Jonathon Graham (policy officer, Homeless Link)
The Work and Pensions Select Committee has today launched its report into the effectiveness of current Welfare-to-Work provision. The report follows an extensive inquiry, in which the Committee received oral and written evidence from a range of expert witnesses and specialist providers as to the value of national employment initiatives like the Work Programme.
As part of the inquiry, Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) submitted a response outlining our views on how the provision of specialist employment support could be improved for those who experience problems with homelessness, substance misuse, offending and mental ill-health, all at the same time.
This response was produced in partnership with people with direct experience of multiple needs and the services and staff who support them on a daily basis. It’s an example of how our Voices from the Frontline project, supported by the LankellyChase Foundation, is changing the way we approach opportunities to influence policy.
MEAM supports many of the conclusions reached by the Committee, including its central argument that future employment programmes must substantially improve their focus on “unemployed people with challenging problems such as drug and alcohol addiction, illiteracy and innumeracy, homelessness and very weak employment history.”
Further to this central recommendation, we are also pleased to note the Committee’s acknowledgement of a number of key points raised in our submission, including:
- the need to identify key indicators of a chaotic lifestyle – “contact with the criminal justice system”, “mental ill-health”, “substance misuse” and ‘homelessness’ – “at an early stage in benefit claims to enable referral to the right support at the right time”;
- the benefits of greater “integration with other locally run services, including health, housing, education and skills, and support for alcohol and drug addiction”; and
- the development of a more nuanced model, which supports referrals to smaller “specialist subcontractors with the expertise to support people with more complex needs.”
If implemented, these positive recommendations mark an important step towards ensuring that no one is written off due to the complexity of their problems. However, whilst returning to work represents an important motivation and outcome for many of the 58,000 individuals across England with the most severe multiple needs, their journey towards employment will often be more complex and take significantly longer than those who are closer to being “work ready”.
As a result, it is vital that this group are not subjected to a single new programme based solely on back-to-work incentives. By contrast, efforts to improve support for these 58,000 individuals should initially focus on the better coordination of existing local services to stabilise people’s lives. The emphasis could then, in the longer term, move towards a return to work.