Policy Briefing 7 November 2011
(25 October – 7 November 2011)
Skills & Workforce
The Pensions Bill 2010-11 has now become an Act following passage through the Houses of Parliament. The Act outlines reforms expected to save employers £170 million in annual contribution costs, £12 million in administrative costs in the first year, and £6 million in annual administrative costs. The Act will require employers to automatically enrol their employees onto pension schemes over a four year period, with those employing fewer than 50 staff having to comply from April 2014 at the earliest. It will also amend the pensions’ index in line with CPI and bring forward the increase in State Pension age to 66 by 2020.
The Government has revised its offer on public service pensions. The new offer - announced the day before the Pensions Bill was passed - consists of a more generous accrual rate for low and middle earners and protection for anyone within ten years of their pension age on 1 April 2012. The Treasury admits that ‘most workers will still have to work longer and pay more’ and proposed contribution increases starting in April 2012 will still apply to those earning more than £15,000 a year. This follows the publication of the Hutton Report on pension reform in July 2011 and a series of discussions with unions. Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander described the reforms as “inevitable”.
The public service union, Unison has voted ‘Yes’ to industrial action on public sector pensions. Unison passed the motion by a 78% majority (245,358 votes for and 70,253 votes against). Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has been critical of the relatively low turn-out (around 29%), which he argues shows “extremely limited support for the kind of strike action their union leaders want”. The joint union statement on the recent pension deal can also be read here.
Official figures show a 50% rise in apprenticeship starts for the academic year 2010/11, with 442,700 starts over 2010/11 compared to 279,700 over 2009/10. Of these starts, the majority were Level 2/Intermediate Level and the largest growth was experienced among the 25+ age group. The most popular sectors with apprentices were Business, Admin, and Law; Retail and Commercial Enterprise; and Health, Public Services & Care. Meanwhile, Higher Apprenticeship starts grew by just 600 with starts among those aged 19 and under growing by just 11,500. These figures are currently still provisional and will be confirmed in January 2012.
The total number of learners participating in government-funded further education fell by 4.2% to 4,635,500 in 2009/10 according to official figures. Despite the fall in participation, the number of learners attaining a qualification remained static. In 2009/2010 there were also over half a million Train to Gain starts (a programme recently abolished by the Government). Provisional start figures for 2010/11 show another fall, with 4,224,900 learners thought to be participating in government-funded further education.
The Young People’s Learning Agency is currently consulting on the 16-19 Funding Formula. The proposed measures intend to create a simpler and more transparent process to the funding of young people’s education, bringing in some of the recommendations of the Wolf Report on vocational learning as well as the adjustments necessary for increasing the participation age to 18. The consultation will close on 4 January 2012.
New guidance has been published by the Department for Education covering the necessary characteristics for vocational qualifications to be included school performance measurements. From 2014 only those qualifications which offer progression into a broad range of further qualifications or careers and have a substantial proportion of external assessment will be taken into account. This follows the recommendations of the Wolf Review of vocational education and the results of a recent 10 week consultation.
The Department for Education has launched a review into the training, qualifications and career opportunities available for people working in early education and childcare. This will be led by Professor Cathy Nutbrown and will explore the content of qualifications and training courses; career progression and motivation; and the standards and quality needed to meet the needs of service users and employers in the early years’ sector. A call for evidence will be open until December 2011.
Nominations are now open for Adult Learners’ Week 2012. People are being called upon to nominate colleagues, friends, relatives, or students who deserve recognition for ‘outstanding learning achievements’. Awards are also given to innovative projects that provide adults with the opportunity to learn and improve their lives and the lives of their families and communities. The closing date for nominations is 5pm, Friday 27 January 2012.
The University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) commissioned a review of the admissions process. The review outlines proposals for a new admissions system which would allow for prospective students to make post-qualifications applications. The consultation will remain open until 20 January, after which time a report of the findings and proposed next steps will be published in March 2012.
A review has been launched by the UK Commission for Employment & Skills into the contribution of employers to career guidance that supports unemployed people to enter and progress through work. Examples of best practice and opinions are currently being sought from employers, career guidance organisations, colleges, training providers, and Work Programme providers.
The latest estimates from the ONS indicate that the UK’s Gross Domestic Product increased by 0.5% in the third quarter of 2011. This follows the slender 0.1% growth recorded in the previous quarter and was mainly driven by strength in the service industries and production. Further to this, the ONS believe that there is no evidence to suggest that August’s riots had a significantly detrimental impact on economic growth. The latest estimates still fall short of the growth rates previously predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the OECD.
DWP has released new figures which cover the implementation of the new assessment for those on Employment & Support Allowance. Of those assessed, 7% were put into the support group, 17% were put into the work-related activity group, 38% were found ‘fit for work’, and 36% closed their claim before the assessment was complete. The introduction of the Work Capability Assessment has been subject to expert criticism, and a second independent review of the process is due for publication in late 2011.
New tables have been released showing the performance of local authorities in looking after children in care. The publication of transparent data on adoption and fostering is intended to reverse the decline in the number of adoptions (as low as 2% of children in care in some areas) and low educational outcomes of those in care (fewer than 10% of children in care achieving five A* to C GCSEs in many areas). This has been published alongside the launch of the ‘Give a Child a Home’ campaign in partnership with the British Association of Adoption and Fostering and Fostering Network which calls upon more people to come forward as adopters and foster parents.
Care Services Minister Paul Burstow has announced £32m of investment in psychological therapies for children and young people with mental health problems. Mental illness during childhood and adolescence is estimated to cost in the region of £11k - £59k per child. The funding announcement intends to build upon the recommendations of the Government’s mental health strategy – No health without mental health, which takes a life course approach with a focus on early and effective intervention.
The Health Select Committee has recently expressed a range of concerns about the Government’s public health strategy. Concerns were raised on a series of topics, including a lack of clarity on how £4 billion of funding would be provided; the failure to give a “convincing account” of the distinction between frontline and non-frontline spending; the risk that the Health Premium could target resources away from the most affected areas; and the delayed introduction of the Public Health Workforce Strategy which is “undermining morale and causing people with valuable skills to leave the profession”.
The Government has launched its plans to keep people warm and healthy in the cold weather. This will make an extra £10 million available to support existing Government schemes for those at risk of fuel poverty; create a new £20 million fund (supported by Age UK) for local authorities and charities to address cold housing; a Cold Weather Plan (jointly run with the Met Office and Health Protection Agency) to advise people how to stay healthy; and the “Getting Ready for Winter” website to provide public information.
A new sentencing regime has been unveiled by the Ministry of Justice. This forms part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Billand includes mandatory life sentences for anyone convicted of two very serious sexual or violent crimes; extending the category of the most serious sexual and violent offences to include child sex offences, terrorism offences and ‘causing or allowing the death of a child’; and a mandatory custodial sentence for aggravated knife possession among 16 and 17 years olds.
The Cabinet Office has published the results of an officially commissioned independent research study on the motivations and involvement of young people in the August riots. This was produced by NatCen and follows the analysis of offending figures recently published by the Home Office. It was based on qualitative interviews and focus groups with young people, business owners, youth workers and community leaders in five affected and two non-affected areas.
A cross-Government strategy has been launched to end gang and youth violence. Five key principles underpin the strategy: provision of support, prevention, pathways out of crime, effective punishment and partnership working. The strategy also announced an additional £1.2 million of funding to improve services for girls suffering sexual abuse by gang members.
The Home Office has announced a new mentoring scheme for women in business. The scheme will provide £700,000 of funding over three years to support a network of 5,000 mentors. It is based on responses to the recent ‘Modern Workplaces’ consultation and research by Delta Economics which shows that women who want to start their own businesses have specific concerns around issues such as access to finance, building confidence, work-life balance and working from home.
The Voluntary Sector
The Charity Commission have published new guidance on charities and investment matters. It describes the legal duties and principles that apply to charity investments and the risks that trustees must address. The updated guidance confirms that trustees can invest ethically, sustainably, for a financial return or to achieve charitable aims or for a mix of all or any of these. This was accompanied by recent news that disability charity SCOPE have launched a £20m bond programme to generate complementary funding for their charitable activities alongside traditional donations and philanthropic loans.
A revised version of the Code of Good Governance has been published for smaller charitable organisations, especially those without paid staff. Designed to complement the original code, it provides greater clarity on some of the legal and technical jargon common within the sector. The new version was developed by a working group including representatives from the Small Charities Coalition, Richmond upon Thames CVS, Community Sector Coalition, Community Matters and the Faith Based Regeneration Network.
The Local Government Association and NAVCA have jointly-published a new guide for charity trustees on commissioning and tendering for public services. At Your Biddingprovides contextual information about the commissioning of public services, its potential implications and impact; outlines some of the decisions that trustees have to make regarding bidding for contracts; the steps that trustees need to take to ensure their organisation is tender and contract ready; and the key areas for risk assessment and risk management.
Initial findings of the UK Giving Survey conducted by CAF and NCVO have been released showing that that on average those earning under £32,000 give over 1% of their income to charity, while those on over £52,000 give just 0.8%. This figure was revealed during the Giving Forum held at the House of Lords, with the full figures due for release in December.
The arts play an important role in crime reduction and saving taxpayers’ money according to new research commissioned by the Arts Alliance and produced by charity think tank and consultancy New Philanthropy Capital (NPC). Researchers explored three charities which use arts to engage with prisoners and ex-offenders, on of which (Only Connect) was shown to reduced expected rates of re-offending from 57.5% to 25.9%, generating savings of over £3.2m over six years.
NCVO have published a report compiling evidence and policy recommendations in response to Augusts’ disturbances. After the Riots, which was produced following a summit on the issue with key stakeholders, stresses the importance of community groups and statutory bodies in working together to provide an ‘early warning system’. It also calls on Government to make a full assessment of the impact of spending cuts on communities, ensuring cuts to services are introduced sensitively and strategically, and calls on media to ensure accuracy and proportionality in its reporting.
The regulator of Community Interest Companies (CICs) has published its annual report 2010-11. This heralds the 5th anniversary of the inaugural CIC legislation and outlines a range of regulatory activities, information and support services, and statistical information on CICs. As of March 2011 there were a total of 4,905 CICs on the public register.
Think Tanks & Research
The Office for National Statistics has launched a consultation into National Well-being. This will consult on 10 key indicators – individual well-being; relationships; health; what we do; where we live; personal finance; education and skills; governance; the economy; and the natural environment. The consultation will run until 23 January 2012 with the results to be published in spring 2012.
A new report by the Centre for Social Justice argues that the treatment of mental health patients in the community has been a failure. Completing the Revolution suggests that the closure of large mental health hospitals was not accompanied by a parallel expansion of primary mental health services and that mental health currently costs the economy somewhere in the region of £105bn a year. It calls upon commissioning arrangements to recognise the benefits of ‘wrap-around’ approaches best delivered by small charities.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies has published a new briefing which shows that public spending on education is set to fall by over 13% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15. The represents the swiftest decline in spending “since at least the 1950s”. Such cuts will be deepest for capital spending (-50%) and higher education (-40%), followed by 16-19 education and early years’ provision (-20% each). Although spending on schools is relatively protected (especially among those with the most deprived intakes), the majority of schools will see real-terms cuts.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development has published the latest version of the quarterly Employee Outlook survey. Among the findings were that job satisfaction among private sector workers has overtaken the voluntary sector; those working in the voluntary sector are most likely to report being put under ‘excessive pressure’ once or twice a week; and employees in the voluntary sector are most likely to report that they could lose their job due to the economic downturn.