initial discussion with a personal adviser
and then we have available, to us and to our advisers, the existing
major programmes, like the New Deal for Lone Parents, on to which
our customers can go if they wish to follow through. I am not
going to suggest that there will never be any case anywhere where
an adviser faces some pressure over his or her time. What I am
clear aboutand I have run the Employment Service for over
five years nowis I do not think we have ever had a time
when there has been so much resource in the system which has enabled
us to offer a comprehensive service to as many individuals as
we have now in the Jobcentre Plus offices.
324. I would like to pick up on some of the
more detailed issues arising out of the explanation that you and
Nick have given. My main concern is how it will happen on the
ground both in general terms and in relation to disadvantaged
groups. I would particularly like to ask about sick and disabled
payments and particularly those who fail the personal capability
assessment. The evidence that we got last week from the Department's
researchers was that personal advisers do not feel equipped very
well to approach the problems of those who failed the test. They
have very little knowledge of the personal capability assessment.
They do not feel equipped to advise the people in this position
who often, not unnaturally, feel a bit aggrieved that they have
been put in what to them is a bit of a dichotomy because, on the
one hand, they do not feel fit to work and they have been put
on a JSA type benefit but, on the other hand, they have been told
they have to look for work but the person who is going to be advising
them on the work is not really in a position to do that.
(Mr Brown) You have put your finger on a very real
issue. It is fair to say that those in a more general advisory
capacity have found it difficult to work with the capacity assessment
and those who have specialist knowledge believe that they can
carry out the job without the capacity assessment. So it really
is a question of making sure that people who are capable of giving
specialist advice, if specialist advice is needed, are made full
use of. I will ask Leigh to say something about the management
issue which underpins that. The Government is determined to try
to help the million people in that subset of three million people
that are sick or disabled who say that they feel they could work
if work was there or if they were able to, the Government is setting
out to help them. We do not want people feeling that they are
put to one side because of some disability or personal circumstance
when they would like to work. We are setting out to help them
into work. The figures show very clearly that it is a harder thing
to do to help disadvantaged groups than it is to help mainstream
clients, particularly those who have already been in work, and
yet the whole purpose of the specialist New Deals is to do precisely
that. Leigh, do you want to say something on the specialist help
to people with special needs?
(Mr Lewis) Yes. Just to say that I very much agree
with Mr Dismore but it is not realistic to expect a personal adviser,
however good and however well trained, to be able to cope personally
with every conceivable disability problem that any individual
may have. That is why it is important that there is access to
a range of people with more specialist knowledge. There are two
groups to whom the personal advisers can turn for support in those
circumstances. The first is to the existing network of disability
employment advisers who currently sit, as it is now, in the Employment
Service but will sit in Jobcentre Plus. Secondly, through the
New Deal for Disabled People, to a range of job broker organisations
who are themselves specialist in many particular individual areas.
I think the trick for us, the management challenge for us, is
to ensure that our personal advisers do recognise the point where
in a sense they need in a controlled and supportive way to refer
an individual to an expert or an organisation who can give them
more particular or more specialist help and support.
325. You would accept the conclusions of the
early research we have seen on the pilots that this is a problem
and you are proposing to try and address it with the way you are
going to change it for the Jobcentre Plus operation? The evidence
from Alan Marsh was that only one in ten people in this situation
had discussed their PCA at all with a personal adviser?
(Mr Lewis) I think I would just echo what the Minister
has said. I think it is one of the areas where we have learnt
lessons from the ONE Pilots. I think one of the challenges for
us in the ONE Pilots and in the New Deals has been to get that
balance right between a personal adviser who is in one to one
contact with that individual and who can provide access to the
system, personal support, encouragement and counselling and yet
cannot, inevitably, handle every single range of issues, every
single problem that an individual may have.
326. The other issue I want to raise is one
that I nearly always end up raising with Ministers because it
is something that I have been concerned about for some time increasingly
as I have worked on DSS. It is the position of ethnic minority
claimants and the evidence particularly in relation to Pakistani
groupsand it can probably be read across depending on where
the research is doneis that they are receiving a second
class service. They are not getting a fair approach from the Jobcentre
Pilots. What are you going to try and do? Do you accept that criticism?
What are you going to try and do to deal with it?
(Mr Brown) I accept that the evidence is overwhelming
that ethnic minority groups are over-represented amongst the unemployed
and under-represented in those who are in employment. Clearly
there is an issue there to be addressed, and we are setting out
to do so. We are piloting, as you may know, six New Deals specifically
targeted at communities with high concentrations of ethnic minorities.
I have had a look at this myself at ministerial level and the
issues are not uniform for all ethnic minorities by any means
with different features for different ethnic minority groups.
There is always something in there that says that we are not succeeding
in getting people into the labour market and that to be part of
an ethnic minority is collectively to be disadvantaged, that has
to be tackled. The New Deals are part of that strategy, whether
that is enough on its own, I am pretty sure that it is not and
that we as a Service, through the Jobcentre Plus, need to do more.
327. That is not actually the question that
I was asking.
(Mr Brown) Go on.
328. It is self-evidently the fact that people
who are from ethnic communities tend to be disproportionately
represented in the unemployment statistics.
(Mr Brown) Yes but the underlying reasons are quite
complex and varied.
329. My concern is on the delivery of the service
where research shows in particularwhere it was done in
areas where there was a concentration of the Pakistani communitythat
they are getting a disadvantaged, less effective, less efficient
service compared with the indigenous white population. Now that
is not the same question as saying that from one particular group
(Mr Brown) Do you mean the ONE Pilots?
330. Yes. Is the finding of that research accepted
that they have been getting, on either a subjective or an objective
view, a lesser service? If that criticism is not accepted, why
not; and if it is accepted, how are you going to address that
in the Jobcentre Plus?
(Mr Brown) I would like David to deal with the statistical
point. Is that a fair conclusion to draw from the analysis of
the ONE Pilots, the analysis that has been done so far? More generally
is there an issue there? Yes, there most certainly is. Yes, it
does have to be addressed. I think the New Deals that we have
just launched are going to be playing an important part in trying
to tease out what the issues actually are. Since they are focussed
on communities with very high proportions of ethnic minorities
from different ethnic minority communities I think we will learn
a great deal from them. I suspect, looking at the figures and
trying to delve beneath them, we will not like some of the things
we discover. David, would you like to comment?
(Mr Stanton) If you look at the pilot and the control
area data, comparing white with ethnic minority outcomes for employment,
then it is true in both pilot and control that ethnic minorities
fair worse. It is true, also, that the figures perversely suggest
that there may have been some advantage in Manchester where there
was a special drive at a control area to increase work placement
rates for ethnic minorities.
(Mr Brown) We had better make it clear that was outside
the ONE Pilot, that was a special drive.
(Mr Stanton) That was a control area where the ONE
service was not being delivered.
(Mr Brown) Something else was happening.
(Mr Stanton) A local initiative was taking place which
gave the impression that the control area was better but that
was just one initiative. That was in a way encouraging, you can
do something that works. Then we had the data analysed to check
whether there was a specific ONE effect, and the question you
are raising about the higher Pakistani element in one of the ONE
Pilots is allowed for. We found no evidence that ethnic minorities
were disadvantaged in the ONE Pilot area compared with the control.
331. You dispute the Alan Marsh client survey?
(Mr Stanton) What I think Alan Marsh was sayingbut
it is probably for him not me to saywas that though we
tried to match control area with pilot area as much as we could
(we looked at issues like ethnicity when we were doing it) one
of the pilot areas had a higher Pakistani ethnicity. We know that
in the labour market the ethnic groups that are most disadvantaged
are Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and that gives that result. Once
you allow for that in the statistical analysis there is no evidence
that ONE itself disadvantaged people. In a pilot where there was
a higher Pakistani element, the Pakistani element came out untouched
by the ONE Pilot.
332. The conclusion Alan Marsh was drawing was
based on particular client interviews, for example, as well as
statistical analysis. The evidence he came up with was that people
from Pakistani communitiesand as far as I can recall the
evidence we had last weekwere less likely to get proper
interviews with the personal advisers, for example, to discuss
their position effectively as a proportion.
(Mr Stanton) Within that pilot, I would have to look
at that and give you a note.
333. Yes. What I am concerned about is
(Mr Stanton) On the employment placement, there is
no ONE effect against an ethnic minority of whatever group. On
access to interviews, I would like to go back on that.
334. My concern is that you seem to be challenging
evidence from the researchers we heard last week which was quite
firm in the view in relation to this trend. They talked about
the trend generally of there being a degree of disadvantage for
ethnic community groups. But particularly high or substantially
disadvantaged were Pakistani groups, and that is what I am particularly
concerned about. My next question is, what are you going to try
and do about it to try and address that? Nick said there are going
to be six pilot areas.
(Mr Brown) Yes.
335. Presumably you have a reason for saying
that so you cannot necessarily disagree with the hypothesis I
am putting to you?
(Mr Brown) No, I am not. I am not sufficiently qualified
to answer the rather more technical point about the way in which
the people have been selected for interviews matches up. More
generally, I take an interest in the topic and have had a very
fine presentation on what the Department already knows, and it
worries me. I certainly think that we have to do a lot more if
we are going to bear down on social exclusion in all its forms
and that includes tackling minority groups that are disadvantaged
in the labour market. The evidence is overwhelming that they are
336. My concern is that they are already disadvantaged
but the service they are getting is from the process
(Mr Brown) It must be pretty obvious that it is not
our intention that they should be. There are issues there to address
and the point of having six carefully focused New Deals in those
parts of the country where the ethnic minority populations are
most prominent is precisely to learn lessons to tackle these problems
and to try to make an impact on the problem itself.
337. So what sort of research is going on in
the pilot studies that you mentioned to try and get to the bottom
of how you can re-jig the service that they are getting?
(Mr Brown) These have only just been launched. We
are inviting bids now. I have not received the advice yet from
officials who are going to evaluate the bids. These are the new
New Deals, but I think it is a very important area.
338. I am intrigued. You have now said somewhat
darkly and mysteriously twice, "You might not like what we
(Mr Brown) I think people are disadvantaged in the
labour market by colour and that there is still discrimination
339. But we are not arguing about that.
(Mr Brown) I know, but it is quite difficult to prove.