New Universal Credit inquiry launched on in-work progression

By agency reporter
April 5, 2019

In 2016, the Work and Pensions Committee launched an inquiry on 'in-work progression' for people claiming Universal Credit. This is the name for the Government’s policy plan to encourage and support people who are in already in work and claiming Universal Credit to increase their pay, through more hours, or getting a better paying job. The Committee has previously described the plans as “potentially the most significant welfare reform since 1948”. 

    The Committee identified particular concerns, however, about the conditions that could be attached to any new 'support' to assist people trying to increase their income from work. 

    Conditions or 'conditionality' are already attached to job-seeking benefits: the requirements on every claimant who can work, or at least look for work to do so, as a condition of getting the benefit.

    The other side of that is the sanction, a cut to part of the benefit if a claimant fails to meet a condition of the benefit, like meeting with their Work Coach or going on a course, or to a job interview.

    The Committee reported on the deep problems of benefit sanctions in late 2018 and called on the Government not to introduce sanctions for people in work until there was robust evidence to show that they helped people to progress.

    In the context of in-work progression, conditions might include being obliged to seek extra hours of work, or continue to look for higher paid work while in an existing job.

    How this would work in practice, and whether or how sanctions would apply if a claimant could not, for example, take on any extra hours offered because of caring responsibilities, are among the questions the Committee will be looking at.

    Among the concerns the Committee identified in its 2016 inquiry into In-work progression in Universal Credit were:

    • There is not yet comprehensive evidence on how to deliver an effective in-work service
    • JCP work coaches would have to develop new skills and become a new form of public servant
    • The case for in-work conditionality backed up by financial sanctions is untested so far

    The Government did conduct a trial of in-work progression programmes between 2015 and 2018, and has also published reports from four external trials. It has said it will be doing further "research, analysis, tests and trials" in 2019.

    However, in response to some initial queries from the Committee about a new 'in-work progression' conditionality and the potential use of sanctions to back it up, the head of the National Audit Office has urged caution over testing and implementation of the new policy: “In the past, we have seen examples where, in the rush to implement, government has launched programmes without making best use of pilots to test the planned approach.”

    The NAO continues, setting out some basic parameters for evidence-based policy testing including:

    “There should be a clear plan for using the evidence  …  If the Department were to roll out in-work conditionality without completing its work on the evidence base, we would expect it to have a sound mechanism for assessing impact 'in-flight', and a clear plan for using the results of the evaluation to make informed decisions on whether to continue the rollout”

     “Carrying out trials in a live environment can be challenging – technically, ethically and politically” which can lead to “challenges around fairness and potentially confusion over what conditionality applies.”

    The Committee is now holding a follow-up inquiry, to look at the progress the Government is making, the readiness of Jobcentre Plus work coaches, and what more the Government could do to support people to progress in work.

    Frank Field, Chair of the Committee, said: “The Government must approach any 'in-flight' testing with the utmost caution, since it is experimenting on real people’s ability to provide for their family.

    “Ministers need to find out if it works, even more importantly, find out what happens to people for whom it doesn’t work, and here’s a new one: find out what kind of a hand working people actually want to get on in their jobs.”

    The Committee would like to hear views on the following questions from individuals, groups, or organisations:

    • What barriers do people face to progressing in work, either by working more hours or increasing their pay?
    • Do work coaches have the training and tools to support people in work effectively?
    • If not, what further training and tools do they need?
    • What role, if any, should conditionality or sanctions play in encouraging and supporting in-work progression?
    • What evidence is there for what works to help people progress in work?
    • What further evidence does the Government need?
    • What data does the Government need to collect to measure the success of this policy?
    • What more could the Department do to help in-work claimants increase their earnings and progress in work?

    The closing date for written submissions is Friday 26 April 2019.

    * Submit views to the inquiry here

    * Work and Pensions Committee https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/

    [Ekk/6]

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