Last year we completed an extensive study into how the two contributory benefits for those of working age who are not in paid work: New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance and New Style Employment and Support Allowance. We found much that works well with these benefits. We also found some aspects that could be improved and therefore made fifteen recommendations that would enhance the service for those eligible for contributory benefits and would also make the system easier to operate and administer.
The Department for work and Pensions has responded to our recommendations. We are delighted that the Government has agreed to five of them outright. In particular, our research shows that many New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance recipients will benefit from being able to utilise a Universal Credit-style journal. The commitment to tailored employment support – alongside ensuring that claimants of New Style benefits can access all of the employment programmes available to those receiving Universal Credit by default – is also very welcome. For example it was not clear to us why the Kickstart Scheme, implemented to help young jobseekers avoid long-term unemployment in the aftermath of the pandemic, did not extend to those (admittedly a small number) who were receiving New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance but not Universal Credit.
We are also encouraged that for six recommendations there is either a partial agreement or that the lack of acceptance is only “at this time”. For some we remain hopeful that our suggestion can be adopted when upgrades to the relevant IT systems are being made and therefore we urge the Department for Work and Pensions to revisit these recommendations at the appropriate time. For example, moving the assessment and payment of New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance to a monthly basis would help it operate better in cases where the claimant is also receiving Universal Credit. We also remain convinced that many would benefit from all those applying for Universal Credit having their eligibility for New Style benefits automatically assessed. And the contribution requirements to qualify for these benefits should be reviewed and reassessed in the light of labour market developments and the availability of real time earnings information from HM Revenue and Customs.
Some of our recommendations have not been accepted. In particular the Government feels unable to accept our overarching recommendation that the long-run objective should be to integrate both New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance and New Style Employment and Support Allowance into Universal Credit. Such integration would, at a stroke, eliminate many of the issues we have identified which result from the two separate systems not working well together. Countering this the Government has said that full integration might inadvertently open up Universal Credit eligibility to those who have moved abroad. If this possibility cannot be removed – and we recognise this might require international agreement – then we urge the Government to continue to look for ways to combine the operation of the separate systems that, while short of full integration, could deliver many of the improvements that we are striving for.
Overall we are pleased with our report and the positive engagement we have had from the Department with our findings and recommendations. We would again like to thank all those who contributed to our research – and in particular the claimants and operational staff who took the time to tell us about their experiences.