Ruth Porter

A bold plan to make welfare more personalised and responsive

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 cent 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 vulnerable  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.

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