30 October 2007
EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLICATION OR BROADCAST BEFORE 00.01 HRS TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2007
'MPs welcome Green Paper but express disappointment over missed opportunities to consult over latest proposals for welfare reform.'
The Eighth Report of Session 2006-07 from the Work and Pensions Select Committee, entitled "Full employment and world class skills: Responding to the challenges " (HC 939) will be published on Tuesday 30 October at 00:01.
Drawing on the Committee's conclusions in its recent inquiries into welfare reform, the Report examines the Department for Work and Pensions' Green Paper In work, better off: next steps to full employment, taking into account the recommendations of Lord Leitch in his review of skills in the UK and the Government's response, World Class Skills: Implementing the Leitch Review of Skills in England. The Committee welcomes the commitment to co-ordinating the employment and skills strategies and urges the Government to ensure joint-working strategies between the relevant agencies are developed as soon as possible.
The Committee is surprised and very disappointed to have been given inaccurate information about benefits reform by the Government during its Benefits Simplification inquiry. Despite being repeatedly told by a DWP Minister in oral evidence that the Green Paper would include a response to David Freud's proposals for benefits reform, it failed to do so. Not only is this unacceptable, it is also unfortunate that the Government has missed a key opportunity to consult on Freud's proposals.
The Committee supports the Government's proposals for a new personalised New Deal, which will offer claimants a package of back to work support to suit their individual needs. However, unanswered questions remain around what will happen to existing New Deal contracts. The Committee recommends that, as a matter of urgency, the Government should clarify transitional arrangements and how they will impact upon customers, contractors and Jobcentre Plus staff.
The Committee calls for the Government to explain its proposal to extend conditionality to lone parents whose youngest child is aged seven, as opposed to any other age, and concludes that the Green Paper does not adequately demonstrate why this age is appropriate. In principle, the Committee does not disagree with extending conditionality to more lone parents but it is imperative that lone parents entering employment are financially better off in work than they would be on benefits. The Government must also ensure that lone parents with disabled children are not disadvantaged by increased conditionality and that they have access to appropriate and flexible employment support.
Given the Government's acceptance that finding a job is just one hurdle, the Committee expresses its disappointment that the Green Paper does not ask for views on employment retention and advancement. The Government has wasted an opportunity to canvass views on how to incorporate the aim of sustainable jobs into the contractual structure of provider programmes.
Terry Rooney, Chairman of the Committee, said:
"The Green Paper is a welcome next step in welfare reform but gaps remain in the Government's proposals. The Government should show that the extension of conditionality to more lone parents is supported by evidence and pledge to ensure that all lone parents who do return to work are financially better off by doing so. We must learn the lessons of American welfare reform, where in some states many lone parents moved into work but remained in poverty.
"The UK welfare system should support as many people who can work back into sustainable employment and the Committee has recommended ways for the Government to achieve this in a number of our recent reports.
Sustainability requires more than just jobs - it is crucial that welfare reform and the skills agenda are inextricably linked if we are to encourage more people to succeed in the labour market."