In addition, Public Accounts Committee expresses concern at shortcomings in the Department's data on diversity and disadvantaged groups making it 'impossible to measure its effectiveness' or explain 'shocking inequality' in unemployment
While the context around the government's Covid-related employment programmes has moved on, the DWP has failed to adapt or change its plans, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said.
In a new report, DWP Employment Support, the PAC examines the DWP's response to the anticipated rise in unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the effectiveness of the support provided, in particular the £1.9 billion Kickstart scheme - which aims to create jobs and provide employability support for young people on universal credit who may be at risk of long-term unemployment - and the three-year, £2.9 billion Restart scheme - which aims to help people who are already long-term unemployed into sustained employment.
However, noting that the Kickstart scheme was announced in the early days of the pandemic (July 2020) as part of the government's Plan for Jobs, the PAC points out that a significantly different labour market has since emerged, and that -
'Despite the much lower and later peak of unemployment that the Department now expects, the extension of furlough until September 2021 and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting that job vacancies in most industries are now above their pre-pandemic levels, the Department has not made any changes to the timing or scale of Kickstart. The Department remains committed to creating 250,000 Kickstart job-starts by the end of December 2021, closing the scheme to new applicants at the point unemployment is expected to peak, and with the busiest months for Kickstart job starts expected to coincide with the reopening of the economy.'
In addition, the Committee questions the Department's support for ethnic minority and disadvantaged groups -
- the Department can not readily explain the 'shocking inequality' highlighted in ONS statistics that show that while unemployment for young black people aged 16 to 24 had increased from 24.5 per cent in the period October to December 2019 to 41.6 per cent over the same period in 2020, unemployment for young white people had only increased from 10.1 per cent to 12.4 per cent;
- the Department has relatively few programmes targeted directly at people from minority ethnic communities, and instead expects work coaches and providers to tailor their national programmes to individuals;
- the Department’s current focus is on minimising the impact of the downturn on unemployment, particularly on young people and the long-term unemployed, to reduce the ‘scarring’ effect of unemployment - this focus on getting people into any form of employment risks neglecting its 'ambitions' around supporting disabled people to work and supporting people on low pay to progress; and
- the DWP's shortcomings in its data on diversity and disadvantage among universal credit claimants are presenting a barrier to its evaluation of the effectiveness of its schemes for different groups robustly.
Accordingly, the PAC sets out a series of recommendations for the Department, including that it should -
- monitor the emerging impact of the pandemic on the labour market closely and adapt its programmes quickly as the full impact on different groups becomes clearer, to ensure that it provides employment support where and when it is most needed;
- write to the Committee by October 2021 with an explanation of how its contingency plans will ensure it can continue to provide its employment support alongside administering new claims in the event of a second surge in new claims, and avoid the scarring effect of unemployment and disruption to the recovery;
- obtain good-quality diversity data for all claimants and ensure that its evaluations of all of its employment support programmes include an assessment of the impact for different groups, whether employment support schemes are reaching and working for everyone, and that no groups are left behind;
- work with the ONS to provide more regular statistics on the claimant count and unemployment rates broken down by ethnicity and age;
- use the Health and Disability Green Paper and consultation to clarify how it will support disabled people and people with health conditions, and publish the National Disability Strategy;
- respond to the recommendations made by the In-work progression Commission to support people in low-pay employment to progress, including setting out how it will tackle the long-term effects of the pandemic on the jobs market, disabled people, and in particular those who suffer from long Covid;
- produce a quarterly statistical publication and regular data updates on measures such as the take-up, participation among different groups, and job outcomes of its schemes, including at a granular, local level;
- seek regular structured feedback from local authorities and employers on its employment support;
- commit to undertaking and publishing a full evaluation by the end of 2022 of how well its work coaches provide employment support and how consistently they apply their judgement; and
- gather and use systematic feedback on claimant’s satisfaction with their work coaches, the service at the jobcentre, and how the jobcentre could be improved.
Chair of the PAC Meg Hillier said today -
'In response to the pandemic, DWP has increased spending on employment programmes a staggering eight-fold in the space of a year. But there is a lack of curiosity about the impact of the policies it’s implementing.
When we are talking about the long-term prospects of a generation of our young people, and the extraordinary differential in job losses among young black people this needs serious attention now or a whole generation will be scarred. This needs to be a real focus now to avoid embedding inequality of opportunity over decades.'
For more information, see DWP unable to explain 'shocking inequality' as unemployment among young black people surges to 41.6 per cent in pandemic from parliament.uk