© 1999 Unemployment Unit & Youthaid
ONE: the Single Work Focused Gateway
By Paul Bivand, Paul Convery and Andrew van Doorn
Working Brief 105, June 1999
The Single Work Focused Gateway (SWFG) is a significant change to the administration of the social security system, will be launched in four pilot areas on 28th June this year. Now known as ‘ONE’, the SWFG marks the beginning of a new era for the delivery of social security and brings closer labour market attachment for many benefit recipients who have previously been pushed into economic inactivity.
The need for the SWFG is a strong one, particularly for those who are in receipt of ‘inactive’ benefits and have previously been furnished with little, if any, help to move back into work. Data from the Labour Force Survey in 1998 reveals significant numbers of people who are lone parents or who have health problems which limit their ability to work, and who want to work.
For lone parents it shows that there are 1.175 million individuals with children over the age of 5. Of these 55% are in work, 18% do not want employment whilst 24% (284,000) want to work. This latter group represent over half of those who are not in work and have varying degrees of labour market attachment - those who are 'ILO unemployed' as well as those who are not immediately ready to start a job. Even amongst the 711,000 with pre-school aged children, 27% are employed. Whilst 32%
do not want employment, 40% (287,000) do want to work. So in total, 571,000 lone parents want to work - which is 55% of the non-employed lone parent population.
For disabled people, the LFS shows that 4.3 million people have a work restricting health problem. Of these, only 5% are in work, 44% (1.9 million) do not want employment whilst 27% (1,157,000) want to work.
In total, 1,728,000 lone parents or disabled people are not employed but want to work. Not all of these will be benefit claimants of course, but the vast majority will be. This is a sizeable population group who will welcome the services that the SWFG can offer.
Considerable attention has been given to the SWFG involvement of claimants for whom JSA is not the currently claimed (or right) benefit. In the pilot areas, an initial interview will be offered to all new claimants in these categories followed by continuing help on a voluntary basis.
However, at least ¾ of all participants in the SWFG are likely to be JSA claimants who are unemployed and want work. They will have to meet the JSA labour market conditions and take particular courses of action to remain eligible for benefit.
For these claimants, the SWFG should represent a step-change improvement in the assistance they currently receive. It is an opportunity to offer to all JSA recipients the range of personalised help that - through the New Deal - has so far been concentrated on 2 categories of longer term unemployed claimants. It also gives the Employment Service the chance to re-design aspects of the New Deal Gateway which will otherwise be the adopted model for the guidance, counselling and provision of specialist help.
Over the past month, the vision, design and draft guidance for the SWFG basic model have been published which gives us a clearer picture of the process. For the majority of new claimants, those claiming JSA, the labour market conditions remain unchanged, as does the compulsory nature of working against the JSA action plan. For the remaining new claimants, the SWFG remains voluntary until legislation is passed later this year which will require compulsory attendance at interview.
It is now possible to map what the SWFG process will be for new claimants. Individuals can make contact with the SWFG office, which could be situated in existing BA, ES or LA offices, or in a separate office, by phone, form, letter, e.mail, through a third party or in person. In doing so they will enter the first stage of the process - Registration and Orientation (R&O).
Registration & Orientation
R&O Advisers will conduct an interview either in the SWFG offices or by phone, and in exceptional circumstances, in the claimant’s home. The opportunity to have an interview in the home is particularly important for some people with disabilities and those with caring responsibilities. The R&O Adviser will, in the words of a senior official working on the project, act like a "Paramedic/Triage Nurse". They will make an initial assessment of the claimants needs, in terms of both benefit and work readiness and issue the relevant forms and direct the claimant, if appropriate, to available jobs.
The Government maintains that "the focus at this early stage will be to explore work-related issues before the client enters the benefit system. " But equally important, this stage will ensure that claimants have access to all the appropriate benefits and relevant forms. Claimants will be told what information and evidence is needed for each benefit claim and the rights and responsibilities attached to that claim. A new development in the pilots will also be that Housing Benefit entitlement will start from this point, rather than waiting until the form is completed and returned to the LA. This will go some way in alleviating some of the worst delays experienced in the Housing Benefit system and will ensure that entitlement to housing costs starts from day one.
It will be at this stage that the R&O Adviser will allocate a Personal Adviser (PA) who will remain with the claimant through their time in the SWFG. For some groups of claimant an immediate work-focused interview with a PA will not be appropriate. In such cases these claimants will be given a choice to either defer the interview, or continue with the process. All the information collected at this stage will be passed onto the PA and an interview booked within 3 working days. This information will include details of additional support that the claimant will need at their subsequent interviews, and whether or not the PA interview should be undertaken in the home.
Variants of the R&O stage will be tested in the November pilots, particularly with the use of call-centre technology. Already in operation within some Benefits Agency Offices, the 2nd phase pilots will provide for the R&O to be undertaken by phone. Although it will not be possible to undertake subsequent PA interviews by phone, this will provide greater access to the SWFG, particularly for those living in rural areas.
It is also envisaged that the 3rd phase pilots will test this approach through private/voluntary sector involvement. Whether or not contracts will be awarded to partnerships offering to provide the whole gateway process will come to light in September when the tendering process has been completed.
The Personal Adviser
Once completed the R&O stage, the claimants will undertake their first interview with their PA. The PA will be the main point of contact for the claimant with the social security system and they will remain with the same PA throughout their time on the SWFG. Experience form the New Deals indicates that the allocation of a PA, offering advice, guidance and signposting to training and specialist support, can greatly enhance employment prospects for the unemployed.
One success measure of the SWFG, developed through the PAs, will be a positive change in the relationship between benefit recipients and the Government Agencies they come into contact with. In recognising that there is considerable scope for improvement upon current relationships, particularly between claimants and the Benefits Agency, the PA must move the emphasis away from purely benefit administration to one of support and empowerment. This will be achieved through the dual focus of the adviser: providing access to and advice about appropriate benefits; and improving employability through access to training, specialist support and intense jobsearch.
The ES evaluation of the New Deal Gateway recognises the value of the relationship between the young person and their Adviser and says that it is of "key importance irrespective of time on the programme." With such an important role, the environment and parameters in which the claimant-adviser relationship occurs will be established early on in the process and made clear to all concerned. What the claimant can expect from their adviser, together with an understanding of the boundaries in which they operate, will add greatly to the process of building trust between not only the claimant and their adviser, but also between the claimant and the State.
In the past, those not in receipt of JSA have not been able to benefit from the more individually tailored approach practised by the Employment Service. Extending this approach to all SWFG participants is one of the most significant aspects of the programme.
The focus and emphasis of the PA is a high risk strategy as there will be the expectation that they will be "all things to all people". Creating a system where there are numerous advisers all providing the same generalist advice may lead to a dilution of support and advice services. In the guidance, the Government has clearly listened to organisations who have been calling for a case management approach to the process.
Personal Advisers will be Case Managers, in much the same way as General Practitioners act as case managers within the health care system. This fits well with the analogy made earlier about the R&O advisers being Paramedics/Triage Nurses. A number of highly skilled and trained Personal Advisers will always act as the point of contact and oversee the gateway provision. It is envisaged that working with them will be a support team who will undertake much of the benefit administration, claim checks and day-to-day operation of the case. This will then free-up the Personal Adviser to dedicate time to the claimant and build a relationship of trust, as well as managing every aspect of their progression through the SWFG.
Advice, Support & Guidance
The adviser can not be expected to provide all of the support and guidance, particularly where there is a more appropriate agency or team available, but they should have an overview of the claimants progress. To reduce the levels of duplication the adviser will be able to co-ordinate the provision and draw together all of the agencies working with the claimant.
The role of the PA is crucial to the success of the SWFG. At a recent meeting between the ES, BA and representatives from the voluntary sector, it was agreed that the critical success factor for the individual will be the relationship between the PA and the claimant. It is with the PA and the delivery of the PA system that the SWFG will be judged by its users.
Ambitious requirements are being placed on PAs for the breadth of support and accurate, up-to-date advice and guidance. PAs must be equipped with appropriate diagnostic tools, and trained in the use of these tools, to undertake a thorough assessment of need and ability at the interview or subsequent stages. They must have access to a wide range of information and become proficient in the application of benefit regulations and be able to undertake better-off calculations. They should also have a knowledge of the local labour market and know how to access training, programmes, and specialist support. Knowledge of forthcoming programme developments, such as Individual Learning Accounts and Employment Zones, are also essential.
This is a much more radical approach and will require a substantial investment into the skills and knowledge base of the advisers. It will add considerable value to the programme and maintain continuity and provide a single reference point at all times for the claimant.
The capacity of the SWFG to operate such a holistic approach is an important consideration. Resources, in the first instance, are being targeted towards PAs to ensure that they are well trained, resourced and supported to undertake the multi-functions required.
The SWFG Action Plan
All claimants going through the SWFG process will be encouraged, together with their PA, to develop an action plan for moving back into work. This could include an identification of barriers and steps needed to overcome them, advice and guidance on jobsearch techniques, activity to be undertaken by both the claimant and the adviser, and identification and access to available training and support. Through this action plan, the claimant and adviser will decide whether there is a need for future caseloading.
For JSA claimants, the SWFG interview will be used to agree their JSA Action Plan and then they will automatically progress onto caseloading. Whilst there are no moves to re-cast the entitlement rules for adult training or other ES product to enhance early entry, JSA claimants can opt to consider a SWFG action plan as well as their JSA action plan. Given that the focus and design of the SWFG action plan and PA system is different from current JSA processes, this is a welcome addition. A SWFG action plan will be able to identify barriers and seek ways of addressing them much earlier in the process for JSA claimants. Unfortunately though, without a re-casting of entitlement, JSA claimants may still be forced into unnecessary job search for 6 months before they can access provision which can be identified at the beginning with their SWFG PA.
Housing Benefit (HB), or more importantly its administration, remains the weak link in the SWFG process. A recent report published by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (NACAB) highlights the short comings of the HB system. Evidence collected from nearly 500 Bureaux across the country paints a disturbing picture of the delays experienced in the system and the resulting ramifications for tenants such as eviction, homelessness and mounting court costs.
The report details how problems arise from the moment a claim is made. The responsiveness of HB sections in local authorities seriously undermines confidence in the social security system. The new rules allowing for the date of claim to be actioned from the first point of contact with the R&O Adviser should alleviate some of the worst excesses of the re-occurring struggle within the claim process. But this does not address the fundamental problems with HB - that they remain outside of the Benefit Agency remit and the delays experienced between completing initial forms and the final allocation are ever increasing.
NACAB also points towards the requirement to inform the LA of every change in circumstances as one which causes increased problems. The author comments that "this is in itself onerous and a source of confusion for claimants as well as leading to delays whilst housing benefit is recalculated ... the scope for delay, error and misunderstanding in this procedure is huge, and many CABx report clients facing gaps in claims and resultant rent arrears, even though there may be no dispute over the fact that the claimant remains within the means test for entitlement to housing benefit."
For the SWFG to be a success, claimants must be able to have confidence in the entire social security system, something that HB administration does not encourage. In developing a holistic approach to social security, the Government must be concerned with HB administration, and consideration must be given to the risk which current practices pose on the success of the SWFG.
Caseloading, Advocacy and In-work support
The final stage of the SWFG, after the initial PA interview, is caseloading. Not uncommon within ES processes, caseloading will allow claimants to develop and review their action plans on a continuous basis. The guidance indicates that where a non-JSA claimant spends more that one year in the SWFG, it is expected that they will be interviewed at least three times, but they can access this provision on a more regular basis if they so wish. Experience of the 1-2-1 caseload interviews has shown that this approach yields more positive outcomes.
As part of this caseloading, the SWFG will make provision for two substantial developments, particularly for non-JSA claimants: advocacy and in-work support. Advocacy will be available for certain claimants where it is felt by the PA that their progress will benefit from this approach. The guidance gives examples of this such as helping fill out forms or making phone call to employers or specialist providers. Claimants will also be able to bring advocates with them to interviews and liaise with the PA. This of course will only be undertaken with the consent of the claimant. Whilst the overall approach within the SWFG will be one of empowerment, this important provision will further aid the processes for many disadvantaged claimants.
The second element, in-work support, is a further extension of the provision currently available to disabled claimants through the Disability Employment Advisers. Workers in the homelessness field have been aware for some time that support for individuals can not stop when they have found permanent accommodation. They have found that providing support to people whilst in their new accommodation has resulted in increased levels of sustainability. The same is also true for people moving into work. Cutting-off support at such a crucial time could mean that people find it hard to sustain employment.
The SWFG provides this opportunity to claimants and sets no time limit on the availability of in-work support. Newly established workers will be able to re-contact their PA, if they haven’t already agreed a package of support, if they feel they need further help. This is a crucial development for sustaining work for those who have spent some time on benefits and are apprehensive about moving back into the labour market.
The SWFG will provide a much more streamlined service for claimants and looks to become one of the most substantial welfare reforms of the current Government. We can take comfort in the knowledge that the Government is not rushing into this programme with the speed of the New Deal for 18-24 year olds, and that the cautious roll-out of the programme through three pilots will enable a more thorough evaluation. Also, discussions with departmental officials have shown that they have learnt from the mistakes of the New Deal, particularly around issues of management support and involvement, and that they are more prepared to deal with the task ahead. It is envisaged that the building block of the SWFG, the Personal Adviser, will be adequately supported and effective in delivering a holistic and individually-focused system.
Though I must end on a cautionary note. Reforming the benefit system in this way is, in itself, not enough. The introduction of the SWFG will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the administration and delivery of the social security system, however the underlying weakness of the benefits system is not in its administration, but in the design of the benefits themselves. A wholesale re-design of welfare benefits is needed which addresses the restrictive requirements which actively discourage labour market attachment. Urgent consideration must be given to the inadequate earnings disregards and delayed access to training which force claimants to refuse casual work and inhibits their employability.
In addition, the punitive nature of Housing Benefit, through its design and administration, must also be addressed. Given the significant delays in the system and fear that any re-assessment of HB will result in further delays, it is unsurprising that research into HB fraud showed that as much as 70% apparent ‘fraud’ is due to failure to report a change in circumstance. Experience of the HB system is one of maladministration and benefit awards which are lower than housing costs, forcing many claimants to live below poverty levels after all essential housing costs are paid.
The SWFG presents an opportunity to the Government to dramatically improve the erratic and widely diverging service standards for HB administration which could involve adoption of common working parctices, IT applications and client-centred culture. A more radical approach could also be to remove HB from local authorities and place it under the remit of the Benefits Agency. An improved HB service will not only encourage confidence in the entire social security system, but could also bring HB in-line with all other welfare benefits, particularly in terms of the appeals and decision making procedures.