This piece of writing is part of a series of blogs designed to stimulate discussion around the five key elements of the ERSA Manifesto: commissioning, complex needs, skills, employer needs, youth employment. Any opinions represented within this blog are the authors and do not represent the views of ERSA.

Far too many people in Britain could be in work, but aren’t.  Young people, over 50s, people with health problems, people already out of work for some time are being left behind. We need to open up the chance of work to many who have been out of work long term.

Much more still needs to be done for the hardest to help; particularly for those who are out of work on health grounds and also for older jobseekers. We need to do much better, and in a cost effective way.

Labour’s plans for reform – Localism and the Compulsory Job Guarantee

Labour will take a localised approach to employment support.  Effective employment support requires a wide range of services to be available too – in particular, skills support; in many cases, health or housing support too.  The current Work Programme, with its big regional contracts, does not have access to those services.  The kind of integration that is needed cannot be delivered in Whitehall. 

Partly because of huge regional contracts, the Work Programme has squeezed out really good, local voluntary sector organisations with specialist expertise.  Local authorities barely get a look in. 

We want the replacement for the Work Programme to be contracted at city or county region / LEP level.  And, in time, we want actual commissioning to be carried out at the local level too.   We want local authorities, colleges, local employers – and the NHS – to be round the table.  That kind of integration is feasible in a city region not in Whitehall.

The key integration is between employment support and skills support. Furthermore, the case for localisation is particularly compelling for people out of work on health grounds.  Localisation will allow integration with the health service. 

Greater Manchester’s Working Well project is for people claiming ESA who have been through the Work Programme.   Commissioned by the Greater Manchester combined local authorities it expects to work with 5000 people claiming ESA who leave the Work Programme between April 2014 and March 2016. The project board is chaired by one of the local authority chief executives, and includes Jobcentre Plus, NHS England, the local Drug and Alcohol Team, the mental health trust, Greater Manchester Housing, Manchester College and the Adult Education Service. 

For effective employment support for the hard to help, we need other services in the area to be on hand too.  Being able to deliver that is a very powerful argument for the localised commissioning in Working Well – and that we want to see replacing centralised commissioning, on big regional boundaries, which has characterised the Work Programme and – in our view – been at the root of its weaknesses. 

The second major change we want to make is to introduce our Compulsory Job Guarantee.  Our proposal is that people under 25 who have been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for a year, and also people over 25 who have been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for two years, should be guaranteed the offer of a job – six months in duration, at least 25 hours per week, paid at least at the level of the National Minimum Wage.  Where necessary, the Government will pay the wage costs for six months and ensure that a job is available. 

We are calling it a Compulsory Job Guarantee.  We will accept in Government the responsibility to make sure jobseekers have the chance of work.  But we will equally expect jobseekers, responsibly, to take up the opportunity of work once it has been offered.  Once the offer has been made, and hopefully usually a choice of positions will be offered, the payment of jobseekers allowance will cease.

There is now a historically large number of people who have been out of work for a long time.  The current expansion in employment, and the growing  challenge to employers in finding enough staff, presents us with an opportunity to change that – to bring those people back in to the workforce, to enable them to make a positive contribution. The Job Guarantee is the way to do it.  The cost of delivering it is falling as unemployment comes down.  We are determined to realise the opportunity.

We think we have a model now – with localised commissioning and the Job Guarantee – which can do much better.   Labour is will ensure we invest the resources to deliver it – in a period when budgets will be very tight – reflecting how important we see this as being.  The human cost of leaving people behind is too high a price to pay.