Scotland's Economy

Supporting Employability

September 21, 2016 by No Comments | Category Business, Employment


Mr Hepburn meets trainees

Earlier this month I was pleased to announce the Scottish Government’s plans for employability support programmes in 2017, as the powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Our first year will be a transitional year and we are working on our permanent programmes and will make our plans known in due course.

Our programmes will focus on disabled people and people at risk of long-term unemployment and will be designed to help people get into long term, stable jobs.

They are an important addition to the powers we have at our disposal and a chance to ensure these vital services work best for Scotland – both for our people and our economy.

Understandably there has been considerable interest in how the Scottish Government will take this forward – particularly as regards the conditions and sanctions that accompany the UK Government’s approach to these programmes and their relationship to the UK social security system.

While we will take over responsibility for employability programmes, and there has been the devolution of some responsibility for social security related to disability, the UK Government remains entirely responsible for decisions over an individual’s entitlement to working age benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance. Critically this includes all decisions over claimant conditions and sanctions.

The Scottish Government does not agree with the sanctions regime imposed by the UK Government, whereby people have can have benefits removed for not taking up training places. We have been completely consistent in that view and I believe the system needs a full review and overhaul.

That’s the reason why the Scottish Government believes it would be better if the system of delivering social security was entirely in the Scottish Parliament’s hands, but that is not where we are today.

So from within the current powers we have, our employment support programmes and new devolved social security system will be based firmly on dignity and fairness. To that end, I have written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions seeking confirmation that the Department for Work and Pensions will not require, on a mandatory basis, that Jobcentre Plus clients have to take part on our employment programme to continue to receive support.

In 2017/18 our programmes will operate on a transitional basis and will focus on disabled people and people at risk of long-term unemployment – up to around 4,800 people. We have already decided that as part of this transitional year, the programmes operated by the Scottish Government will be entirely voluntary.

We fundamentally believe that these programmes will work better if they are voluntary. That brings people with us, makes sure the services are designed around them, and ensures they are seen as an opportunity, not as a threat, as might be felt to be the case with mandatory participation.

I want this to be the case for our permanent programmes from 2018 when we take full control of all the main employability programmes.  So whilst there will be a key role for Jobcentre Plus to act as a body referring people to our employment programmes, it is my ambition that they do so on a different basis, without utilising the UK Government’s rudimentary carrot and stick approach to mandatory requirements and their system of conditionality.

This is a complex area, and the Scottish Government is working hard to come up with effective solutions, but these must be right for Scotland, consistent with our values and aspiration for a person-centred and enabling service for those who we look to support.  Above all it must be fair for service users.

It is now incumbent on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to respond to my letter.  His predecessor, Iain Duncan Smith confirmed in writing back in December 2015 in a letter to Roseanna Cunningham when she was Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training that in delivering our newly devolved employability programme it is for the Scottish Government to determine the “extent of conditionality” within them.  Well, I have now set out how we intend to operate the extent of that conditionality with respect to the programme’s interaction with the DWP and Jobcentre Plus.  I now hope that Damian Green will respond positively to my letter and confirm he will not seek to undermine our approach.

People in Scotland should know though, that whatever his response is to my letter, the principles of support, enablement and fairness will be the hallmark of our employability programme, and the Scottish Government will take every step in its power to protect vulnerable people who interact with it.  That’s my clear commitment going forward.


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