Parliamentary Committee proposes reforms to Jobcentre Plus

The Work and Pensions Select Committee this morning released the report of its inquiry into the Role of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) in the Reformed Welfare System. The Committee concluded that JCP is “capable of responding well to policy changes and fluctuating claimant numbers” and that it should continue to provide a public employment service, broadly along current lines.

The media have sought to focus on the report’s conclusions regarding the JCP sanctions regime, with Committee Chair and Labour MP Dame Anne Begg commenting that “If people are being sanctioned for petty things you might end up driving them away from the labour market. If you’ve no money coming in, you become dependent on foodbanks and there’s a cycle of decline that makes you less likely to enter the labour market.” A second, broader, independent review of conditionality and sanctions is proposed by the Committee, to include whether the process is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately. This investigation would also seek to clarify whether the sanctions regime is having the “desired effect” of encouraging claimants back into the labour market, to allay Dame Anne’s concerns.

A key recommendation, is that the DWP introduce an effective Jobseeker Classification Instrument (JSCI), based on the Australian model, to segment claimants and signpost them to more effective support, with the Committee concluding that the DWP had not conducted enough research into the feasibility of introducing a segmentation tool in the UK to completely write off the idea.

The Committee further concludes that the following reforms are also needed to JCP in order to improve its effectiveness:

  • JCP’s Key Performance Indicators should be revised to incentivise claimants’ off-flow from benefits into employment, with claimants leaving benefit due to sanctions and other non-work related destinations not counting towards KPIs. As Universal Credit is rolled out more widely, performance measures should be further adjusted to measure sustained job outcomes;
  • The need to address “as a matter of urgency” the unacceptably high ration of ESA claimants to specialist Jobcentre Disability Employment Advisers (currently over 600:1). Whilst the Committee does note the three pilots introduced this year to test the support offered to jobseekers, one of which will concentrate on ESA claimants, it is argued that further urgent support is necessary as these pilots will only include around 8,300 out of 540,000 claimants and not be completed until 2016.
  • The DWP must do more to clarify how recent welfare reforms have effected JCP footfall and how it plans to ensure that JCP will be sufficiently resourced to deliver these changes;