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Benefits: Conditionality Review

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 4 December 2008

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Purnell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On Tuesday 2 December I received Professor Paul Gregg’s report on the effectiveness of the conditionality requirements that are currently applied to working age benefit claimants. This report, Realising Potential: A Vision for Personalised Conditionality and Support, was commissioned by my department earlier this year.

The report is wide-ranging and ambitious and looks at the effectiveness of welfare reform and how more unemployed people, lone parents and people with a health condition or disability can access personalised help and be supported back to work. Whilst the economic backdrop to the review is challenging it remains crucial to consider, debate and put in place further reforms to the welfare state to ensure we help as many disadvantaged people as possible to find work.

The report assesses the effectiveness of the current requirements that apply to the unemployed and to other groups. Evidence suggests that the requirements that apply to the unemployed on jobseeker’s allowance have been highly effective over the past decade. The work-focused interview regime that applies to other claimants has also had some success, but primarily for those closest to the labour market.

However the report recognises that the number of people getting support is still low compared to the number who actually want to get back to work. This means that many of the most vulnerable people are not accessing help that evidence tells us is effective. This denies the wider financial, health and well-being gains that come from working.

The report makes important recommendations around how to address the weaknesses that remain within the current benefit system to ensure more people can access support and get back to work. It suggests that almost everyone claiming benefits and not in work should:

be required to engage in activity that will help them to move towards, and then into, employment;

have an empowered personal adviser with whom they will be able to agree a route back to work;

be obliged to agree an action plan on the steps they agree with their adviser will help them;

have a clear understanding of the expectations placed upon them (and why) and what the consequences for failing to meet these are; and

be able to access a wide range of personal support on the basis of need not benefit label.

The report makes clear that the department should not seek to realise this vision by expecting lone parents with younger children and people with a health condition or disability to be treated as though they were unemployed and be made to look for suitable jobs. This would be counter-productive, unreasonable and punitive. Rather the report recommends the creation of an entirely new sort of conditionality regime for people who have a good opportunity to secure employment with time, encouragement and support. People in this progression-to-work group should face requirements which:

reflect the claimants’ co-ownership of the return-to-work process;

are tailored to their capability and built around their circumstances;

are based on activity that supports their own route back to work; and

are linked up with effective support.

The report also identifies some groups of people who should face no conditionality requirements whatsoever. These groups are lone parents and partners with very young children, carers with the most significant caring responsibilities and people with the most severe health conditions.

To realise this vision the report suggests that the right support needs to be made available, based on need rather than what benefit people are on. We also need to make sure those who deliver employment support, whether in Jobcentre Plus or the private and voluntary sector, have the right incentives to deliver the right support at the right time.

The department warmly welcomes the report; it will consider Professor Gregg’s findings very carefully and respond shortly.

Copies of Realising Potential: A Vision for Personalised Conditionality and Support have been placed in the Library of the House.