Jobcentres face being overloaded by pandemic employment crisis

published on 4 Jun 2020

The Salvation Army is warning that there could be one work coach for hundreds of employment seekers as the newly unemployed try and access employment help.  

Before the pandemic jobcentres saw up to 130 job seekers per coach [1] but with unemployment hitting 2,096,603 million in April [2] the church and charity is warning that job centres could become hopelessly swamped. 

Back in 2019 at a time of maximum employment the National Audit Office found there was a risk to service levels as pressure on jobcentres increased due to the roll-out of Universal Credit and work coach’s caseload expected then to increase to over 280 [1]. 

Work coaches are essential to helping long term unemployed people back into work and are especially important to support people having to retrain or rethink their approach to job hunting as traditional industries close or change. 

Rebecca Keating, Director of Employment Services at The Salvation Army, said: 

“Not only is the pandemic reshaping how and where we work but it is pushing us into recession. Jobcentres will find themselves with a new group of people faced with having to retrain, enter new industries or even just apply for a job for the first time in years. 

“We know through one-to-one support, provided by The Salvation Army’s Employment Plus service, building up an individual relationship with a coach is how people who are long-term unemployed find work.

“Asking a work coach to have that personal knowledge of hundreds of people means that inevitably the harder to employ will end up at the bottom of the pile in favour those who are easier to help. Long-term unemployed people could be left with no help back into work and will feel the impact of

Jobcentres will find themselves with a new group of people faced with having to retrain, enter new industries or even just apply for a job for the first time in years.
Rebecca Keating, Director of Employment Plus for The Salvation Army

To address this The Salvation Army wants to see:

  • An increase in the number of jobcentre work coaches to reduce caseloads to more manageable numbers and improve the service to jobseekers. The Salvation Army’s Employment Plus service limits numbers to 50 job seekers per employability practitioner to ensure personalised help is provided.
  • Ensure the system can support those furthest from the getting a job (long-term unemployed, people with disability or ill health, and young people) 
  • Address the key issue of vacancy to unemployment ratio. In many areas with high levels of unemployment the ratio is high, meaning there are too many unemployed people to the number of jobs available 

Rebecca continued: “The number of entry level jobs is also reducing meaning there are fewer opportunities for people to start out in work, something which is particularly hitting people who have been out of a job for a long time. 

Rebecca Keating, Director of Employment Plus for The Salvation Army addressed   the Government’s Work and Pensions Committee by video link [3] and warned members that, those who were furthest from getting a job and with multiple barriers to employment could be disproportionately affected. 

She told the committee: “We are very concerned that they [long-term unemployed] were already taking a lot of time and a lot of support to get them employable…. 

“And with all these new job seekers coming into the labour search market that these particularly vulnerable people – youth unemploy[ed] but [also] people who are experiencing homelessness, physical ill health, mental ill health, poverty and regional disadvantage - we are very concerned that a big impact will be them going to the back of the queue.”

Those at risk of being left behind are people like Peter [4] who had been out of work for some time before coming to The Salvation Army’s Employment Plus service, which offers tailored help to get people job-ready. After some intensive one-to-one support, he’s started a job as a key worker in a supermarket, stacking shelves. 

Kathryn Devine who works for Employment Plus said: “I’m thrilled to have helped Peter* as I know he will be brilliant.  A big part of my role is working with people one to one, providing individualised support with whatever our clients need, the majority of people we support need help filling in forms or accessing benefits online.”

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Notes to Editors

[1] National Audit Office, Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General Department for Work & Pensions, Supporting disabled people to work, 2017–2019 28 published in March 2019 accessible here details “Each work coach’s caseload is expected to increase from around 130 currently to 280 as jobcentres take on more Universal Credit claimants. With this, the number of claimants per work coach in the intensive work search group (who require the most time with work coaches) is expected to increase from 96 to 133 (an increase of 39%). 

[2] Office for National Statistics, Employment in the UK: May 2020, accessible here.

[3] Work and Pensions Committee, Wednesday May 20, viewable here.

[4] Name changed to protect privacy.