Question 1: How long should 'work for your benefit' last at different stages in the claim?
Response: This question demonstrates the fundamental flaw in this approach. Each person is different. Any time you give will be too long for some, and too short for others. The only question which matters is: what is right for this individual, on this occasion?
The right response is to train, equip and empower the key workers to make the right judgements about the people they are seeking to help. If you determine everything in advance and micro-manage the key workers, then in the medium term you will find that the only people prepared to be key workers will be those who are totally unsuited to do it.
Question 2: How could capacity and capability to provide full-time work experience in the community sector be provided and incentivised to produce the best employment outcomes for participants?
Response: This is a vital area, which needs much more work.
Firstly, it needs to be dealing with all work experience - not just full-time. Some people cannot work full-time, certainly not in the early stages. It needs to be any work experience, not just in the community sector. And it needs to recognise that for many people, volunteering is the only possible route back into work. Volunteering needs to be respected and encouraged, when it is good for the individual, instead of being seen as a way of avoiding work.
Secondly, many damaged people will never be able to compete on a level playing field in the job market. You need to develop and encourage a new breed of 'social employers', analogous to social landlords, to provide such employment, as well as encouraging greater participation by existing employers. We have some experience of job creation for disabled people, and the principles are essentially the same.
The best people to tell you how to support this will be the existing social enterprises, but it seems obvious that these businesses need to be subsidised to enable them to deliver a service for the public benefit, in much the same way as we subsidise the railways. Please see the section on 'Suitable Jobs' below for more details.
Question 3: Is full-time 'work for your benefit' as an alternative to a sanction of loss of benefit for repeated non-compliance with work search requirements an effective option for some jobseekers? How should it be targeted?
Response: Yes, it is a much better approach.
If 'work for your benefit' can include part-time work, then it would seem that the correct target is to provide a sufficient range of employment opportunities to enable all jobseekers to benefit from this scheme. If this cannot be achieved, then you should target those people who would benefit most from the jobs you do have available - which is not necessarily those who are in the greatest need of a job.
Question 4: What penalties do you think would be most effective to deter more people from committing benefit fraud?
Response: Penalties are irrelevant - what matters is that people fear being caught. You have to distinguish between benefit fraud perpetrated by the claimant, and fraud perpetrated by the employer. The two need to be approached in very different ways.
With employers, I suspect the main problem is the 'grey' economy: people being employed informally, cash in hand. It will part of a much larger set of illegal activities, including tax avoidance, breaking health and safety legislation, etc. I suspect the only way to find such activity is to make cash payments for good and services over (say) £100 illegal - which would bring the civil liberties people out in arms, but until we address the problem of payment in cash, people will continue to avoid the paper trail, and much fraud will remain undetected.
With claimants, the main answer is very simple: a national identity card, and enable the benefits people to query the records on the tax people's computer.
A secondary (but much easier) response concerning claimants is: do not give them the incentive to cheat. If you penalise people for being married or for living together, then they will not admit to being married or to living together. But while marriage is a simple legal either-or, living together is not capable of the same simplistic approach: there is a continuum between living together permanently and never meeting, and there are no fixed boundaries which can be used for any objective test. A visitor can stay overnight once, or once a month, or once a week, or several times a week; your post can be sent to a place you do not live at; you can be 'given' a bed or a bedroom in a house and never use it. In short, it is impossible to define living together, so benefits should not take it into account.
It is possible to 'define out' a great deal of fraud, and I attempt to describe something of how this can be done in the section on 'Revising the Welfare System' below.
Question 5: Do you think it would be appropriate to reduce or withdraw entitlement to benefit after a first offence? How long should the sanction period be?
Response: No. I think that if you reduce benefits for criminals, you encourage them to commit more crime. Most criminals are damaged and inadequate people: they need to be helped to find a better way of life, not punished for not getting there yet. Punishment (on its own) only proves to them that they can endure it.
Where you do have to punish, then use Community Service where possible - but only because Restorative Justice is not appropriate in this context. In any case, keep people out of prisons: they are, as we well know, the 'universities of crime' and we only damage people's future prospects by making them spend time there.
Question 6: Do you agree with the proposed approach for identifying problem drug use? How should it be implemented? Do you think that everyone claiming a working-age benefit should be required to make a declaration of whether or not they use certain specified drugs?
If I understand correctly, then the 'proposed approach for identifying problem drug use' is to ask people if they have a problem with drug use. This seems to make as much sense as the American policy of asking you on their border if you are entering the USA with the intention of committing a terrorist act. You may catch a few terrorists that way, but only the very stupid ones.
Since people will know they will be asked about their drug use, and they know that if they say yes, they will be required to be treated, then the only people who say yes will be those who want treatment. Will this be a fast route for them to access it? The others will either lie or not apply, and either possibility has serious negative consequences.
I do not see any way you can usefully ask about the use of illegal drugs. With legal drugs (alcohol and tobacco) you can offer people help alongside the other benefits you provide, and possibly do some good. This is, to my mind, another argument for legalising all drugs.
Question 7: What elements should an integrated system of drug treatment and employment support include? Do you agree that a rehabilitation plan would help recovering drug users to manage their condition and move towards employment?
Response: treatment for illegal drugs needs to be the responsibility of the specialists in this area. They need to be in control and decide with the user what is best, taking into account the fact that work, when it is possible, will benefit their client. If someone is able to work for one hour a day, they will benefit from working for that hour. Do not limit work only to the fully fit and the fully trained. Work can be a part of the rehabilitation process.
If you implement the current proposal, what do you do when the treated addict lapses? They will not immediately be ready for treatment again.
The urgent need is for much more support for people who are addicted to alcohol. Since alcohol and tobacco together kill around 100 times more people than all the illegal drugs put together, a sensible policy would be to spend more on treating alcohol and tobacco than we spend on the illegal drugs.
Question 8: When is the right time to require ESA claimants to take a skills health check?
Response: I cannot see the point of this question. Given the way the proposal is framed in paragraph 2.61, if you give 'every new claimant' a skills health check, you have to do it at the start of their claim.
Question 9: Should ESA customers be required to attend training in order to gain the identified skills they need to enter work?
Response: the way this question is framed, the obvious answer is yes. But I am concerned about how this will work out in practice. Who determines what skills a claimant needs? What if you think I should become a chef, but I want to become a professional golfer, or make a success of the band I play in? Do I have the right to wait for a job in the field I want to work in, or do I have to train for and take any job you decide I can do? This is fraught with impossible decisions.
Question 10: In view of the need to help lone parents develop the skills they need to find work, are we right to require lone parents to have a skills health check and training as a condition of receiving benefit?
Response: No. Lone parents should not be treated differently. If a skills health check is helpful, everyone should be given one. If you think they ought to work instead of caring for their child, then they need all the help they can get.
On the other hand, you might recognise that caring for a small child is a worthwhile job in itself, and employ them, full or part-time in that caring role.
Question 11: Should we pilot extra benefit payments for lone parents in return for training, and if so, when the youngest child is what age?
Response: No. Again, no special favours. If it is right to provide incentives for training, offer them to everyone.
Instead of messing around with benefits for training (and thus making the system more complicated yet again), pay people to do the training. Even better, employ them on a temporary contract (part-time if necessary) and provide both training and also the opportunity to use the training to do something useful. Provide this in addition to their benefits (no claw-back). This would provide training and work experience and improve their CV and give them a reference for a future employer.
Question 12: Are there any other circumstances where customers cannot get the skills they need to enter employment under present and planned arrangements?
Question 13: How might we build on the foundations of the current rules so that they do not discourage unemployed people from volunteering as a deliberate back-to-work strategy, while retaining a clear focus on moving off welfare into paid employment?
Response: Reward people for volunteering, but (and this is important) only a little, to cover the cost of a bus ticket and lunch. Volunteering ought to be rewarding apart from the financial details. We don't want volunteering to be a source of income, as that will reduce the incentive to get a job, and also put pressure on voluntary sector organisations to take on unsuitable volunteers so that they can obtain the financial benefit.
If work really does provide much more benefit than volunteering, you don't need to worry about people choosing to volunteer instead of working.
If people do choose to volunteer instead of seeking employment, then either they cannot work or the system of rewards is not functioning as you intend. Either way, your best response is not to seek to punish them, but seek to understand what is happening, and revise either the support you give to help people get back into work, or revise the benefits they get by working. Change the system so that it rewards the behaviour you want to encourage.
Question 14: Do you agree that the WCA and WFHRA should be re-focused to increase work-related support?
Question 15: What expectations should there be of people undertaking the personalised support we will now be offering in the Work Related Activity Group? Could this include specific job search?
Question 16: How can we make Access to Work more responsive to the needs of claimants with fluctuating conditions - including mental health conditions?
Response: You need to make jobs available to people which they can take a break from where necessary and then return to with minimal hassle, maybe on a part-time basis initially. There is a limit to which you can modify people to fit the jobs available: you also have to modify the jobs to fit the people available.
Question 17: What additional flexibilities in the system or forms of support would claimants with multiple and complex problems need to enable them to meet the new work-focused requirements proposed in this Green Paper?
Question 18: What are the key features of an action planning approach that would best support employees and employers to take the steps for the employee to make a swifter return to work?
Question 19: There is no Question 19.
Question 20: What approach might be suitable to assist partners of benefit claimants who can work into employment?
Response: Don't do it. Everyone should be assessed according to their own needs and potential.
Question 21: What are the next steps in enabling disabled people, reliably and easily, to access an individual budget if they want one? Should they include legislation to give people a right to ask for a budget or will the other levers the Government has got prove sufficient? What are the safeguards that should be built in? How can this be done?
Question 22: Is a system based on a single overarching benefit the right long-term aspiration? How could a simpler system be structured so as to meet varying needs and responsibilities?
Response: No. One benefit will be much too complicated. We need lots of specific benefits to address the specific needs people have. Please see my description of an improved welfare system below.
Question 23: Would moving carers currently on IS onto JSA be a suitable way of helping them to access the support available to help combine caring with paid work or preparing for paid work?
Response: No. Caring is different from seeking work. It is work! There is no advantage in confusing the two.
Question 24: How might we reform Bereavement Benefit and IIDB to provide better support to help people adjust to their new circumstances while maintaining the work focus of the modern welfare state?
Response: Bereavement Benefit is needed: you cannot hassle someone whose partner has just died. But if the rest of the system is working, IIDB should not be needed. It makes no difference why someone is not well: the only considerations are what they need in order to live, and what help they need to gain work. Of course, if they have been harmed through their employer's negligence, then they have the right to compensation from the employer, but that is quite different.
Question 25: Are lump sum payments a good way of meeting people's needs? Do they give people more choice and control? Could we make more use of them?
Response: Lump sum payments are suitable for meeting crisis needs, but they are more easily abused than regular payments. It is very hard to prevent a lump sum for a new washing machine being spent (in total, or in part) on drink or drugs. But if you want people to save for when the washing machine needs to be replaced, you need to provide much more help in budgeting - not just a one-off course, but also a weekly sitting down and looking through the bills with them, for at least a year - probably three years if you want to establish good habits. You want to break the bad habits of a lifetime.
Question 26: What information would providers need to make the Right to Bid effective? How would the evaluation process need to work to give providers confidence that their ideas would be evaluated fairly and effectively? How do we get the balance right between rewarding those who come up with new ideas and the obligation to tender projects?
Response: there is no way to be sure you have got the balance right. So make a guess about where the balance should be, try it, and evaluate the results.
Question 27: What would the processes around contributing to commissioning and performance management look like in a range of different partnership areas? How might they best be managed to achieve the desired outcomes?
Question 28: How could a link be made to the radical proposals for the pilots set out in Chapter 3, which seek to reward providers for outcomes out of the benefit savings they achieve?
Response: the link assumed here is mistaken. Providers should be paid for results, where appropriate. There is no reason to link the payment to the value of benefit savings. Benefit savings for how long? For the rest of the individual's life? Absurd. For the next three months? Or a year? It is completely arbitrary. Why not take into account the tax revenue the person working will produce? Or the saving to the health service?
Question 29: How effective are current monitoring and evaluation arrangements for City Strategies?
The single most important reform is to remove the poverty trap. The poverty trap still prevents people who want to work from working, and gives a good excuse to those who do not want to work.
As well as changing the people to fit the jobs available, we must also seek to provide the sort of jobs that the unemployed people will be able to do, and find fulfilment in doing. We must work to provide jobs that involve physical work, and being outdoors. We must provide jobs in engineering and light industry. We must provide jobs that do not involve computers and social skills.
To be blunt, we must provide jobs for the sort of men who want to spend their nights down the pub and would never dream of changing a nappy. Not because we like and wish to encourage such attitudes and behaviour,but because there are a great many people like that, and we need to solve real problems, as opposed to the problems we wish we had. If the only major employer in an area is a Call Centre, then we can try to train everyone to work in a Call Centre. But it makes more sense to try to provide different kinds of work for people who are not naturally suited to call centre work.
We must provide far more subsidised jobs: supported employment, along the lines of supported housing In a market economy, every employer is under pressure to deliver the greatest profit possible from the workforce, which means they all want the most productive employees. In this environment, very few will choose to employ people who need a great deal of support and who will take time off to sort out their ongoing problems - not on economic grounds. Some people with mental or physical disabilities will never be able to compete on the open jobs market, and equalities legislation can only go so far. People with ongoing emotional problems or who are trying to get free from addictions will not be as productive at work as those without these problems. But they need work too - they need it even more than 'ordinary' people.
For this to work, we will have to be deliberately counter-cultural in some ways. The aim of industry at present is to make the workforce more productive through increasing automation and moving towards high-tech jobs. But this only makes sense if your aim is to make the greatest profit possible. If your aim is also to employ as many people as possible in good and worthwhile jobs, then increasing automation is not always the right answer. Instead of investing in a new digging machine, why not employ a few more people with shovels? While the digging may take longer on paper, a team of people can continue to dig in rotation all day, when a digger will repeatedly stop for comfort, tea and lunch breaks, and the people may well be able to start sooner because you do not have to prepare the site in order to transport the digger to the right location before you start. The economics of using people rather than machines may prove to be surprising.
On the other hand, I have personal experience of employing people from a background of homelessness and addiction. Some have moved on and need very little support more than other staff. Others have managed to be comparatively stable for periods of time, but the underlying chaos of their lives, and the knock-on effects of their past mistakes have impacted their work, disrupted the staff around them, and taken up far more management time than could be justified.
Aspire in Bristol seek to employ ex-homeless people, and their experience is exactly the same as mine: they are less reliable, and their problems disrupt not only their own lives but also the lives of the people around them. While a few organisations will employ such people for various reasons, it is completely unrealistic to expect that most will find such employment unless employers are given a financial incentive to counter the very real costs.
The good news is that because working is so good for people, it is very cost-effective to subsidise jobs for people who would otherwise be on benefits. The NEF have done some robust work in this area recently, demonstrating the economic benefits of supporting employers to enable chaotic people to gain and retain employment.
(An updated version of this section can be found at Revising the Welfare System.)
It is very easy to describe a welfare system which meets the real needs identified in the consultation. Getting there from here is not quite as simple, but it should be achievable in three to five years through progressive steps.
The current system has two basic problems: it rewards the wrong behaviour, and it is too complicated. The proposals fail to address either concern adequately: they offer some simplification, but not nearly enough.
Firstly, all tax and benefits should be solely relating to the individual. If they choose to get married or to live with someone else, or a dozen other people, then great: you want to encourage them to do this, as people are happier and healthier if they live with others. Payments for a child will go, of course, to a nominated adult. I think this addresses 'question 20'.
The other reason why it is important to ignore the other people you live with lies in the nature of the information we are working with. While 'Are you married?' has a simple yes/no answer, 'Are you living with someone else?' often does not. No two people will agree on what counts as living together. Do you have to spend four nights together in a normal week? (What is normal? And what about married couples where one works away during the week?) Is it when you leave your toothbrush for next time? (But what if you don't have a toothbrush? Or if you have one in each of ten different houses?) There is a continuum between a one night stand and living together, and it does not make sense to fix any arbitrary point in between as the place where your benefit entitlements suddenly change.
Secondly, there should be no claw-backs, whereby the gaining of some benefit means the cutting back or removal of another. Every benefit, and every tax should stand on its own.
Similarly, no benefit should depend on you qualifying for another benefit: this creates complexities, and produces unwanted side-effects, as the one benefit is now playing two roles: its own job, and as a doorkeeper for another benefit.
These two changes would greatly simplify the whole benefits system, and remove a great deal of the cost of administration and also much of the fraud. A simple system will also empower those who struggle with the complexities of the present system, and will make life much easier for those who give advice. Most people can understand: if this is true for you, then this is what you will get. End of story.
The tax and benefits systems need to be integrated. While you have two organisations making independent decisions about these two areas, they will never tie up correctly, and you will never get the welfare system right.
Fourthly, remove all the cut-off points. Every time a small increase in income produces a large decrease in benefits, you have created a poverty trap. Benefits should always taper, just as with tax. Up to a certain amount of income, there is no reduction, and beyond that point you lose 30p of benefits (total benefits, not 30p from each benefit) for every £1 you earn. That way, you know everyone will always be better off in work, and you know they will always be better off by working harder and earning more. Once they know that, they have a real incentive.
Also, if you can qualify for a benefit but not be paid anything because you earn too much, this will remove one of the major psychological barriers to employment: the fear and cost of re-applying for all the benefits if you try employment but it does not work out for you. You may not get the same benefits back (it often feels like an arbitrary decision, even when it is not), and even if you do, eventually, there is always a lot of effort and a lot of delay before everything is sorted out again. If you remain 'on' the benefit but receiving nothing, then the moment you lose your job, the benefit is there for you again. If you know you have this safety net, you will be more willing to risk getting a job. If we take away the risk, we will increase the uptake.
The basic benefit you get for being out of work should equal the minimum wage. That is what you should have to live on, wherever it comes from.
Employ those in a full-time caring role. Employ them as carers. Support them, encourage them, supervise them, train them. That way, they will get less burned-out, they will enjoy a dignity and status they currently miss, and they will have an employment record for when they are no longer needed to care.
Related to these changes, you need to decide when childhood ends, and implement that consistently. I suggest 16 is the obvious point, but 17 or 18 will also work. But at that point, the adult has the right to work full time, the right to join the army, the right to marry and the right to vote. At that point, they should pay the adult fare on the bus and in the cinema, and they have the right to be paid the same minimum wage as everyone else. The current method of phasing in adulthood means that needy young people constantly fall down the gaps between provision for children and provision for adults. Keep support available to people up to the age of 25 - that is helpful, but give them all the rights and responsibilities at the same time.
It is much better to have many simple benefits than one complicated one. You can list the benefits, and people can look down the list and see which ones are or might be relevant to them.
There is nothing to stop you from combining several benefits together onto one form, if that is helpful, as long as each benefit continues to stand on its own feet.
After this, the reforms start to get a little more complicated: we need to deal with the complexities of the employment and tax system, and the reality that many people have many employers. A lot of earnings are not declared: partly as deliberate fraud, but partly also because the system is so hard to understand and difficult to use even if you want to do what is right. If you want to know more about this area, please contact me - details at the end.
If everybody would be better off in work, and if you are providing work that can be done by the people looking for it, and if you are providing subsidies for employers, where necessary, to ensure that the right jobs are made available to the right people, in the right places, then I am sure you can achieve much better than an 80% employment rate.
Paragraph 4 is absolutely correct: getting the welfare system right is crucial. But this document is, at present, a long way from describing a way of getting it right.
Paragraph 10 is important. Training should be provided 'as part of' the strategy for getting people into work. However, training, along with a little advice and help with searching for jobs, seems to be the only strategy the Government has in mind. There are frequently serious emotional and psychological barriers to employment, which cannot be addressed simply by training and advice.
In many cases, as well as information and skills, the long-term unemployed person needs a change of heart, and this is where the faith-based organisations come into their own.
Work is not primarily about having fun, but on the other hand, if someone cannot stand the job they are unlikely to remain in it for long. You might train a pianist as a bricklayer because we need bricklayers, but we should also consider whether there is some way we can use the skills of a pianist. Similarly, an experienced bricklayer may feel horribly frustrated by being trained to use and then expected to sit down at a computer all day.
Some people do not want to work, or feel they have the right to remain on benefits for their whole life. They need to understand that life cannot go on like that. For many people, this will be a very hard lesson: the failure of the current welfare system has damaged many people very deeply, and you will get some very strong reactions. How this is introduced to people will need some very careful thought. The new system must be 'sold' to those who benefit from and abuse the current system.
Some people do not want a job because they are already working and not paying tax. While it is possible to work and be paid 'cash in hand' it is hard to see how you will prevent this. You could design a system to catch such behaviour, but anything along these lines would inevitably result in an intrusive approach that would drive the civil liberties people wild (for example, give the Government details of your bank account and explain where the money in it comes from).
Some people cannot work because their time is taken up with the whole process of addiction. The issue here is not training: they believe they cannot work, because they need the drugs. They have to believe that life without drugs is both possible, and also desirable.
Some people do not work because of lack of self confidence. Volunteering can increase that self-confidence in a way that training never can, because in training you never actually achieve anything for real.
The bottom line is: you cannot force people to work, and if you take away their benefits as a way of motivating them, they are much more likely to turn to crime than to get a proper job. And even if you find a job for someone who does not want to work, it is very easy for them to get the sack. The stick really does not work at all well here: we are much better persuading people of the benefits of work, and changing the system to ensure that they are significantly better off at work, even if it is part time.
The proposals in paragraph 13 make sense, but many people will claim that they are incapable of work. Again, it is much easier to motivate them by rewarding work than by punishing them for not working.
Paragraph 14: people on drugs are much more likely to turn to crime than to get a job, and if you take away benefits, the only result will be to increase the amount of crime needed to feed the habit.
No! You must not require medical people to talk to unemployed people about their plans to return to work. The job of a doctor is to make me well, not to get me into work. If you confuse the two, you will create far more problems than you solve. Instead, employ medically qualified people to work for the Jobcentres and empower them to talk to the patient's doctor. The doctor must put their patient's health first. Of course, the doctor must also recognise that working is good for people, so should encourage their patient to work when possible.
The present sick note system does not work. Instead of a binary 'can work / cannot work', which means 'can work full time / cannot work full time' we need to identify what the person can and cannot do, and for how long they can or cannot do it - either each day, or each week. If a person cannot work easily, they may be able to do 80% of their job, so why not allow them to do that 80%? or if they have the strength to work half a day, why not allow them to do that? It will make calculations of sick pay much more complicated, but will keep more people working, at least in part, for much longer, and should help them return to work full time sooner, as they will not have to negotiate the doing-nothing-to-working-full-time barrier.
Chart 1.3 talks about Control only in terms of disabled people. Everyone needs to have control over their lives as far as possible. They need to have control over their choice of career, and over where they are prepared to travel to gain work.
The provision of suitable work needs to include the provision of suitable work where it is needed. The Conservative 'on your bike' mentality may have encouraged financial prosperity by getting people to move to where the jobs are, but (a) it produced employment blackspots, (b) it produced areas where it is impossible for ordinary people to afford a home; and (c) it destroyed families and communities. Children need parents, but they also need grandparents. If you have to move town to get a job, your children miss out on the family life they might have enjoyed. Costs are not only financial.
If you provide support for vulnerable people with multiple and complex problems, and not for others, then your system will encourage people with few problems who do not want to work or who for some reason cannot engage with the system you offer to turn into people with multiple and complex problems. If you only provide help for the most needy, you will find the population of the most needy will continue to grow. Again, we have to move away from the binary 'can be helped into work / cannot be helped into work' mentality. It is fair and right to ask of everyone what they can do, and how much can they do it? Which is another reason why part time and voluntary work is vitally important.
How do you 'demonstrate' that a bus failed to arrive on time? I have written to a bus company when I and numerous other people stood at a bus stop for over ninety minutes and two buses failed to arrive, and the company claimed that the buses did run: we must have failed to notice them. How are Jobcentre staff supposed to respond to claims that it wasn't the fault of the person who failed to turn up for the interview? You need to empower the staff to exercise good judgement in these cases, and not automatically stop the benefit in response to a missed appointment.
'Work for your benefit' is a great idea, but it should be delivered as far as possible through the organisations what are already seeking to meet this need.
The danger is that Government money will be available to provide this service, so people will set up organisations to tap into this new source of money. An organisation doing this work whether there is money available or not will almost always deliver a better service than an organisation set up to spend money the government is providing. But they may not be better at selling their service, or in providing statistics. Consultants make a lot of money from telling organisations how to sell their services to the Government. You cannot make this activity illegal, but somehow the money must be directed instead to those who actually want to achieve the goal of changed lives.
I think that part of the solution is to move, in part, from contracting services to working in partnership with organisations that share common objectives. I have described this in more detail in my online paper. 'Engaging the Voluntary Sector'.
For further clarification on any of the above, please contact Paul Hazelden at Crisis Centre Ministries.