Key questions on Help to Work

Ramzi Suleiman was at NCVO between January 2013 and December 2014, leading on NCVO’s Work Programme initiatives and running the work shadowing ‘Day in the Life…’ scheme. Ramzi has left NCVO, but his posts are kept here for reference purposes.

In this information briefing on Help to Work (PDF), I have outlined what Help to Work entails. Help to Work is the government’s recently announced programme for JSA claimants leaving the Work Programme. Help to Work involves JSA claimants who have been on the Work Programme for two years, without finding a job, being ‘handed back’ to Job Centre Plus. JCP advisors then asses the individual and place them one of three routes available – the Mandatory Intervention Regime (MIR), Community Work Placements (CWP) or Daily JCP Sign-Ins.

There are some encouraging aspects within Help to Work. In particular, the seeming focus on the service users’ needs and not the benefit they are claiming is a step in the right direction. The freedom given to JCP Advisors and managers to bring in local services based on the individual need of the service user should also be seen as positive. However, the success of these steps will depend on how service users are assessed and JCP’s engagement of local service providers.

As well as some of the positive steps above, there are still some key questions about the programme including concerns around:

  • the assessment of service users
  • how Help to Work fits into the wider welfare to work programmes
  • the sanctions backing up this programme and the distinction between volunteering and mandated work placements.

Assessment of service users

Since the announcement of the Work Programme in 2010/11, NCVO has suggested that service users should be categorised in terms of their needs and not the benefits they receive and that the support they receive should be built around their individual circumstances.

Help to Work seems to be a step in that direction with JCP staff tasked with assessing Help to Work service users who will all be JSA claimants. JCP Advisors will then decide which route is most appropriate for that individual. We note that DWP expect roughly the same number of service users to be referred to each route available on Help to Work.

This raises some important questions…


  • How did DWP come to the expectation that each route available to service users on Help to Work will receive one-third of eligible service users?
  • What, if any, training will JCP advisors receive to properly asses service user needs and therefore which route is most appropriate for them?
  • What flexibility will DWP build into the Programme to allow for a larger number of referrals to CWP which appears to be the most expensive route?
  • Do service users have a right to re dress if they believe that they have been placed in the wrong route?
  • What engagement has there been / will there be to ensure local charities are given the opportunity to use their skills and expertise with hard to help service users?

The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion have pointed out that single parent who received support from a trained Lone Parent Advisors were more satisfied with the service they received compared to single parents that did not. This suggests that specially trained JCP staff provide better service to service users. Training JCP staff in dealing with many of the challenges faced by Work Programme returners should help engagement with the programme which could lead to a better performing programme.

Help to Work and wider welfare-to-work programmes

VCS involvement

NCVO’s Special Interest Group of Work Programme sub-contractors and informal group of charities discussing welfare reforms that NCVO also run, both cautiously welcomed some of the provisions that may become available on Mandatory Intervention Regime. The VCS is well placed to help those furthest from the labour market, and we welcome JCP engaging with local VCS organisations in an attempt to provide the individualised and appropriate support for service users who have complex or multiple barriers.

We hope that this will mean that service users will receive the individualised help they require and that the VCS are enabled to use their expertise and knowledge. VCS involvement will depend on meaningful engagement and communications between JCP and the VCS, as well as appropriate and sustainable financial arrangements.

Help to Work and its place in wider welfare to work programmes

There is also a major question about the timing of this intervention and how it fits into wider welfare-to-work programmes. As a result of the way DWP categorised service users on the Work Programme into benefit groups rather than individual needs, many of the service users who will be referred to Help to Work will have not got the help they needed from the Work Programme. If, as suggested by this programme, it is possible to assess and identify service users with complex needs but happen to be claiming JSA, then the question must be: why wait until they have gone through two years of the Work Programme before they receive the individualised support they need?

By leaving them on the Work Programme for two years, service users will be even further from the labour market than when they were initially referred to it. Not only have their fundamental barriers not been addressed but their morale and motivation would have negatively affected by the experience of being parked. NCVO would suggest – as we have in the past – that tailored support for those furthest from the labour market will help them overcome those barriers and towards employment. However, if this level of support is not being provided by the Work Programme, then ideally this specialist provision should be made available before service users are referred to the Work Programme.

We understand that this may be a long term aspiration. In the short term DWP could look into the possibility of ‘siphoning’ service users claiming JSA, who are assed as having multiple or complex needs and currently on the Work Programme – on to some of the services available on Mandatory Intervention Regime.

Sanctions backing of programme

Some of our members were very concerned about the sanctions that service users could face for not complying with aspects of this programme. A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report showed that there has been little research into the long term impact of sanctions. The report showed that in the European systems, although there was a positive short term impact in terms of reducing unemployment, the employment gained was often poorly paid and unstable. It concludes that sanctions often harm those with complex or multiple barriers, and the sanctions themselves (as opposed to the threat of sanctions) do little to encourage motivation in job seekers. The JRF report recommends that the government consider the wider non-employment related spill over effect of sanction policies on, for example crime, health and poverty.

Mandated work placements not to be conflated with volunteering

NCVO sought and received assurances from DWP that mandated Community Work Placements, and any other sanctions backed placements, will not be conflated with volunteering.

Volunteering can be a great way of gaining skills towards employment whilst giving something back to your community; however, it must be voluntarily entered into by individuals. DWP have told us that they will keep clear the distinction between volunteering and mandated placements.

Service users can be referred to Volunteer centres under the Mandatory Intervention Regime if the JCP advisors deem this necessary and appropriate for the individual service user. NCVO have already been in touch with DWP about the issues this raises in terms of a volunteer centres capacity to handle a high number of referrals.

DWP have sent out a memo to Local Partnership managers reminding them of the importance of clear, consistent and regular communication between JCP and local volunteer centres.

We will closely monitor its development and VCS involvement with the Programme. DWP have recognised a lot of the short comings in the Work Programme and want to develop a more effective welfare to work programme. NCVO believe that the VCS are well placed to support the unemployed towards and into employment, and will try to ensure that the VCS are given a chance to provide the services and support they are often best placed to.

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