Massive unemployment as a consequence of the lockdown is overwhelming employment support services. There is also a danger that this turns into long term unemployment for many hundreds of thousands of jobseekers. In addition, disabled and disadvantaged job seekers will be displaced, as new ones compete with them for fewer jobs.

In response, the government has launched a tender for Employment and Health Related Services provision (CAEHRS). Prospective Tier 1 partners will submit their bids for seven regional contracts by Monday 3 August for contracts worth £1.5bn a year that will run for up to five years.

We believe successful bidders will need to work effectively with local partners to be successful. The report Employment Response to Coronavirus by industry expert Mark Cosens calls for the crisis to be addressed by the commissioning of more effective and better co-ordinated local employment services. It takes in the views of over 150 employment and skills sector experts, including leads from local authorities, combined authorities and LEPs and argues for reform of the employment and skills system.

A new type of employment support is needed

The report finds that capacity-building existing services will not be sufficient and that specialist programmes such as the Work and Health Programme are not right for more mainstream job seekers to be referred to. Furthermore, if mainstream job seekers flood into specialist support, it will be bad for disabled and disadvantaged participants. Displacement on the supply side of the labour market will compound displacement on the demand side. Disabled and socially disadvantaged job seekers will therefore need careful support and protection. Local authorities are well placed to focus on and fulfil this responsibility.

The Employment Response to Coronavirus highlights that the right type of services must be available to meet particular job seeker needs. The report sets out the challenge to localise employment services more effectively to achieve this, and at scale. Commissioning a new type of integrated employment and skills programme is a key recommendation. So is addressing the systemic mismatch of IAG and skills services with employment support. The report recommends a regional approach to developing better employment, skills and IAG ecosystems. A new DWP programme will need to drive a much better alignment of supply and demand in a variety of dynamic labour markets.

Investment, devolution and targeting of the Adult Education Budget will help

The report also aligns with the Local Government Association’s recommendation which called for the Adult Education Budget (AEB) to be doubled from £1.5 billion to £3 billion. More and more people will need to access a range of entry-level courses, through to technical and professional qualifications, along with interview support and employability and confidence-boosting programmes. They will need courses to retrain, upskill or progress in work. The report therefore recommends more devolution, and intelligent use of AEB underspend, to simultaneously address the unemployment avalanche and the skills challenges that COVID-19 has exacerbated.

Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of the North Tyne Combined Authority, recently suggested that regional devolution of the proposed National Skills Fund could also allow greater flexibility to address skills shortages at the local level. This is also in line with the report’s recommendations.

Identify and then market services to eligible households

Centrally procured employment programmes have also struggled to engage people with the support they have to offer. This is traditionally because they tend to have mandated referral routes, for example via Jobcentre Plus, and don’t actively market the employment service to eligible households.

Local authorities are showing they can do better, using administrative data to target support to households based on the type of benefit they are receiving, and how long they have been looking for work. These two factors are strong predictors of a person’s distance from the labour market, and the type of support they can most benefit from.

gif to demonstrate software useful to the employment support services sector

Councils can proactively identify and target households eligible for employment support services using a LIFT dashboard

As DWP selects a range of providers for the new Commercial Agreement for Employment and Health Related Services (CAEHRS), LEPs and Local authorities will need to engage proactively and help to develop a more localised system which brings added funding and the right type of added capacity to their areas and localities. This report provides some sound principles and examples of best practice that can help to achieve this.

Help available now for people whose income is affected by Coronavirus

If your income is affected by Coronavirus you may be able to claim Sick Pay or benefits. View Policy in Practice’s up to date Coronavirus welfare support page for details. Our simple Benefits Calculator is listed on GOV.UK and is free. Our advanced calculator with built-in features to help frontline advisors give the best support they can is available here. It features an earnings slider that shows how your income will change if you can increase hours or salary.

Mark Cosens is a Fellow of the Institute of Employability Professionals. Contact him via 07796095152, mark.cosens.consult@gmail.com or LinkedIn.

Policy in Practice is the market leading benefit and employment advice solution for the Work and Health Programme providers, the majority of whom license our Benefit and Budgeting Calculator to deliver their provision. We are now partnering with Tier 1 providers on the CAEHRS contract, please email hello@policyinpractice.co.uk to learn more.

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