Ruth Porter

A bold plan to make welfare more personalised and responsive

A bold plan to make welfare more personalised and responsive
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Jobs must surely be one of the great success stories of this government:

1.8 million more people in work, and unemployment at its lowest level since

2008. Increasingly the coalition's welfare reforms are taking the plaudits for

this successful turnaround.

This success will only continue as the reforms bed in. The roll out of

Universal Credit is important, not just because of how it simplifies the system

and improves incentives, but also because once there is proper infrastructure

in place it will be possible to move to a new generation of more personalised

welfare services.

The next critical step is to ensure that the hardest to help - people with

multiple challenges - are given the assistance they need to help them into

training and ultimately one day to find a sustainable job. When you consider

that the UK government estimates that there are some 120,000 'troubled

families' (defined as having at least five out of seven major problems) and

that as many as 18 per centĀ of the working-age population suffer from a mental health problem, you get a sense of how complex the situations many people face are.

Although there are some specific schemes targeted at these people, for many

others who don't meet the exact criteria services can be confusing and

inefficient: with duplication and multiple points of contact.

Giving a more personalised service to the most vulnerableĀ  is at the core

of a new Policy Exchange report Joined up welfare. We suggest a radical overhaul to Jobcentre Plus, turning it into a central hub for services and spinning off the employment services section of it as a mutual that competes with charities and companies.

Competition drives improvement. We have seen with free schools the power of

allowing tailored niche providers to spring up. There are lessons here for

welfare reformers. Great strides have been made with the Work Programme, which

has shown the power of opening up service provision and payment based on results.

But the question is, what next?

Analysis by Policy Exchange has estimated that only 36 per cent of JSA

claimants would find a job within six months of claiming benefits and keep it

over the whole of a seven-eight month period. Although these stats are a few

years old, it is reasonable to assume that one of the groups which Jobcentres

particularly struggle to help are those that face myriad difficulties.

We are proposing that services are brought together into Citizen Support

Centres: a single point of access for government services, like in Canada.

These could be co-located in libraries and essentially would be an expanded

version of the current assessment role of Job Centres. Similar to the

Australian system, they would effectively act as the primary and central hub

for accessing government services, enabling advisors to identify an

individual's specific barriers to work and suggesting providers that could help

meet that person's needs. The advisor would also show the success rate of each

provider using comparison data to help the jobseeker make a more informed

decision about which providers are most appropriate for them.

Instead of the budget being allocated directly from central government to

different providers, as is currently the case, the money would be allocated to

the individual claimant and then funnelled to the charity or company of choice,

which is paid on the outcomes it achieves. If someone had to access services

with multiple suppliers, then one provider would be designated as the

individual's case-holder responsible for liaising with the others.

The part of Jobcentre Plus that provides employment services would be

mutualised and could compete with private companies and charities to help

people into work.

This is a bold plan; but it must happen. There is a consensus growing around

the need for a more personalised approach to welfare, and, after the rollout of

universal credit, the ability to deliver it won't be far off.

Ruth Porter is Head of Economics and Social Policy at Policy Exchange.