173. A key principle of the Government's welfare
reform programme has been the balance between the rights and the
responsibilities of the customer. The Flexible New Deal continues
this focus; with increased personalisation and the introduction
of customer choice comes greater conditionality. During their
time on the programme, customers must follow their action plan
and must undertake a minimum period of full-time work related
174. Professor Paul Gregg's recent review of conditionality
in the benefits system recommends a single personalised conditionality
and support regime, where virtually everyone claiming benefits
and not in work should be looking for or engaging in activity
to help them move towards employment. The report recommended
that the Government should adopt a single personalised conditionality
and support regime operating in one overarching employment programme.
The programme would assess customers before assigning them to
one of three broad groups:
a) A 'Work-Ready' group for those who are immediately
job-ready. The requirements for this group would largely be based
on the current Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) regime.
b) A 'Progression to Work' group consisting of
those for whom an immediate return to work is not appropriate
but is a genuine possibility with time, encouragement and support.
This should contain people who claim or are entitled to Employment
and Support Allowance (ESA) but who are not in the Support Group,
lone parents with a youngest child aged between one and seven,
and partners with a youngest child aged between one and seven.
The requirements for this group will: reflect the claimant's co-ownership
of the return to work process; be tailored to their capability
and built around their circumstances; be based on activity that
supports the clients' own path to work; and link up with effective
c) A 'No Conditionality' group, which would not
be required to undertake work-related activity or take steps back
to work. This would consist of the current Employment and Support
Allowance (ESA) support group, lone parents, and partners with
a youngest child under the age of one, and carers.
175. The Government plans to test a new single employment
programme in March 2011, which will combine the Flexible New Deal
and Pathways to Work and include Professor Gregg's recommendations
for a new conditionality framework. The recently published Welfare
Reform Bill explained that parents with younger children and partners
of benefit recipients will be placed in a 'Progression to Work'
group. Those placed in this group will not be expected to immediately
return to work but will instead be given a personalised conditionality
regime which is tailored to the individual's circumstances, so
that preparation for work becomes a natural progression. Those
in the Progression to Work group will be required to undertake
action planning and work-related activities.
176. The Government has been criticised for its plans
to increase conditionality. Prior to the publication of the Gregg
Report, Sir Richard Tilt urged the Government to rethink or delay
plans to increase conditionality on lone parents, people with
disabilities and the long term unemployed arguing that it could
"push people into poverty" as unemployment rises, particularly
if appropriate affordable childcare is not available. Sir Richard,
who chairs the Social Security Advisory Committee, said welfare
to work reforms risked "falling into disrepute" and
called for the changes to be delayed by one or two years.
177. Evidence from Shaw Trust's Pathways to Work
programme suggested it was more difficult to engage mandatory
clients than those who voluntarily participate in employment programmes.
Evidence from across their five contracts showed that the average
failure to attend rate for all mandatory Work Focussed Interviews
(WFIs) is 47.66% compared to 14.51% for voluntary clients. The
best failure rate on its programme is 28% for mandatory clients
and the worst is 53.38%. The Shaw Trust argued that Jobcentre
Plus should assess customers' vulnerability to sanctions when
they first make a claim. It suggested that:
"Those [who] scored a high risk should require
a home visit, others could be followed up by telephone, if possible
or simply have their benefit sanctioned for one week in an attempt
to focus them on attending a WFI."
endorse the Government's plans for welfare reform and its commitment
to test a new conditionality framework. However, we support Sir
Richard Tilt's concerns that without suitable childcare people
might be "pushed into poverty". It is vital that, as
conditionality increases, the Government ensures that the right
support, such as adequate childcare provision, is available for
those individuals moving onto the Jobseeker's Allowance regime.
The customer must have the final say on whether childcare is
suitable and affordable.