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Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999

4.Welfare to Work

Background

Unemployment has been on a downward trend since the early 1990s. However, some groups – such as those with no or low qualifications, some ethnic minorities and people with a long-term illness or disability – remain vulnerable to longer term unemployment. Unemployment also remains consistently high in some geographical areas.

Within the present system, there is limited flexibility to develop customised solutions in areas of particular need. Only people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) are automatically offered advice on finding work or improving their employability. The New Deals for Young People, the Long-Term Unemployed, Lone Parents and Disabled People provide tailored help through access to a personal adviser. However, they are aimed at specific client groups.

Currently, people have to deal with a number of different institutions when claiming benefits – including the Employment Service, Benefits Agency, local authorities and the Child Support Agency.

The Government is introducing three new Welfare to Work initiatives. These are:

  • ONE, the Government set out its plans for the ONE service in A new contract for welfare: THE GATEWAY TO WORK (Cm 4102, October 1998). ONE will bring together the Employment Service, Benefits Agency and other welfare providers at a single point of contact. New claimants of working age will have access to a personal adviser, who will work with them to assess their potential for employment and help them plan a route to independence.

  • The New Deal for Partners of Unemployed People, launched in April 1999 following pathfinders in Cardiff, Leeds and Tayside. £60 million from the windfall tax has been set aside to provide partners of unemployed people with expert, personalised help to find work. In addition, partners aged 18 – 24 who do not have children will be able to go onto the New Deal for Young People;

  • Employment Zones, which will target intensive and innovative help on areas of particular need. In Employment Zones, personal job accounts will bring together money currently attributable to benefit, training and other programmes and enable these to be used more flexibly, to help clients back to work. The Employment Zones Consultation Paper, published on 2 February 1999, set out detailed plans for implementing Employment Zones. The consultation period ended on 30 April 1999.

The ONE service is being piloted in twelve different areas. The first four pilots began in June 1999. Interviews will initially operate on a voluntary basis for non-JSA claimants, until the provisions of the Act come into force.

The measures in the Act

The Welfare to Work measures in the Act are contained in Part V, sections 57 – 60, and Schedule 7:

Sections 57 and 58 contain the provisions for the ONE service. This will require individuals claiming certain benefits to take part in work-focused interviews as a condition of receipt. It will not place any requirement on them beyond taking part in interviews. (For example, they will not be required to attend training courses or seek work other than where the claimant is on JSA, where such requirements are already in operation.)

The powers in the Act will enable the Government to require people to take part in a work-focused interview with a personal adviser at the point of claim, and further interviews while they are on benefit at specified times. These further interviews would be triggered by a change in their circumstances that might have a bearing on their employability (for example, their children reaching a certain age or the claimant taking up or leaving part time work). Section 58 ensures that local authorities can carry out such interviews with claimants who take part on a voluntary basis. This is over and above the requirements in section 57.

Section 59 and Schedule 7 contain provisions that will require childless couples to make joint claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). It is intended that regulations will prescribe that joint claims will apply to those born after a certain date, with the effect that joint claims will initially apply to young childless couples but gradually extend to cover older childless couples.

The intention of joint claims is to ensure that both partners in childless couples are directly involved in the labour market, to prevent them from becoming dependent on benefit from an early age. Under the new scheme both members of the couple will be claimants with equal rights and responsibilities, rather than the partner being a dependant on the claimant. Those between the ages of 18 and 24 who remain unemployed for six months will go onto the New Deal for Young People. Couples with children will continue to be offered help on a voluntary basis, through the New Deal for Partners of Unemployed People.

Section 60 contains the provisions for implementing Employment Zones. Prototype Employment Zones have been operating under earlier legislation. The new powers in the Act enable schemes to be set up in designated areas where special benefit rules can apply. In order to help participants back to work, the schemes allow them to anticipate funding for up to 6 months’ worth of spending on training and jobsearch, combined with money equivalent to the payments they would normally receive from JSA. The powers in the Act also enable the Secretary of State to provide a wider range of support for activities within the Zones which help people to get and keep work, including support for unemployed people who are seeking to become self-employed.

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Explanatory Notes

Text created by the government department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes were introduced in 1999 and accompany all Public Acts except Appropriation, Consolidated Fund, Finance and Consolidation Acts.

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