Skills ‘health checks’ at heart of welfare benefit reform

The government plans to reform the welfare system by placing skills and training at its heart, announced ministers yesterday.

Under the reform plans, all jobseeker allowance (JSA) and new incapacity benefit (IB) claimants will face mandatory skills screens when they start claiming.

Individuals with skill gaps will be encouraged to attend a full skills “health-check” to identify whether they need further training in numeracy, literacy, and the English language. However, all claimants will face full skills health-checks six months after their first claim.   

The checks will be carried out at the new adult advancement and careers service where personal advisers will decide whether claimants need further training to improve their job prospects.

In addition, JSA claimants will face mandatory training if it is identified in their skills health-check. Claimants will lose their benefit entitlement if they refuse to comply with the subsequent training.

For those on IB, all existing claimants under the age of 25, and new claimants must attend the Pathways to Work programme, which provides intensive support to help people move back into work.

The government is also considering making skills health-checks mandatory two years before a lone parent is due to return to work. In addition, all lone parents will go through a skills screening as soon as they start claiming income support.   

In an attempt to encourage more people to do training, the housing benefit 16 hours rule, which removes benefits for those who study over 16 hours, will be abolished.

The new advancement and careers service, which will work closely with Jobcentre Plus, will be piloted over 2008-10. The government has set aside £2m to pilot 10 prototypes in 10 areas and aims to provide skills health-checks to a million people by 2010-11.

Next year, the government will also pilot skills accounts for claimants and aims to give learners with skills accounts access to £500m in funding by 2010-11 and £1.5bn in funding by 2015.

The plans were jointly published by the Work and Pensions secretary Peter Hain and Universities, Innovation and Skills secretary John Denham in the document, Opportunity, Employment and Progression: making skills work, yesterday. 

Denham said: “By giving people new rights, and responsibilities, we will unlock the talent and aspirations of all our people to ensure that no one gets left behind. These reforms are fundamental to creating a stronger, fairer, and more prosperous society.”

In addition, the government will invest £1.5bn annually in basic skills for life and pre-level two training and plans to increase the number of apprenticeships in England from 250,000 to 400,000 in the next three years.

Earlier yesterday, the prime minister Gordon Brown warned delegates that 5.5 million unskilled jobs will vanish from the UK’s future economy, in a speech at the CBI National Conference.

More information

Report: Opportunity, Employment and Progression: making skills work

Department for Universities, Innovation and Skills

Department for Work and Pensions

Prime Minister’s speech at CBI National Conference



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