For some organisations writing a manifesto in the run up to an election is a bit like pulling together your Christmas wishlist as a child. Yes, you're unlikely to get the swimming pool you asked for or the pony named Tabatha, but you might think that, if you aim high, you may get the computer game and trainers further down the list.
We wanted to do something different with the ERSA manifesto. It's not a negotiating tactic, where we shoot for the sky in order that the easier asks seem a welcome and doable relief. Our aim has rather been to develop five key achievable principles that can be adopted by any government who seriously wishes to improve employment support services.
The manifesto has been in development for a long time. Last year we gathered feedback from over 90 organisations to help develop our recommendations for the design of future employment services for long term unemployed. The resulting publication 'Evolution not Revolution' was used as the basis for our manifesto launched last week at the Labour Party Conference.
The ERSA 2015 Manifesto has five key asks of our next government:
Commission employment services for the long term unemployed reflecting the needs of jobseekers and business
There is phenomenal wealth of knowledge that we can draw on when looking to design future programmes. We know that national commissioning can work, although there is a conversation to be had about local co-commissioning of services for those with greater needs. We know that a flexible approach to delivery can allow services to be suited to the individual rather than the other way round and this should be retained. However, new programmes should take on the learning of the past rather than going back to the drawing board.
Ensure that sufficient support is available for jobseekers with the most complex needs
Some jobseekers will be a long way from the labour market and have complex needs to be met. A first step must be to have a comprehensive assessment of jobseeker needs on day one of their benefit claim. It is also clear that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) needs to be radically reformed to ensure that it is right from the start. We also argue that the financial model for providers to support these jobseekers must more upfront payment and reward for distance travelled. ERSA also suggests the creation of a ring fenced budget for additional services that can be accessed by an employment provider with agreement from the jobseeker.
Place skills at the heart of the system both for those out of work and progressing in work
There is a skills shortage in the UK, whilst others remain unemployed. We believe the skills and employment sectors need to work together far better than they currently do, with more funding available for skills courses for the long term unemployed. There should also be more flexibility in the design and delivery of courses so that starting a job does not mean the end of skills training. In addition the skills training offered should seek to reflect the skills needs of the local labour market.
Meet the needs of employers
It sounds obvious, but we believe that employment services need to meet the need of employers as much as jobseekers. While the economy has seen an upswing, competition for jobs is still high. Employers should be included in the design and delivery of services so they can ensure it meets their needs. There should also be more incentives for employers to take on long term unemployed jobseekers and the necessary support to enable them to do this.
Prevent youth unemployment
The scarring effect of youth unemployment is well known and, quite rightly, there is considerable support targeted at NEETs. However ERSA believes that more resource should be focused on ensuring young people do not move into this category in the first place through identifying those likely to become NEET and supporting them to pursue alternative routes through the education system. For those who do become NEET there should be immediate referral to high quality specialist support. ERSA is also calling for careers advice to be overhauled, to be backed up by local labour market information.
So there you have it my, very reasonable wish list to ensure that future employment support programmes build on the learning and experience to date, ensuring a better, joined up service for jobseekers and those at risk of becoming one. And note – there isn't a request for a pony or swimming pool in sight.
Kirsty McHugh is chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA)