Yes homeless jobseekers need better support – but we can’t ignore sanctions
Here at Crisis we’ve been calling for better support for homeless jobseekers for a long time. This week a cross-party group of MPs joined us in our call. We welcome this – with one major caveat.
The demand to provide better support to homeless jobseekers was one of the proposals contained in the first report from the new Work and Pensions Select Committee. It’s the result of an inquiry the Committee carried out over the summer looking at the welfare-to-work support contracted out by Government to external providers.
The background to all this is that the Work Programme–the Government’s flagship welfare-to-work scheme for the long-term unemployed– is coming to an end. The Government is currently working out what to replace it with (with the snappy working title ‘Work Programme Plus’). The new contracts will be up for grabs from 2017, with the bidding war set to begin next spring. Scotland will be able to come up with its own offer.
At Crisis we have a particular interest because, while we know that most homeless people want to work, very few are actually working. And the barriers that prevent them from getting a job often make it difficult for them to engage with mainstream employment support programmes. On top of that, the support provided has often been inadequate in addressing their needs.
So we’ve been eager to find out what recommendations the Committee would put to Government. And these are the most interesting if, like us, you’re interested in homelessness:
- A new assessment of jobseekers’ barriers to work should be introduced, to identify a range of issues including housing and homelessness. Their job outcomes should be tracked and reported on.
- Employment support should be better integrated with other locally-run services, such as housing support, including through the support provided to help people manage their benefit claim.
- Homeless participants and those with housing issues should be allocated to an ‘intensive support group’ that recognises their complex barriers to work. Providers should receive greater payments, including an upfront payment fee, to work with this group.
This is all really sensible stuff. We made a lot of similar recommendations in our own evidence to the inquiry.
That said, we’d have liked the report to go further and recommend the inclusion of housing support in the commissioning framework for the new welfare-to-work programmes. We think this will encourage the inclusion of specialist organisations within the supply chain with expertise in supporting vulnerable people into work, and help homeless jobseekers actually resolve their housing issues (which in turn will improve their employment prospects).
There was also one glaring omission in the Committee’s report: sanctions.
Crisis has consistently argued that the current conditionality and sanctions regime, which has been a key feature of the Work Programme, has set homeless people back. Too often sanctions cause financial hardship and emotional distress, pushing people further from the labour market, not closer. The previous Work and Pensions Select Committee made a lot of recommendations to Government about sanctions, including calling for a full review.
In response, the Government finally acknowledged yesterday that sanctions do need reform, announcing that it will trial a warning system before people are sanctioned and that homeless jobseekers will be able to claim hardship payments from day one of a sanction. This is welcome, even if these reforms don’t go nearly far enough. People who are homeless or at risk of homelessness simply shouldn’t be being sanctioned in the first place. But if even the Government can admit that homeless people need to be treated differently under the conditionality regime, it’s disappointing for this not to feature in the Select Committee’s report.
Regardless, we’ll be working with the Government between now and next spring to make sure that the new welfare-to-work offer is as good as it can be for homeless people. We know from the success of our own employment services that finding a job is one of the best and most sustainable ways of exiting homelessness. The Government can and should do more to help homeless people find work. It turns out we’re not alone in thinking that.