A bold plan to make welfare more personalised and responsive

July 22, 2014

Jobs must surely be one of the great success stories of this government: 1.8 million more people in work, and unemployment at its lowest level since 2008. Increasingly the coalition’s welfare reforms are taking the plaudits for this successful turnaround.

This success will only continue as the reforms bed in. The roll out of Universal Credit is important, not just because of how it simplifies the system and improves incentives, but also because once there is proper infrastructure in place it will be possible to move to a new generation of more personalised welfare services.

The next critical step is to ensure that the hardest to help – people with multiple challenges – are given the assistance they need to help them into
training and ultimately one day to find a sustainable job. When you consider that the UK government estimates that there are some 120,000 ‘troubled families’ (defined as having at least five out of seven major problems) and that as many as 18 per cent of the working-age population suffer from a mental health problem, you get a sense of how complex the situations many people face are.
Although there are some specific schemes targeted at these people, for many others who don’t meet the exact criteria services can be confusing and inefficient: with duplication and multiple points of contact.

Giving a more personalised service to the most vulnerable is at the core
of a new Policy Exchange report Joined up welfare. We suggest a radical overhaul to Jobcentre Plus, turning it into a central hub for services and spinning off the employment services section of it as a mutual that competes with charities and companies.

Competition drives improvement. We have seen with free schools the power of allowing tailored niche providers to spring up. There are lessons here for welfare reformers. Great strides have been made with the Work Programme, which has shown the power of opening up service provision and payment based on results.
But the question is, what next?

Analysis by Policy Exchange has estimated that only 36 per cent of JSA
claimants would find a job within six months of claiming benefits and keep it over the whole of a seven-eight month period. Although these stats are a few years old, it is reasonable to assume that one of the groups which Jobcentres particularly struggle to help are those that face myriad difficulties.

We are proposing that services are brought together into Citizen Support
Centres: a single point of access for government services, like in Canada.
These could be co-located in libraries and essentially would be an expanded version of the current assessment role of Job Centres. Similar to the Australian system, they would effectively act as the primary and central hub for accessing government services, enabling advisors to identify an individual’s specific barriers to work and suggesting providers that could help meet that person’s needs. The advisor would also show the success rate of each provider using comparison data to help the jobseeker make a more informed decision about which providers are most appropriate for them.

Instead of the budget being allocated directly from central government to
different providers, as is currently the case, the money would be allocated to the individual claimant and then funnelled to the charity or company of choice, which is paid on the outcomes it achieves. If someone had to access services with multiple suppliers, then one provider would be designated as the individual’s case-holder responsible for liaising with the others.

The part of Jobcentre Plus that provides employment services would be
mutualised and could compete with private companies and charities to help
people into work.

This is a bold plan; but it must happen. There is a consensus growing around the need for a more personalised approach to welfare, and, after the rollout of universal credit, the ability to deliver it won’t be far off.

This blog originally appeared on the Spectator’s Coffee House blog.

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