Government support for jobseekers under the microscope
The past few weeks have seen a flurry of parliamentary activity around one of the most important issues affecting homeless people– the support provided by Government to help them into work.
This is the work of one cross-party parliamentary committee, the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which has issued three inquires looking at various aspects of the support provided to help unemployed people get back on their feet.
We’ve submitted responses to all three, including a joint response with other homelessness charities and the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA, the sector body that represents welfare-to-work providers).
If you’re interested in picking through the detail you can find all our responses here. But to make life easy we’ve summarised our key recommendations as to how the Government should improve the employment support it provides to homeless jobseekers:
- Identification of homelessness
Being homeless or at risk of homelessness makes it very difficult to look for work. But too often Jobcentre Plus fails to recognise that someone is homeless, giving Work Coaches unrealistic expectations as to what the individual is capable of and meaning people don’t get the support they need. A new assessment should be introduced that accurately identifies people’s support needs, including homelessness.
- Better integration of services
Identifying that jobseekers are homeless is only really meaningful if appropriate support is then provided. Services should be better integrated to make sure that people’s housing needs are dealt with alongside their employability needs. Jobcentre Plus should collaborate and where possible integrate with housing and homelessness services and the commissioning process for the new Work and Health Programme should recognise housing as a priority area for support.
- Reform of conditionality and sanctions
Homeless people are disproportionately affected by benefit sanctions, making it much harder for them to look for work. Conditionality requirements must be better tailored so that people are only required to undertake job-seeking activities they are capable of, and should be suspended while homeless people are trying to resolve their housing situation. Greater safeguards are needed so that sanctions don’t result in people being made homeless or destitute.
- Tailored, personalised support
Employment support for jobseekers with complex support needs must be centred around the individual, and be tailored not only to what they are capable of doing but build on their aspirations through an encouraging and motivational relationship. Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches should receive training and support that equips them to build supportive, trusting relationships with claimants. Prisoners should receive ‘through the gate’ one-to-one support, in order to suitably prepare them for employment on release.
Last week the committee held its first evidence session focused on the future of Jobcentre Plus. Witnesses– including Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive of ERSA and the Social Market Foundation’s Matthew Oakley– raised concerns about the capacity of Jobcentre Plus to provide effective, targeted support to jobseekers with more difficult barriers to work. This is a concern we share and that we raised in our own response to the Committee.
But there was also optimism about the opportunities for change. With the Work Programme coming to an end in England and Wales next year (the following year in Scotland), and Universal Credit rolling out at pace across Britain, this is a real opportunity to transform the support that homeless people get when they first walk through the doors of the jobcentre. That’s why we’ll be continuing our work to make sure the Government is bold enough to seize that opportunity.