The Government have published a Green Paper outlining proposals on achieving full employment, including the threat of more benefit sanctions for lone parents and the unemployed. Simon Osborne describes the main points.
The Green Paper states the official aims of achieving an 80 per cent employment rate, reducing the numbers of working age people who are ‘dependent on benefit’ and to ‘close the employment gaps between different groups’.
A key measure will be building on the Local Employment Partnerships announced in the 2007 Budget (see Bulletin 197, p5). This includes a ‘Jobs Pledge’ under which major employers are asked to provide more jobs for the most disadvantaged, ‘so long as they engage with the support available and are ready, willing and able to work’ – a sure indication of increased conditionality for claimants, notably job-seekers and lone parents. Changes to benefit delivery would see increased use of the private and third sector, with an increased emphasis on cutting costs and competition.
Achieving full employment
The Green Paper states the following aims:
- A reduction of one million in the number of incapacity benefits claimants and an increase of 300,000 lone parents and one million older people in work;
- An increase of employment among ethnic minority groups (particularly for women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin), and tackling of employer discrimination (a child who is in an ethnic minority family is twice as likely to grow up poor);
- An increase in the employment rate in cities and in particular London;
- A reduction in the number of 16-17 year olds not in education, employment or training, provision of skills and training for young people leaving education and provision of support for adults with a lack of skills (In England, Jobcentre Plus will refer those considered in need of specialist support and advice into the new Adult Careers Service. Discussions are taking place to see how that might also be achieved in Scotland and Wales).
- Work in partnership with employers to provide job opportunities to the most disadvantaged groups.
Following the announcement of Local Employment Partnerships, the Green Paper announces the introduction of a Jobs Pledge in which major employers will create employment opportunities – a quarter of a million of them - for disadvantaged groups. In return, the Government are to guarantee that job applicants, ‘will have the right attitude to work as well as the right aptitude’. Jobcentre Plus are to work with the Learning and Skills Council in England to provide training and also support for people when they are in work.
Claimants and conditionality
Lone parents are to be the subject of a new ‘social contract’. Referring to research (e.g. the Freud report) reportedly to the effect that it is right to, ‘increase the responsibility for lone parents with older children to look for work’, the Green Paper proposes the following changes for lone parents:
- from October 2008, lone parents with a youngest child aged 12 or over will no longer be entitled to income support solely on the grounds of being a lone parent (i.e., will need instead to claim JSA if not working);
- from October 2010, this age would be reduced to seven years old.
In the run-up to these changes, lone parents on income support will be required to undertake an increased number of work-focused interviews, and will be offered a Work Related Activity Premium for labour market-related activity. The intention is to increase measures to ensure lone parents returning to work are better off. Childcare provision will increase (especially by 2010) although the specific commitment is for England, with the implications of the Green Paper proposals to be ‘discussed further with Scotland and Wales’.
For couples with children and with one member claiming JSA, the intention is to introduce compulsory work-focused interviews every six months for the partner of the claimant. This will ‘be kept under review’.
For JSA claimants, the proposal is to build on the New Deals, ‘by steadily raising the expectations of what a job seeker should contribute and by matching this with increased support the longer someone is one benefit.’ In practice, this would mean the creation of a single New Deal with the following:
- job seeking requirements would be increased after three months with more frequent interviews and the emphasis taken off preferred employment or occupation and put on travel to work, wage and working hours;
- after six months, a ‘Gateway’ stage including a formal review and drawing up a back to work action plan with compulsory job-search activities;
- in England (with consultation proposed on extension to Scotland and Wales), possible referral at the Gateway stage to a ‘skills health check’ and training;
- after a year, referral to a ‘specialist return to work provider from the public, private or voluntary sectors’;
- for those still on benefit after ‘a defined period’, a requirement to undertake ‘full-time work experience’
- throughout this ‘flexible regime’, ‘the responsibility on individuals to make the best use of that support or face a loss of benefit’– Jobcentre Plus would remain responsible for applying sanctions.
Jobcentre Plus is to remain ‘at the heart’ of benefit delivery. But there will also be, ‘close partnership with employers, with employment service providers in the private and third sectors, and with other parts of government’. In particular, the plan is to give the private and third sectors more responsibility at the one year stage for job seekers, although that might be earlier for the ‘more disadvantaged’, including lone parents and those on incapacity benefits. Citing the work of ex-City banker David Freud, the Green Paper proposes to cut costs by introducing more competition and, ‘by moving towards a more outcome-focused service’, and piloting financial rewards for providers who are successful in moving people back to work.
The Green Paper can be downloaded at www.dwp.gov.uk/welfarereform/in-work-better-off/, or by request from the DWP at their website or the postal address for responses. Responses to the paper are sought by 31 October 2007. They should be sent to the Green Paper Consultation Team, Department for Work and Pensions, Level 2, The Adelphi, 1-11 John Adam Street, London WC2N 6HT.
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