Gerry Steinberg MPIn the House...

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Welfare to Work: Tackling the Barriers to the Employment of Older People (HC 1249-i)

Public Accounts Committee 15 Nov 2004

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Evidence given by Sir Richard Mottram KCB, Permanent Secretary, and Mr David Anderson, Chief Executive, Jobcentre Plus, Department for Work and Pensions; and Mr Stephen Marston, Director of the Adult Learning Group, Department for Education and Skills.

Q54 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Sir Richard, it is peculiar because, ten years ago, we would not have been doing a report like this, would we? We would be doing a report on how we could get 50 year olds out of work so that we could get young people into work.

Sir Richard Mottram: Yes. That could be part of the problem though, could it not?

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Yes. I am very shortly to become a member of this club.

Chairman: You are not going to get incapacity benefit!

Q55 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): To get on to incapacity benefit would be quite nice! A lot of people surveyed have been incapacitated for a long time. Seriously, I am going to become a member of this club very shortly and it seems to me that in fact we have not heard a great deal about New Deal 50 Plus. This is substantiated on page 44 at point 3.7 where it says, "The results of our customer research in the three locations suggest that they have a low awareness of the local services available to help improve their employment prospects, and how to access them. This includes Jobcentre Plus Programmes, information, advice and guidance services and other local services." In other words, presumably a lot of people did not know there was such a thing going. Why is that? It does not sound much of a successful scheme, Mr Anderson.

Mr Anderson: There are a number of reasons why awareness would be low. First of all, this is a voluntary programme and therefore these people are not forced to come into our offices and hear about it in contrast with other New Deal programmes. The district managers are given a budget to promote this programme and, in recognising the lack of awareness, there is actually an emphasis on guidance for this group being introduced as a result of last year's budget that will actually provide more guidance and more coordination.

The Committee suspended from 5.06 pm to 5.13 pm for a division in the House

Q56 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What you were saying is that you are basically just starting to do something about it now.

Mr Anderson: There was not a budget available last year but there is this year for marketing for this year. The use of it is at the discretion of district managers according to the priority that they give to their own client load in their own area but there clearly is more to do in making people aware of this.

Q57 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So, you have just started to do something about it but the Learning and Skills Council do not seem to be bothered about it at all because, if you have a look at the year end report, it is said that, out of 747 of the skills councils, only seven of them actually take this very seriously at all and the other 40 do not. What are you going to do about that? That does not actually surprise me because my experience of skills councils is that they can always tell you why they cannot do something instead of how they should be able to do something.

Mr Marston: The report rightly identifies the importance of a particular instrument that the LSC use, that is to say quality and diversity compact measures, and seven of the 47 use that instrument to identify older people as one of the aspects of equal opportunities that they want to pursue. The important point to register is that that does not mean that the other 40 therefore are not paying any attention to this but you can come at it in different ways and the learning and skills council are putting a lot of effort into trying to ensure that, across a whole range of these priorities, they have provision in place and they have programmes in place in s wide range of skills and opportunities they are offering. The further progress that we are hoping to make comes through an exercise that has recently been commissioned to look at the way in which each of the 47 is currently addressing older workers and older learners within the range of programmes that they are offering and that will report back in the New Year as the basis for trying to take the best practice which may well be in those seven and make that more general across the piece.

Q58 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So, basically, what you are saying is that although seven of them only appear to put it in their strategy, only 40 are actually doing something but not so transparently.

Mr Marston: They are not using the particular instrument of the quality and diversity compact measures.

Q59 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Do you not think they should?

Mr Marston: The priority for older workers and older learners could be expressed in a number of different ways. It is an aspect of the quality of opportunity but it works in a number of different respects. So, all of the learning skills councils in one way or another will be offering a range of programmes. I would not want to over-cite this particular mechanism.

Q60 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Like country dancing?

Mr Marston: I am sorry to be slow, in what respect like country dancing?

Q61 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You will find the community centres in half the country, particularly in my constituency for example, have over 50s and 60s going to do country dancing and now we are told that only if it is regarded as educational can it qualify for a grant.

Mr Marston: There are two things going on at present. One is, if you take country dancing as an example of what traditionally ---

Q62 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What I am trying to say is that you are wasting your time on not concentrating on where you should be and, frankly, where you are or where they are concentration is on something that it is a total waste of time and energy.

Mr Marston: That is where the LSC is doing a great amount of work in trying to match (inaudible) in the priorities that we have. In the skills strategy that we published in July 2003, we made very clear the priorities that we have and investment we have in public funds. They include, for example, entitlement of a first full level two training which equates to five good GCSEs. The way the LSC are now going about this both for adult and community learning and for their mainstream training programmes in colleges is precisely, as I think you are implying, that it is in recognising the need to prioritise those programmes that will have most effect. So, we are developing skills training for older people and indeed across the adult age range as well as maintaining, which we promised we would do, a full range of personal development and leisure programmes because many people value those as well.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I have been on this Committee now for about four or five years and, when I listen to some of the answers that I get, it is just pure flannel, is it not? It is pure flannel. Never mind, let us move on. After 30 years of being my own boss, I finish very soon and the last thing in the world that I want to do is to go and work for somebody. I could not do it now. I would not mind getting a job - I am being serious now - when I finish here. How do I go about doing that?

Mr Bacon: You set up a website, you advertise.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What should I advertise?

Mr Bacon: You are unique!

Chairman: You could advertise skills in interrogating permanent secretaries!

Q63 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I could become a consultant for one and charge £700 a time.

Sir Richard Mottram: There are businesses of that kind.

Q64 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What provision is there for people like myself starting their own businesses?

Sir Richard Mottram: I do not think that we offer any provision of that kind.

Mr Anderson: There is the Prime initiative which is designed to give people support ---

Sir Richard Mottram: That is the DTI initiative.

Q65 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I have never heard of it.

Mr Anderson: It is a DTI initiative that I think is time limited and is due to run out in March 2006.

Sir Richard Mottram: It is being looked at. You would go to the Small Business Service and ask them for advice.

Q66 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What advice would you give the over 50s or the over 60s for that matter who want to start a business? What advice do they offer me?

Sir Richard Mottram: What advice does Prime give to people? Basically, they will give you help.

Q67 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): They will give me help!

Sir Richard Mottram: They will give you help. I do not know the detail because it is my direct responsibility but there are a number of ---

Q68 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So, I have never heard of it and you have never heard of it. It does not give much chance for anybody else, does it?

Sir Richard Mottram: There are a number of such initiatives around the place and usually the advice you are given is about how to write a business plan, how to get finance and all those sorts of things. If you contact the Small Business Service, they have a whole range of advice. I am not an expert on it, it is not my department, but that is the sort of thing they do. We do it for younger people - it is not relevant here - and help younger people on things like the Prince's Trust which we help co-finance and that would be help on a business plan, a mentor and all sorts of things like that.

Q69 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I should not say this but I am going to. Can you remember when you moved on from the Department of Transport?

Sir Richard Mottram: No, I do not recall that. Was that a significant event?

Q70 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You said something, if I remember rightly, a little phrase that appeared in the press.

Sir Richard Mottram: Yes.

Q71 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I think that is how you sum up over 50s, is it not?

Sir Richard Mottram: Not in the least, no.

Q72 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Good! Incapacity benefit has been touched on. If you have 50% of the over-50s on incapacity benefit, presumably they are supposed to ---

Sir Richard Mottram: No, 50% of those over-50s who are not working are on incapacity benefit.

Q73 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You give a wry smile but, to be on incapacity benefit, you have to be incapacitated to do any job, have you not?

Sir Richard Mottram: You have.

Q74 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Otherwise, you should not be on it in the first place.

Sir Richard Mottram: Yes. You will have been for an assessment.

Q75 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What intrigues me is, if these people are incapacitated and cannot work, how are you going to find them jobs or how can they find jobs if they are supposedly incapacitated in the first place?

Sir Richard Mottram: One of the reasons why once people get on incapacity benefit and have been on it for a certain period of time and they stay on it for a long, long time is because there is no active help encouraging people to think about what they can do and there is no active help to them in, for example, coping with it. For example, if they have a medical problem, there is no targeted active help that supports them in coping with that medical problem while getting into work. What essentially we have created over a very long period of time is a structure where, once people are on this benefit, they have no contact other than to be given their benefit and we did not, in my view, have a sufficient focus on the contribution that work could make if people were given proper support to getting them back into good health, for example. So, it is essentially a problem of, once people have been through this test and they are on the benefit, there is a great risk, particularly in areas where they may believe that there are not employment opportunities suitable for their skills and so on, that they will stay on it and the State has done very little actively to target people to help them back into work and that is what we are testing, a different approach that gives people active support rather than asking them to show essentially what they cannot do and then signing them on to a benefit.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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