Employment support services provided by local job centres have come under heavy criticism in a recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
The study suggests that the current approach, based on financial conditionality, is failing both job seekers and employers, leading to inappropriate job applications and wasted resources.
IPPR calls for a complete overhaul of Jobcentre support services to create a new universal service focused on quality rather than quantity.
Jobcentre services traditionally operate on the principle of conditionality, where individuals risk reduced or stopped financial support if they fail to meet specific requirements.
This approach has led to jobseekers applying for positions they are ill-suited for, purely to meet application targets and avoid sanctions. Employers, frustrated with the influx of unsuitable applicants, have expressed dissatisfaction with the system.
A “waste of time”
One security company employer described recruiting through Jobcentres as a “waste of their time and a waste of my time” and advocated for work coaches to do more to support the right candidates in applying for suitable positions.
The use of sanctions has also proven ineffective for job seekers. It assumes that individuals on low incomes are unwilling to improve their situations voluntarily, overlooking the many barriers they may face, such as limited access to childcare, low self-confidence, high travel costs, or health conditions.
The Jobcentre’s approach to employment, labelled as “Any Job, Better Job, Career” (ABC), encourages applicants to seek any role generating some earnings initially. However, it often fails to provide the necessary support for job seekers to progress in their careers or work toward their desired fields.
Ella, a jobseeker with a higher education certificate in social studies, recounted her experience of receiving no tailored support and being forced to take a retail job. She said, “There’s nothing to personalise your job search with your experiences, your education, your employment history, or anything to differentiate you from anyone else… any job they’d throw at me I’d have to take, otherwise I would be sanctioned.”
The IPPR’s report recommends the creation of a new public employment service, available to all who need it. Key recommendations include:
- Professionalising the role of Jobcentre work coaches, with a review of responsibilities and skills, to offer tailored advice and support, including advice on flexible work opportunities and employer collaboration.
- Exempting people with health conditions and single parents from sanctions as a first step toward reducing conditionality in the employment support service.
- Aligning employment support with the government’s industrial strategy, particularly for transitioning to a net-zero economy.
- Devolving decisions on employment support and skills to devolved nations and combined authorities, fostering collaboration with local governments and community groups.
Melanie Wilkes, associate director for work and the welfare state at IPPR, emphasised the need for change, stating, “Employment support services provide support in name only, but they simply aren’t working. They are failing both businesses and job seekers. The Jobcentre’s approach of relying on sanctions to push people into jobs reinforces insecure, poor quality work and is simply a waste of everyone’s time.”
Henry Parkes, IPPR principal research fellow and co-author of the report, added, “Rethinking the system of employment support, so that work coaches can focus on finding solutions that work for both employees and employers, should be the first step towards a new universal service that works better for everyone – and for the UK economy.”
In light of these findings, IPPR’s call for reform suggests that a more effective and tailored approach to employment support is needed to benefit both job seekers and employers, ensuring a more efficient workforce for the UK.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.