Supporting out-of-work partnered parents with job search and training: lessons from France
By Abigail Taylor
Throughout 2017 we’ve been running a series of Work and Wages articles exploring in-work poverty and the challenge of supporting people in to decent work. In this latest article, Abigail Taylor compares employment support in the UK with that of France. Abigail’s research illustrates the benefits of a more personalised and person-centred approach to supporting people into work.
The British economy does not exist in a vacuum. The experience of other countries can be very helpful in developing policy solutions. Comparative policy learning was central to my PhD which compared the experiences of coupled parents who were both out of work in Sheffield and Lille, France.
France represents a pertinent comparison since on paper, its nationally run employment service le Pôle Emploi and the locally administered RSA system (employment and social support for beneficiaries of the RSA the main minimum income programme for those aged 25 or over and either unemployed or on a low salary), would seem to offer personalised support with job search similar to that offered by Jobcentre Plus, the Work Programme and Universal Credit.
As has been previously discussed in this newsletter, the quality of jobs offered is vital in determining whether work will lift unemployed people out of poverty. My study suggests personalised and intensive support with job search is also critical. Whilst a recent report, the Future of Jobcentre Plus, (JcP), (Work and Pensions Committee, 20161) stresses the importance of personalised support, my research indicates that French policy may be more successful in supporting claimants into long-term, sustainable employment because it offers more reactive and less procedural support with job search and training.
Many of the couples I interviewed in the UK, particularly fathers, had taken part in government training schemes and desired to work but nonetheless, were long-term unemployed with few prospects of finding regular work. Whilst parents suggested Community Learning Centres offered strong pre-employment support in a supportive atmosphere, courses appeared short-term. Training courses offered by JcP and the Work Programme2 were criticised as too procedural and insufficiently person-focused. Participants implied they rarely inspired them to widen their job aspirations or expand their skills with Work Programme providers instead ‘creaming’ (see Carter and Whitworth, 20153) the most job-ready claimants with those with multiple barriers to employment receiving job search targets rather than training. One father interviewed had been unemployed for six years, having previously worked as a labourer. He described being hindered in finding work by a lack of experience and qualifications. JcP only offered him limited job opportunities, ignoring his job preferences. He added he was unable to set up a gardening company because he did not have a driving licence and funding was unavailable through JcP. In addition, participants in the UK suggested tension with JcP staff and limited support from JcP with things like travel costs.
By contrast, in France, a greater level of tailored support was observed. Parents in France indicated that support available there is more reactive and that claimants build up stronger relationships with work assistance organisations. The way in which the RSA référent system operates at city-level within neighbourhoods and takes a broader focus than JcP appeared important in building trust. Training provision appears longer-term, more comprehensive and more innovative. One father interviewed had been out of work for a year due to his poor qualification level but had received considerably greater support than the father mentioned above in the UK. He was shortly to begin an innovative training programme that built on one of his interests – sport – but combined this with training in how to look for work effectively, confidence building and obtaining a driving licence. The scheme appeared to have been chosen with his interests in mind whilst also offering considerable employment prospects. Whilst support for those with the most complex needs could be improved further in France, parents suggested the subsidised and extensive public transport network was an important factor in aiding their ability to look for jobs.
This study suggests UK policy makers may wish to tailor training courses better to individual needs, provide greater support with transport costs and work to enhance relationships between advisors and claimants, if claimants are to be supported into long-term, sustainable employment. The greater role for Work Coaches within Universal Credit has the potential to lead to claimants receiving more tailored support with job-search and training. However, it is essential that Work Coaches are provided with the appropriate infrastructure to refer claimants to. There is little sign, as yet, of this happening.
By Dr Abigail Taylor, Aston University. Follow her on twitter @taylor_abigail1
1 House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee (2016) The Future of Jobcentre Plus, House of Commons.
2 The interviews were conducted prior to the roll-out of Universal Credit.
3 Carter, E. and Whitworth, A. (2015) Creaming and Parking in Quasi-Marketised Welfare-to-Work Schemes:
Designed Out Of or Designed In to the UK Work Programme? Journal of Social Policy, 44/2, pp.277-296. jc