From education to employment

The right report at the right time

To help someone into work, timing is crucial – you need to provide the right support, from the right organisations, at the right time. Timing is also crucial in politics and public affairs. If you time your intervention badly, the greatest of ideas can be ignored or swiftly forgotten. Time it well and you can create change that can make a difference to millions of lives.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee report on back to work programmes, out last week, comes at a crucial time for the sector given that decision making about the shape and financing of future back to work programmes is expected as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. It is an example of exemplary political timing and we can only hope that there will be a political payoff.

The report gives a strong acknowledgement from the Committee that the Work Programme, which has now helped 731,000 jobseekers into work, is successful, with the Committee chair, Frank Field, commenting that the Work Programme has produced results as good as previous programme at a greatly reduced cost.

Pleasingly for us, the report reflects many of the recommendations made by ERSA in its own publication on the shape of future employment support: ‘Evolution not Revolution’. These include:

 Upfront funding for those jobseekers that are a greater distance from the labour market, many of whom who often have a range of complex needs. This would, in particular, help enable specialist voluntary sector organisations play their party, many of which struggle to manage a purely payment by results contract.

• The development of a needs based assessment on day one of the jobseeker claim. It now appears to be broadly accepted that the existing categorisation of jobseeker based on benefit type often does not indicate the level of support that is needed, and therefore the resource required to offer effective support.

 Easier, and earlier, referral points to contracted provision to ensure that jobseekers receive the support they need and any existing issues do not become entrenched. The report highlighted that jobseekers could benefit earlier from the personalised support in the Work Programme.

• Better integration of employment support with related services. We know that the sector engages with, and sometimes commissions, a wide range of related services for the jobseekers it works with, including skills, health, housing and rehabilitation services. Long term unemployed people often have a range of barriers to employment which require support outside the traditional sphere of ’employability’ but it can be difficult to ensure that jobseekers have access to these different services. There are currently some interesting integration models in development, such as the Shaw Trust Community Hubs pilot, mentioned in the report, which is co-locating health, employment and skills support to provide people with a one stop shop where they can access help for various needs.

All in all, the Select Committee has produced a fair, balanced and positive report that acknowledges the success of the Work Programme, while making practical suggestions to government about how this success can be built upon in future employment services. On paper, therefore, this report is the right ‘intervention’ at the right point. But is the Government listening? Come the Comprehensive Spending Review, we should be able to tell.

Kirsty McHugh is chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA)

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