The Work and Pensions Committee says the employment support service for in-work claimants of Universal Credit (UC) holds the potential to be the most significant welfare reform since 1948, but realising this potential means a steep on-the-job learning curve, as the policy appears to be untried anywhere in the world.
Work Coaches: a new kind of public servant
The employment support service, delivered through Work Coaches in Job Centre Plus, will encourage working claimants to increase their earnings through taking on extra work or gaining higher wages. UC claimants will be required to take mandatory actions to these ends. While such support and requirements are common for out-of-work claimants, for in-work claimants this is a radical policy departure.
Supporting in-work claimants will require Work Coaches to have additional and enhanced skills. Should the pilot be developed into a full national service, around one million working people will be subject to some form of in-work requirements. This will be resource-intensive at a time when DWP budgets are stretched.
Given there is no comprehensive evidence anywhere on how to run an effective in-work service, the DWP will be learning as it develops this innovation. The Committee says:
- for the reform to work, it must help confront the structural or personal barriers in-work claimants face to taking on more work, such as a lack of access to childcare and limited opportunities to take on extra hours or new jobs
- the question of applying proposed sanctions is complex: employed people self-evidently do not lack the motivation to work. The use of financial sanctions for in-work claimants must be applied very differently to those for out-of-work claimants
- a successful in-work service will also require partnership between JCP and employers to a degree not seen before.
Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee said:
"The in-work service promises progress in finally breaking the cycle of people getting stuck in low pay, low prospects employment. We congratulate the Government for developing this innovation. As far as we can tell, nothing like this has been tried anywhere else in the world. This is a very different kind of welfare, which will require developing a new kind of public servant."