EMPLOYMENT support services for people claiming benefits are not working for employers or jobseekers and need to be reformed into a new universal service, according to a new report by IPPR.

Services run by local Jobcentres to help people into and on in work are based on the principle of conditionality – a threat that financial support will be reduced or stopped if requirements are not met. This approach is not working for employers as it leads to people applying for jobs they are entirely unsuitable for, wasting time and resources for businesses, just so they can meet their job application targets and avoid being sanctioned.

One employer for a security company said recruiting through the Jobcentre can often be a “waste of their time and a waste of my time” and added that he would like to see work coaches do more to support the right candidates to apply for the right jobs.

The use of sanctions also does not work for jobseekers, as it rests on an assumption that people on low incomes would not want to take steps to improve their situation of their own free will. It fails to recognise that many people want to work or increase their earnings, but face barriers to doing so, like limited access to childcare, low confidence, high travel costs or living with a health condition.

The Jobcentres ABC approach to employment (‘Any Job, Better Job, Career’) in which people are encouraged to apply for any role which generates some earnings in the first instance, before, in theory, being supported to progress in work and ultimately towards a career, is failing many jobseekers.

One parent, Ella, with a higher education certificate in social studies, was qualified and looking to find suitable work in criminal justice, youth work or court advocacy. However, she received no tailored support and was forced to take a job in retail. She said: “There’s nothing to personalise your job search with your experiences, your education, your employment history or anything to differentiate you from anyone else… any job they’d throw at me I’d have to take, otherwise I would be sanctioned.”

To overcome these problems IPPR recommends the government creates a new public employment service, available to everyone who needs it, which must include:

  • Professionalising the role of Jobcentre work coaches, with a review of responsibilities and skills, to ensure they are able to offer the tailored advice and support that people need, including advising on more flexible work opportunities and working with employers to help deliver these
  • Exempting people with health conditions and single parents from sanctions, as a first step to ‘dialling down’ conditionality in the employment support service – which should eventually be designed to develop and build on individuals’ personal aspirations
  • Working in tandem with wider aims of the government’s industrial strategy, such as supporting people to train for and take new jobs linked to the transition to a net zero economy – including engineering, manufacturing, construction and retrofitting
  • Devolving decisions on employment support and skills to devolved nations and combined authorities, and work more closely with local government and community groups, to ensure the service is well suited to local labour markets and challenges and takes full account of the needs of its local users

Melanie Wilkes, associate director for work and the welfare state at IPPR, said: “Employment support services provide support in name only, but they simply aren’t working. They are failing both businesses and jobseekers. The Jobcentres’ approach of relying on sanctions to push people into jobs reinforces insecure, poor quality work and is simply a waste of everyone’s time. We need a new universal public employment service to help people get into, and progress in meaningful employment.”

Henry Parkes, IPPR principal research fellow and co-author of the report, said: “At a time when our whole economy is being held back by workforce challenges it’s more urgent than ever to ensure everyone can access genuine help finding the jobs that work for them and their wider circumstances.

“Rethinking the system of employment support, so that work coaches can focus on finding solutions that work for both employees and employers, should be the first step towards a new universal service that works better for everyone – and for the UK economy.”

* Read: Working Together: towards a new public employment service here.

* Source: Institute for Public Policy Research