Advice on European funding throws focus on local authority IT initiatives for helping claimants
Digital initiatives are likely to play in important role local authorities' efforts to support Universal Credit claimants move towards employment, according to a guide published by the Local Government Association (LGA).
While its focus is on providing guidance for bids from the European Social Fund (ESF) - an EU source for supporting people most in need - it emphasises the significance of managing data and digital tools, and provides case studies in which IT plays a significant part.
Titled Universal Credit and the European Social Fund (ESF), the guide says the Department for Work and Pensions has recognised local authorities as the partners of choice in developing local coordination and integration of Universal Support, the framework for helping Universal Credit claimants get back into regular work.
It highlights a handful of case studies, including Birmingham City Council's use of a digital logbook, which it has also used in managing its housing. Claimants can use the logbook to bring together relevant information, some of which they have to share with the council for central collation. This is underpinned by a data processing agreement, privacy statement and terms and conditions developed for the project.
Councils have to share data with partner organisations - such as Jobcentre Plus - and the guide says they have to reach appropriate agreements, ensure that data protection and storage requirements are met, and be clear with the claimant about what information on them will be shared.
Another of the highlighted case studies is Melton Borough Council's building of a 'Me and My Learning' online hub that identifies users' needs and provides access to support services and training. The guide says this has enabled it to deliver a joined up service to claimants, with data collection complying with the EU format.
West Lindsay District Council has provided more than 25 local digital hubs, in premises such as village halls and community centres, to give all its residents access to computers. This has been accompanied by training volunteers to help others use the IT.
The guide also emphasises the importance of designing systems to capture the right data to show how the relevant groups of people are affected by a project, that systems for sharing data need to be in place, and that there are data sharing agreements among the key parties.
Initiatives are still being developed, there is the potential for more ESF funding and the guide suggests that making the IT arrangements should be a core element of any bid. It concludes that local authorities have plenty more to do in developing their role in delivering Universal Credit.
"As UC is rolled out over the next few years, authorities will need to look towards redefining their role in the provision of welfare support and assistance to help people move closer to the workplace," it says.
Image from Paul Clarke, paulclarke.com