We support the Government's commitment to pursue active labour market policies targetted at people with barriers to work, even if the labour market turns downwards.
With JSA claimant numbers at an historically low level, the Government's 2001 Employment Green Paper heralded a shift in emphasis from JSA claimants towards those on Income Support and Incapacity Benefit. We support this change in emphasis. However, we have concluded that greater resources and energy need to be focussed on helping clients who face multiple and complex barriers to employment.
Jobcentre Plus needs to achieve a balance between intensive job entry services for work-ready clients, and services for its other clients that improve their employability bringing them closer to the labour market. We support the greater use of 'soft' skills training; the development of work placements and the use of intermediate labour markets; and more intensive personal help for those with the most significant barriers. We believe that the resources, know-how and flexibility of private and voluntary sectors should be better harnessed to deliver services to groups at some distance from the labour market. A more active engagement is needed with people with disabilities to help them towards work.
Within the New Deal programmes, performance needs to improve. Programme design needs to be streamlined, and greater flexibility introduced to suit a locality's requirements and to give Personal Advisers more discretion to tailor assistance to an individual's needs. Employment Zones and Action Teams demonstrate the effectiveness of flexibility combined with a responsiveness to the circumstances of specific localities and labour markets. Training needs to be work-focussed and oriented to employers' requirements. Jobcentre Plus needs to develop its 'aftercare' services for participants moving into work, whilst encouraging more effective employer engagement among those taking New Deal recruits. There has to be a more concerted effort by the DWP to both encourage and learn from innovation.
Better co-ordination is needed with other initiatives and programmes. For example, there is a need more closely to connect efforts to provide greater childcare provision directly to supporting parents who want to work; and closer liaison between Jobcentre Plus and Business Links to inform and assist people considering self-employment. Evidence shows there is no systematic connection between DWP programmes and the proliferation of area-based initiatives that should also be part of the Government's employment strategy. Different programmes have different timescales, objectives, funding and eligibility rules, and co-ordination is confused and piecemeal. Local Strategic Partnerships have been established as the vehicle to co-ordinate multiple programmes, and we believe there is a case for piloting the inclusion of DWP programme funds within such Partnerships to enhance their strategic role.
There is a need for greater policy integration between employment strategy and demand-side activity aimed at business growth. Not least, the 'employer focus' of Jobcentre Plus needs to be strengthened, to create stronger relationships between local businesses and those engaged in improving job opportunities for non-employed people.
Overall, the Government's employment strategy is the right one. But there is considerable scope for development and improvement.
A full list of conclusions and recommendations is given on page 45.