Press Story

  • Quantity over quality approach means employers bombarded with inappropriate applications, wasting time and resources

  • People with good qualifications and work experience forced to apply for ‘any job’

  • IPPR calls for a complete overhaul of Jobcentre support services to offer upgraded work and career coaching to all who need it

Employment support services for people claiming benefits aren’t working for employers or jobseekers and need to be reformed into a new universal service, according to a new report by IPPR.

Services run by local Jobcentres to help people into and on in work are based on the principle of conditionality – a threat that financial support will be reduced or stopped if requirements aren’t met.

This approach isn’t working for employers as it leads to people applying for jobs they are entirely unsuitable for, wasting time and resources for businesses, just so they can meet their job application targets and avoid being sanctioned.

One employer for a security company said recruiting through the Jobcentre can often be a “waste of their time and a waste of my time” and added that he would like to see work coaches do more to support the right candidates to apply for the right jobs.

The use of sanctions also doesn’t work for jobseekers as it rests on an assumption that people on low incomes wouldn’t want to take steps to improve their situation of their own free will. It fails to recognise that many people want to work or increase their earnings, but face barriers to doing so, like limited access to childcare, low confidence, high travel costs or living with a health condition.

The Jobcentres ABC approach to employment (‘Any Job, Better Job, Career’) in which people are encouraged to apply for any role which generates some earnings in the first instance, before, in theory, being supported to progress in work and ultimately towards a career, is failing many jobseekers.

One parent, Ella, with a higher education certificate in social studies, was qualified and looking to find suitable work in criminal justice, youth work or court advocacy. However, she received no tailored support and was forced to take a job in retail. She said: “There’s nothing to personalise your job search with your experiences, your education, your employment history or anything to differentiate you from anyone else... any job they’d throw at me I’d have to take, otherwise I would be sanctioned.”

Other users of the current service gave their own accounts of its shortcomings through the Changing Realities project, based at the University of York, and are quoted throughout the IPPR report (see examples in Notes below).

To overcome these problems IPPR recommends the government creates a new public employment service, available to everyone who needs it, which must include:

  • Professionalising the role of Jobcentre work coaches, with a review of responsibilities and skills, to ensure they are able to offer the tailored advice and support that people need, including advising on more flexible work opportunities and working with employers to help deliver these

  • Exempting people with health conditions and single parents from sanctions, as a first step to ‘dialling down’ conditionality in the employment support service – which should eventually be designed to develop and build on individuals’ personal aspirations

  • Working in tandem with wider aims of the government’s industrial strategy, such as supporting people to train for and take new jobs linked to the transition to a net zero economy – including engineering, manufacturing, construction and retrofitting

  • Devolving decisions on employment support and skills to devolved nations and combined authorities, and work more closely with local government and community groups, to ensure the service is well suited to local labour markets and challenges and takes full account of the needs of its local users

Melanie Wilkes, associate director for work and the welfare state at IPPR, said:

“Employment support services provide support in name only, but they simply aren’t working. They are failing both businesses and jobseekers. The Jobcentres’ approach of relying on sanctions to push people into jobs reinforces insecure, poor quality work and is simply a waste of everyone’s time.

“We need a new universal public employment service to help people get into, and progress in. meaningful employment.”

Henry Parkes, IPPR principal research fellow and co-author of the report, said:

“At a time when our whole economy is being held back by workforce challenges it’s more urgent than ever to ensure everyone can access genuine help finding the jobs that work for them and their wider circumstances.

“Rethinking the system of employment support, so that work coaches can focus on finding solutions that work for both employees and employers, should be the first step towards a new universal service that works better for everyone – and for the UK economy.”


Melanie Wilkes and Henry Parkes, the report’s authors, are available for interview

Case studies are available for interview upon request


Liam Evans, Senior Digital and Media Officer: 07419 365334

David Wastell, Director of News and Communications: 07921 403651


  1. The IPPR paper, Working Together: towards a new public employment service by Melanie Wilkes and Henry Parkes, will be published at 00:01 on Tuesday September 5. It will be available at:

  2. Advance copies of the report are available under embargo on request

  3. Service users shared their perspectives and fed their ideas into this report through the University of York’s Changing Realities project. Comments include:
    - On the narrow and short-term focus of the current system:
    “It almost felt like I was in a ‘job machine’ where they would just churn out jobs they thought I could apply for even though I have an area of expertise, which they disregarded.” (Mollie U)
    - On pressure to take a job regardless of personal circumstances:
    “They are not very understanding and don’t try to see it from your position. They are very pushy and constantly pestering you. I have a one-year old and [work coaches] are not very understanding of my child’s needs. I shouldn’t have to leave a breastfeeding child full time.” (Benny V)
    - On conditionality:
    “They’re not compassionate – if you miss an appointment due to kids being unwell or your disability, they pressure you by saying they will stop your money.” (Olivia-Rose)

  4. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.