Angus McCabe
        Polly Goodwin
         Karen Garry

          April 2006
Job Centre Plus and Refugees
                                                           The Birmingham Experience


Executive Summary

1        Introduction: Report Purpose

2        Research Methods

3        Themes from Job Centre Plus Interviews

4        Themes from Refugee Interviews

5        Utilising the Evidence Base

6        Areas for Further Research


1        Literature Review

2        References/Bibliography


The research team would like to thank everyone who gave so generously of their
time, often at short notice, to participate in this research.

We thank the management of the JCP centres involved for opening up their
offices to us and enabling staff to take part; the Refugee Champions and all the
other staff members for their open, constructive contributions and willingness to

Thanks also to the community organisations who enabled focus groups to be run
in their own premises to enable refugee participants to take part in familiar

We thank the refugee participants for their willingness to share and discuss their
experiences and contribute their opinions.

Not least, thanks go to the TRELLIS link officers for recruiting focus group
participants and providing excellent interpretation and language support.

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                                                              The Birmingham Experience

Executive Summary

This research was commissioned in January 2006 by TRELLIS and its parent
organisation, the Employability Forum. The aim of the report is to:

   •     Examine refugee views of Job Centre Plus (JCP) services and perceived
         barriers to employment
   •     Explore JCP staff experience of working with refugees within the context
         of the emerging Refugee Employment Strategy (DWP: 2005)
   •     Provide a summary overview of existing Birmingham/West Midlands
         literature on refugee employment issues
   •     Propose ways forward in the local implementation of the Refugee
         Employment Strategy and the role of TRELLIS in employment services
         development for refugees

The findings presented are based on individual interviews and focus groups with
JCP staff (63), JCP Refugee Champions (6), refugees (37) and discussions with
the TRELLIS manager and team.

The research found common ground on key issues identified by both
refugees and JCP staff. These include:

   •     There is a lack of appropriate and intensive ESOL provision in Birmingham
         and concerns over the quality of some existing provision
   •     Limited access to language support in local offices means that
         communication between staff and refugee customers can be restricted
   •     Prior work experience and qualifications gained in country of origin are not
         always identified or valued due to restricted communication
   •     JCP staff work under significant time constraints making it difficult to
         allocate additional time to customers with complex support needs
   •     Staff and refugees recognise the benefits of building a consistent
         relationship between an Adviser and a refugee customer but that the
         compartmentalised nature of service delivery in JCPs, and staff rotation
         does not always make this possible
   •     There can be difficulties or delays in securing National Insurance Numbers
         resulting in delayed benefits or declined job applications
   •     Some employers demonstrate negative attitudes towards engaging
   •     Refugees demonstrate high levels of motivation to work

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The specific themes emerging from interviews with JCP staff were:

   •     Staff are able to provide a more consistent and intensive service to
         refugees eligible for New Deal support
   •     Advisers are striving hard to deliver high quality and appropriate support
         to refugees to an equal standard with other client groups with high level
         support needs
   •     Front-line staff are currently unaware of the implications of the Refugee
         Employment Strategy and welcome the advent of the newly identified
         Refugee Champions to take on an information gathering and
         disseminating role
   •     The complexity of needs faced by those making the transition from
         asylum seeking to refugee status means that addressing benefits,
         housing, education and health issues is essential before advising on
         employment opportunities
   •     The compartmentalisation of JCP services means that ‘continuity of
         service’ to individuals is problematic
   •     The increasing focus on customer self-service and call centre access
         disadvantages those who are already vulnerable in the labour market, who
         have limited English language skills or need to be signposted for additional
         support with basic needs such as housing
   •     Refugees often under-value prior work experience and qualifications
         gained in the country of origin. Those with limited language skills and/or
         traumatic experiences in their country of origin needed highly skilled and
         time-intensive support to build their personal confidence
   •     Staff would like a better knowledge and understanding of the services
         offered by Refugee Community Organisations and JCP partnership
         agencies so that they can refer refugees customers on appropriately and
         with confidence

The specific themes arising from group sessions with refugees were

   •     A key barrier to employment is the perceived requirement from employers
         for refugee job applicants to demonstrate previous UK work experience to
         be considered for jobs
   •     Available ESOL provision does not meet the needs of refugees – not
         intensive, vocational or available at different educational levels
   •     The perceived gap between jobs available through JCP (semi-skilled
         labour/service industries) and the skills qualified refugees brought

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                                                            The Birmingham Experience

    •    Recognition that JCP staff have limited time and are under pressure to
         move people into jobs. Under such pressures, they may be unable to offer
         tailored skills assessment which takes account of prior work experience or
    •    The difficulties of accepting short term employment contracts due to the
         impact this has on benefits/the requirement to go through whole claims
         process again when contract ends
    •    A perceived lack of consistency in the advice and support provided
         through JCP because seeing someone different every visit
    •    Refugee customers being referred to external support services / training
         ‘because they were available’ – rather than actually meeting needs
    •    Increased competition for employment opportunities (often low paid jobs)
         with the expansion of the EU

Progress has been made locally in implementing the DWP Refugee Employment
Strategy. Refugee Champions are in place and the research identified generally
positive working relationships between refugees, Intermediary Agencies, Refugee
Community Organisations and the wider independent sector which can be built

A key theme, however, was the need for developing a consistent support and
brokerage service between employers and refugees.

Suggestions for developing services and the effective implementation
of the Refugee Employment Strategy [RES] include:

• The role of Refugee Champions should be clearly defined to include the
  holding of a refugee caseload and designated time to ensure the local
  implementation of the RES
•    Refugee Champions to call on the partnership support of TRELLIS link officers
    to offer tailored, culturally appropriate and informed services to refugee
• Appoint a Refugee Champion in the regional Call Centre to help at the first
  point of contact for refugees
• Increased accessibility to intensive and employment related ESOL provision
  including ‘on the job’ ESOL training
• Incorporating English language learning into the role of NASS so that asylum
  seekers exiting this support system, once leave to remain is granted, have a
  greater level of spoken English and some familiarity with UK service delivery
• Additional community-based drop-in services at existing ethnic
  minority/partner organisations, with online access to JCP job search systems,

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                                                          The Birmingham Experience

   would fit with the broader move towards customer self service but in a
   specifically supportive environment
• An employer incentive scheme, offering financial incentives to employers
  taking on refugees, a ‘New Deal for Refugees’
• While general employer contact has been centralised within JCP, there could
  be a place for active brokerage with local employers on behalf of refugees,
  this could be taken by TRELLIS link officers
• A clear and consistent process for converting qualifications from abroad is
  needed. This is integral to the DWP refugee strategy, but has yet to be fully
  implemented at the local/regional level

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                                                             The Birmingham Experience

1          Introduction: Report Purpose

This research was commissioned in January 2006 by TRELLIS and its parent
organisation, the Employability Forum. It is intended to inform the development
of the TRELLIS project in Birmingham and contribute to a broader research
programme on access to employment by refugees, which is being co-ordinated
nationally into the implementation and development of ‘Working to Rebuild Lives:
A Refugee Employment Strategy’ (DWP: 2005).

The aims of the research are to:
•     Explore the experiences of refugees in Birmingham who are, or have been,
      users of Job Centre Plus and to record any issues, difficulties and examples of
      good practice.
•     Explore the experiences of Job Centre Plus advisers in Birmingham in
      providing support to refugees and to record issues, difficulties and examples
      of good practice.
•     Identify the literature available in Birmingham/West Midlands relating to the
      provision of employment support to refugees, identifying key issues for
      refugees in accessing employment and examples of good practice.
•     Indicate potential ways forward in the implementation of the Refugee
      Employment Strategy [RES] locally and the role of TRELLIS in employment
      services development for refugees.

At the time of undertaking this research, the implementation of the Refugee
Employment Strategy in Birmingham and Solihull was in the early stages of
development and that no other JCP service specific research could be found1.
With one exception, JCP Refugee Champions were new to the role and TRELLIS
link officers had only recently been appointed. This report therefore focuses on
pre-existing services to promote refugee access to employment and, based on
the experiences of refugees and JCP staff, how these might be further developed
in the immediate future in line with the RES.

The report presents key themes emerging from interviews with JCP staff (section
3) and with refugees (section 4). Options for future developments (section 5)
and further research (section 6) are then explored. The local literature review is
presented in the appendices and referenced within the main text of the report
where existing data is reinforced by findings of this research or is otherwise
directly relevant to specified findings.

One issue that is not addressed in this report is the number and overall profile of
refugees accessing JCP services against the refugee population in Birmingham
and Solihull as a whole. This was beyond the remit of the commissioned
    Phillimore et al: 2006

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research. Further, where statistics were available they were often contradictory,
or reported by advisers as ‘estimates only’. Whilst some JCP interviewees felt
that numbers were over-estimated, as they may include those arriving via
another EU country and, therefore, technically, economic migrants; others
reported that current data was incomplete as the refugee marker was not always
highlighted at the initial interview and therefore figures were likely to be an
underestimate. This issue requires further research and quantitative analysis2

    as also identified by ICAR:2006:, Sports Solutions: 2005

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                                                             The Birmingham Experience

2        Research Methods

The research team worked with six Birmingham JCPs and one Job Centre yet to
be ‘rolled out’ as a JCP. These represented JCPs with the highest levels of
refugee customers across the city.

Six in-depth interviews were conducted with Refugee Champions. These explored
the Champions experiences of working with refugees and their ideas for the
emerging role of Refugee Champions. Seven focus groups were then held with a
broad range of JCP staff. 63 people attended these sessions. Most sessions were
recorded and all were notated for accuracy.

Four focus groups were conducted with refugees currently using JCP services.
These were structured so that the research team could explore whether there
were significant differences in experience between refugees who had a good
command of the English language (19) and those with more limited linguistic
skills (18) in terms of JCP service use and barriers to employment. Interpretation
was provided by TRELLIS link officers, where necessary.

An additional criterion for inclusion was that refugee participants had not been
involved with the recent Birmingham Race Action Partnership research with
refugees on employment issues - the intention being to ‘add value’ to that

Given the limited time available for fieldwork, the research team worked with the
TRELLIS team to identify a sample of refugees who met the above criteria and
who were willing to take part. The sample group, therefore, while providing a
good range, is not presented as ‘representative’ of refugee communities in

A detailed profile of refugee participants is provided in the charts overleaf. In
summary, however:

    •    All currently use JCP services – with one participant technically defined as
         an economic migrant rather than refugee
    •    Participants had a broad range of employment experience in their country
         of origin – eg. van driving, welding and shop keeping, classroom assistant,
         accountant/book-keeper, Clerk to the Courts
    •    Qualifications gained in country of origin included accountancy/book-
         keeping, teaching, social work and health care
    •    Many people had some work experience in the UK. This, however, tended
         to be informal, low skilled and short term employment even where people
         had professional/vocational qualifications from their country of origin

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                                                                                           The Birmingham Experience

Chart 1

                                       Age range of Focus Group participants







                                    20 - 25    26 - 29       30 - 34       35 - 39       40 - 44     45 +

Chart 2

                                              Focus Group participants


          Country of Origin




                                               Ivory Coast


                              Democratic Republic of Congo

                                                                0      2    4        6    8    10   12      14

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Chart 3

                                                  Gender of Focus Group participants







                                                          Male                       Female

Chart 4

                                                    Length of time in UK/Birmingham

          No. Focus Group participantss

                                               under 12     1-2 years   3-4 years   5 Years +

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3        Themes from JCP Staff Interviews

Focus groups were held with JCP Advisers in seven centres in Birmingham, a
total of 63 Advisers took part. Participants included Financial Assessors, New
Claims Advisers, Interventions Team Advisers, Lone Parent and Hard to Place
Champions, Restart Advisers, New Deal Advisers, a Disability Adviser and ‘Front
of House’ Floor Managers.

Face to face interviews were undertaken with Refugee Champions in 5 JCPs and
1 Jobcentre.

Refugee Champions

The creation of Refugee Champions within JCPs is relatively recent. Indeed, at
the point of interview, three had been formally carrying out the role for less than
one month. However:
•   Most of the new Champions felt that the role was either a progression of work
    they had already been doing with refugees, or an opportunity to fill gaps in
    provision for refugees.
•   One or two were less clear what the role might involve, and were unclear
    about the process by which they had been selected/appointed. They were
    waiting to be briefed on its scope and responsibilities, having been nominated
    as Champion rather than, necessarily, expressing an interest themselves. This
    briefing session was subsequently held with the TRELLIS team in March 2006.
•   New Refugee Champions reported concern about how this might impact on
    their primary job roles, for example as New Claims Advisers.
In two JCPs, staff had been, de facto, carrying out the role of Refugee Champion
for longer. Their work has evolved over time, but includes;
    •    Taking refugee referrals from front-line JCP staff in cases where
         customers required intensive advice and support to address a range of
         complex needs
    •    Developing a detailed knowledge of refugee community organisations
         locally and thereby acting as a resource to other JCP staff
    •    Facilitating referrals to other agencies (eg social services/education)
    •    Providing ‘job-brokerage’ support.
With the restructuring of Job Centres and JCP, a number of staff taking part in
the research activities were relatively new into their job roles and some had
limited experience of work with refugee groups.

Those with longer frontline experience made reference to an ‘influx’ of Kurdish
refugees over 2003-4 and of Sudanese and Somali groups prior to this. There
was a general perception that numbers entering the UK directly had declined in

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                                                                     The Birmingham Experience

the past 2-3 years, whilst there had been a growth in both EU economic
migrants (Poland and the Baltic States) and refugees (with the legal status of
economic migrants) arriving from other EU countries. Frequent reference was
made to Somalis arriving from Holland and those from a range of African
countries moving from Scandinavia.

One centre did report increasing numbers of refugees over last 3/4 years, but no
JCP specific figures were available from any of the staff who took part in the

General Perceptions of Advisers
There is a perception that JCPs are seeing a higher proportion of EU economic
migrants now, who achieved refugee status elsewhere in Europe [see below],
compared with UK assessed refugees.

JCP Advisers recognise that refugees are not a homogenous group. There is a
general feeling that:
• Most refugees are keen, willing to work and “prepared to take any job”3
• Many refugees were reported as attending interviews with certificates of
  qualifications from their country of origin
• Some have never worked in ‘jobs’ before and have no qualifications –
  particularly those arriving from predominantly agrarian economies (e.g.
  Somalia/Sudan). These refugees were seen by JCP staff and others as
  particularly hard to place in the labour market
• Many refugees had transferable skills gained in their country of origin. These
  were, however, not always recognised either by employers or, indeed,
  refugees themselves4 .

                Staff in several centres highlighted the plight of Dutch Somali
                women, many of whom are lone parents and consider themselves
                refugees rather than economic migrants. However, having gained
                refugee status outside the UK they are classed as EU migrants and
                as such have no recourse to public funds and are not entitled to
                Income Support or JSA. One adviser noted that many of these
                women were coming into the UK from Holland and other EU
                countries where they had gained refugee status not understanding
                that they were ineligible for benefits, and were living on monies
                from Child Tax Credits, housing benefit and child benefit until
                habitual residency could be established.

    see also Aldridge & Waddington: 2001/Phillimore et al: undated A/B
    Phillimore et al: 2006

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                                                             The Birmingham Experience

  Jobcentre Plus services

  Figure 1
                               See Financial
    Call Centre [CMS]         Assessor to sort
      – appointment                                          New Claims Adviser
                             out benefit claims,
    made, interpreter                                          – complete Job
                             Habitual Residency
     needs identified                                        Seekers Agreement

Employment Zone           Restart interview           Sign on with              Refer to
  – intensive re-           at 6, 12, 18              Interventions         intermediary for
training/ allocation          months                  Team every 2          help with ESOL,
      into jobs                                           weeks              other needs eg

  Figure 1 above illustrates the general process accessed by refugees as described
  by JCP Advisers. In 2 or 3 centres, refugees may now be referred to the Refugee
  Champion at any of these stages, except the first, for additional support. The
  Champion role is too undeveloped in other centres for that to happen yet.

  Links to contracted Partner Agencies and Refugee Community
  Advisers in all centres were aware of JCP links with partner agencies that are
  contracted by the Department of Work & Pensions to provide additional support
  to vulnerable or Hard to Place groups, including refugees. Most were able to
  name the agencies, which they referred to as intermediaries or EMOs (Ethnic
  Minority Organisations), their centre was most closely linked with. They were not
  necessarily aware of wider Refugee Community Organisation networks or their
  capacity to respond to refugee employment support needs (Zetter et al.:

  The commercial training agencies under contract often help with ESOL, CVs, job
  searches, application forms, interview skills and computer training. More
  community-based organisations often have a broader social focus and will also
  assist with housing, health, education and legal issues for refugees. In 2 JCPs,
  staff offer outreach services based within community organisations in the locality.
  Whilst these are open to anyone to attend, they were seen as a useful means of
  contacting ethnic minorities generally and, in particular, refugees who may be
  reluctant/find it difficult to attend JCPs.

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                                                              The Birmingham Experience

     •   4 out of 6 Refugee Champions interviewed were clear that people would
         only be able to actively look for work once their basic needs – for food,
         housing and health – had been met. Most refer out to partner agencies
         or community organisations for support with housing and health, for
         instance registering with a GP
      • Some Advisers expressed lack of knowledge about the range of
        community support available for them to refer refugees on to. They also
        recognised they lacked understanding of cultural/tribal differences between
        communities to ensure sending them to an appropriate agency
      • Several Advisers, as well as Refugee Champions, expressed concern
        about the quality of the support on offer from contracted agencies
        and organisations, although they had examples of really good practice from
        some agencies. One or two felt their lack of knowledge about alternative
        agencies or organisations meant they were not offering refugee customers
        the best options for support. They hoped the Refugee Champion role would
        provide opportunities to rectify this position
      • Advisers’ experience of using private sector employment agencies also
        varied. Whilst some felt that these were a useful resource, with employers
        more willing to take on refugees where agencies bore the ‘risk’ of
        immigration status tests etc, others felt that they exploited refugees by
        encouraging them into very short term/low skilled employment, or were
        increasingly reluctant to take on those without existing UK employment
        experience and who were consequently ‘easy to place’5
      • A majority, though not all, of Advisers felt that interview times, particularly
        at the point of initial assessment interviews, were inadequate. This applied
        particularly to cases where interpreters were required. Frontline staff
        reported “feeling under pressure” if they allowed additional interview time
        “whilst other customers were waiting.” Staff in two JCPs expressed
        frustration if refugees did not attend interviews on time. This was an issue
        predominantly with those from agrarian cultures – but was experienced as
        adding “unnecessary” pressure onto frontline staff or as a “waste of
        resources” if interpreters had been booked6
      • Staff at 2 centres felt that the diversity of employees at their centre
        was a key strength. They felt that this added to the range of language
        skills which could be offered ‘in house’ as well as enhancing their capacity
        to deliver culturally sensitive services

    Bailey & McCabe: 2005
    see also Phillimore et al: undatedA

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Barriers to employment
The research team also explored views on the key barriers to work for refugees
from the perspective of JCP staff and refugees (section 4).

The key barrier to employment for refugees identified at all centres was lack of
English language skills – spoken and written7:
    •    Employers were reported as concerned that refugees would be unable to
         understand or comply with Health and Safety procedures
    •    Employers felt that refugees will not mix with the rest of the workforce
    •    Some JCP staff commented that refugees excluded themselves from
         certain jobs (even where they had skills and experience/qualifications in
         their country of origin) where they felt they lacked the language skills, for
         instance to operate machinery safely

There is a perception amongst Advisers that many employers are generally
reluctant to take refugees – they suggested reasons could include lack of
knowledge about ‘leave to stay’ status, racism, Islamaphobia8. Some employers,
they felt, appeared to create barriers. For example:
    •    Requests for a long employment record in the UK (see section 4)
    •    Reluctance to take people on who had proof of residence rights but had
         no current or temporary NI numbers. Interestingly, neither JCP staff nor
         refugees made reference to the introduction of Home Office Immigration
         Status Documents (2004) that were intended to ease such problems
    •    Some participants suggested the Employers Support Service in JCP is
         intended to address these issues; others identified this as an area for
         further action

Qualifications were raised as another barrier. Refugees either lack proof of
qualifications, have none or those they do have are not immediately
acceptable in the UK or needed validation and up-grading9. Advisers reported a
knowledge gap around what to do with refugee customers presenting with
certificates/qualifications and felt that there was a gap between the type of jobs
on offer at JCPs (skilled manual/un-skilled/semi-skilled labour) and those sought
by refugees with higher professional and/or vocational qualifications.

There appeared to be no clear, or consistent, processes to transfer/validate
overseas qualifications for different professions. Some Advisers/Champions
refer to intermediaries for help with this, some offer direct support, but there is

  also Schellekens: 1999/EcoTec: 2003/Phillimore et al: undatedA/B
  Bloch: 2002/Dhudwar:2005B
  Aldridge & Waddington: 2001: IES: 2004

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no recognised or standardised process10. There were good examples of
Champions using the District Discretionary Fund to help overseas-qualified
doctors transfer their qualifications and register with the BMA. They have also
helped people secure Forklift Truck driving certificates and PSA driving licences
where the refugees’ prior qualifications were not recognised in the EU.

Other barriers identified by Advisers were:
     • Lack of work experience amongst younger refugees
     • Experience of agrarian work which was not viewed by employers as formal
       ‘job’ experience
     • Unfamiliarity with English customs, social and behavioural ‘norms’ and
       interview procedures – e.g. time keeping for interviews, avoiding direct
       eye contact
     • Lack of acceptable/appropriate childcare. Interviewees reported on
       traditions of family childcare provision where nursery provision was not
       seen as acceptable and/or nurseries/childminders were unable to
       communicate with children because of language barriers11.

Challenges in supporting refugee customers
Those interviewed were asked to identify the key challenges to JCP staff in terms
of supporting refugee customers. The following section summarises issues which
were consistently identified across all JCPs involved in the research:
• Provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages [ESOL] was seen as
  inadequate12. There were not enough places and the courses were not
  intensive enough. It was reported that people came back to JCP after a 6-
  month course still unable to communicate effectively in English – in
  comparison with those who arrived in other EU countries as first point of entry
  and were cited by Advisers as able to speak fluent Danish/Swedish
• The 16-hour rule was seen a barrier to providing effective ESOL provision as
  benefit can be stopped if courses are 16 hours or more per week
• A lack of ‘in-house’ language skills in some JCPs – if in-house interpretation is
  available, Advisers feel they can respond quickly to immediate language needs
  and avoid costly external interpreters when customers fail to attend
• Refugees found jobs for themselves, often through friends in their
  communities and in circumstances where they do not have to speak English.

Advisers reported:

10 / West Midlands Deanery: 2006
   Hek: 2005
   Bloch 2000/2002/2004:Tank; 2005

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     o     Refugees ‘disappearing’ and not being seen again. They suspected many
           enter the hidden or informal economy, being paid cash in hand or topping
           up below Minimum Wage earnings with Tax Credits
     o     Undertaking intensive work with refugees, but being uncertain of
           employment outcomes. This appeared to be particularly the case where
           dispersed asylum seekers moved to be closer to their own
           communities/cultural groups after refugee status had been granted

Case Study 1

            A refugee from Iran was consistently applying for low skilled
            manual jobs. On closer investigation by a JCP Adviser, he was
            found to have prior experience of managing retail businesses in his
            country of origin. The Adviser supported the individual in preparing
            a CV that more accurately reflected his prior experience. The
            refugee then started applying for management positions in retail
            businesses. Contact was, however, subsequently lost and the
            eventual outcome unknown.

Current performance targets in JCPs meant that Advisers are working under tight
time constraints13. New Claims Advisers are allocated 40 minutes per interviewee
and generally expected to complete a minimum of 8 interviews per day. A
customer with higher level needs, for example a language barrier, can take much
longer than the time allocated. Advisers either end up with a queue of people
waiting, or they are not able to spend as much time with refugee customers as
they would like, to really understand their needs, skills and experience. In short,
the pressure to be seen, by other service users, to deliver an ‘equitable’ service
can potentially disadvantage refugees and other vulnerable or Hard to Place

• Advisers work is target-driven – the focus is on getting people into a job.
  Current practice, if people are assessed to be ‘not ready’ for work, due to
  language barriers or basic skills needs, is to refer them to a contracted
  support agency to enable them to become ‘job ready’. In practice, this may be
  the most expedient course to offer refugee customers when interview time is
  limited. Examples of good practice with refugees were identified where
  refugee customers were eligible for New Deal support – with Advisers having
  more intensive casework time available and the capacity to ‘fast track’ into
  ESOL and other provision.
• Some refugees were reported as unwilling to travel outside the immediate
  area where they live. It was suggested this may be cultural – a tradition of

     Phillimore et al,: undatedA

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     being close to home, especially for women - or there may be community
     safety factors, a fear of leaving familiar ground, particularly if they have a
     language barrier, of not knowing their way around14.
• Lack of confidence15 – Advisers identified this coming primarily from a lack of
  English language skills but also have found that refugees were reluctant to
  disclose previous skills or work experience form their country of origin thinking
  that it would not be valued or recognised in the UK.

A key challenge remains that it takes time to build rapport with refugees to
enable them to open up and talk about their knowledge and experience. This is
difficult because of how the system is set up/compartmentalised in JCPs [see fig.
1] and because of staff rotation – refugees are unlikely to see the same person
when they come in.
• Some refugees do not declare disabilities, even when it is apparent they have
  one, because they are worried it will prevent them getting a job.
• Advisers did not report getting many refugees into jobs16. Where they do, it
  appears to be mostly via employment agencies who take on responsibility for
  managing National Insurance number claims etc.

   Green & Owen: 2006
   Phillimore et al: 2006
   IES: 2004

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4         Themes from Refugee Interviews

The following section summarises the key themes and issues raised by refugee
participants in focus groups. These include:

      •   Motivation to work
      •   Experiences of contact with JCP
      •   Access to other employment support services
      •   Routes and barriers to employment

Suggestions offered for improved services are included in section 5 of the report.

Refugee participants in the focus groups expressed clearly their desire to work.
Many talked about needing to work to help build self esteem, others reported
wanting to use and share the skills they brought with them.

Case Study 2

                   One participant, a qualified teaching assistant in her
                   country of origin, expressed frustration

                         “I could do this (class-room assistant) with my
                       community in schools, but there is no support. No
                           support to get a job, no support to get the
                        qualifications…..but (you) are short of teaching

Participants expressed their reluctance to be claiming benefits. Some were
vehement, particularly after their experiences with the NASS system, that they
found it ‘shameful’ to be dependent on benefits17.

Participants shared their willingness to take any job, even if they are over-
qualified for them18.

     Phillimore et al: undated A/B: Aldridge & Waddington: 2001
     McKay: 2005

Apr 06                                                                                 19
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                                                               The Birmingham Experience

Case Study 3

               One 45-year-old married man from the Congo, well educated,
               described how he had been successful in securing sessional work
               with the Post Office in Wolverhampton over Christmas 2005. He
               enjoyed the work, did well and was offered the chance to
               undertake a work assessment for a permanent position. He took
               the assessment and in January received a letter saying that he
               had passed as a suitable candidate for employment with the PO.
               Unfortunately, the letter continued, there were no current
               vacancies to offer him and his details would be kept on file.

                The next week he received a callback letter from JCP informing
               him that a number of vacancies were available in the Post Office
               and asking if he would be interested in applying. He has the
               letters from both the PO and JCP that evidence this experience.

Jobcentre Plus Services

Initial Contact

The majority of refugees had been referred to JCP directly by NASS. A minority
had come by other routes – including being referred by refugee community
organisations/advice agencies or introduced by friends.

Participants, particularly those with limited English language skills, commented
on the complexity of the transition from NASS once refugee status or leave to
remain had been granted. This involved not only sorting out benefit claims, but
also accommodation, education/training, National Insurance Numbers (NINO)
and potential employment.

         “There are lots of forms, new forms. You don’t know what to look for
         (in these) or how to answer. Maybe you don’t even know what forms
         are needed and you keep going back for people to explain – again,

         “You are okay (at JCP) if you can fill in all the forms first. Before you
         go. But you need help to do that- from friends, from family, from
         someone. If the forms aren’t filled in you get sent away. They (staff)
         don’t have time.”                                   Refugee Participants

Apr 06                                                                               20
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                                                           The Birmingham Experience

A minority of participants reported problems in the processing of initial claims,
for example delays of several weeks/months for first payments. In three cases,
refugees reported having to access crisis loans prior to final payment
arrangements being made. One person talked about not realising that signing on
with JCP needed to be done immediately after being granted leave to stay, and
as a result lost one months benefit.

Several participants reported that their experiences in their country of origin had
had such a major impact on them emotionally and physically that they were not
always able to take full advantage of the support JCP could offer19.

When making a new claim, several people talked about how difficult the form
was to complete in the time allocated for the interview (c. 35-40 minutes). Focus
group participants talked about feeling under pressure to complete the form. At
the end of the New Claims process, the refugee customer then signs the form
and is subsequently unable to change his or her mind about the answers given.
Some felt it was unreasonable that they had to make decisions about, for
example, the kinds of work they were prepared to do, before they were really
clear about what might be available to them, and that those pressured decisions
were then treated as binding.

Case Study 4

                 One interviewee described being asked the
                 questions on education and training on the initial
                 form. He was not able to decide quickly on whether
                 he wanted to continue his education. He felt he was
                 expected to “make my mind up there and then”. He
                 reported being told that it was not acceptable to be
                 undecided. He talked about needing some time to
                 think about this, to recover from his experiences
                 before making a decision about the future direction
                 of this life.

A number of participants reported positive experiences of JCP, most had not
encountered any problems with making their claim or receiving their benefit and
one person commented that they were very pleased with the tailored support
received from the Refugee Champion at one Job Centre Plus. These participants
were, however, still looking for work.

     Hek: 2005

Apr 06                                                                        21
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                                                                The Birmingham Experience

Others had encountered problems with accessing services, in particular:
•      The lack of a consistent approach - inconsistent advice meant that, at best,
       refugee customers are unclear about what is expected of them. At worst,
       information gets lost, is wrongly filed, or is simply wrong and the customer
       loses benefits
•      Poor communication between different parts of JCP – particularly between
       New Claims and the Interventions teams. Participants reported having to
       repeat their circumstances over again. A number of people suggested that
       different Advisers provided a different focus in the advice and information
       they gave, which was seen as confusing.

On-going Support
A majority of refugee participants commented favourably on referrals from JCP
to Intermediary Agencies/Ethnic Minority Organisations for more intensive
support. Some raised a number of issues relating to JCP services in general:

       •     A number of participants had secured very short term employment (a
             few weeks) and then found they were required to re-register at JCP as a
             ‘New Claim’, a lengthy process with many forms, which they find hard to
             comprehend as “they already have my information”. Some suggested
             that this had forced some refugees into working in the hidden economy,
             on day ‘contracts’, to avoid the insecurities of short term working whilst
             risking the loss of benefit.
       •     Problems in accessing interpreters, resulting in a reliance on family or
             friends to provide this service during contact with the call centre and in
       •     A view that JCP staff were under substantial work-load pressures and
             had insufficient time to allocate to refugees who may have additional
             needs. This was a particular issue for those with limited language skills.
             This general view was summed up in one comment “It’s not the staff,
             it’s the system”21.
       •     The lack of assessment of refugees’ prior skills and knowledge which
             might enable them to work in their chosen professions. Focus group
             participants felt a lack of clear advice or information had been offered to
             them to help with converting existing qualifications. Some reported
             feeling pressurised into going for low skill/low pay jobs which did not
             relate to their prior experience/qualifications.
       •     As with benefits, the lack of consistency in who individual refugees saw
             within JCPs was seen as confusing and resulted in contradictory advice,
             for instance on employment opportunities and/or the need for further
             vocational training or education.

     EcoTec: 2003
     Phillimore et al: undatedA

Apr 06                                                                             22
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                                                                 The Birmingham Experience

Whilst these concerns have been a common theme in other research reports22,
refugee participants highlighted two, more recent, issues which relate to changes
within the structure and role of JCP’s

Firstly, call centres were a major complaint – and seen as inappropriate for those
without a good command of the English language.

                    Focus group participants reported:

                    •     Difficulties getting through to call centres
                    •     Being constantly referred on to another call adviser
                    •     Problems not being “sorted out” and therefore requiring a
                          visit to the JCP – where some reported being referred back
                          to call centre services

                        “At the end of the day, you don’t get help from the phone.”

Secondly, delays in securing National Insurance Numbers were reported. Whilst
this should not prevent refugees from accessing employment if they have proof
of right to residence, both JCP advisers and refugees reported that:

           •   Employers were reluctant to make a job offer without a NINo
           •   Pressures on JCP staff meant that, in some cases, NINo’s were only
               being issued once a job offer had been confirmed

Access to Other Services
A minority of refugee participants talked about using, or being referred by JCP
staff to private sector employment agencies. Their experiences of these varied.
Some felt that these were useful in accessing short term, rather than secure,
employment. Others felt that such agencies were not interested either because
of the additional paperwork involved in placing refugees or agency perceptions
that employers would be reluctant to make a job offer:

                             “They take your details, but once they know
                                    you have an African name …”

Whilst, as noted, those who had been referred to Intermediary Agencies/Ethnic
Minority Organisations with JCP contracts were generally favourable in their

     Bloch: 2002/2006: Phillimore et al: 2006

Apr 06                                                                                23
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                                                                 The Birmingham Experience

views of these services, there were consistent complaints about ESOL
   • Provision was seen as insufficient – in terms of availability and intensity
     •   There is no assessment of a refugees prior knowledge of English24
     •   Courses are not specifically employment related
     •   Provision is not linked to transfer of prior skills/qualifications, it does not
         respond to the aspirations of the refugee customers

         “You tell them things, but they decide what training you have to do….I’m
         qualified to do a job, but I just get sent on ESOL, again and again.”

     •   There are no opportunities for ‘on the job’ ESOL training and very few
         opportunities for vocational work placements25
     •   There are difficulties regarding the timing and childcare facilities for ESOL
         – especially for parents with very young children26

                    “I’ve been (to ESOL) for 2 years, I have to go. The class is
                    too big. They can’t really look at your needs. It’s people
                    sitting having a talk. It’s not really learning and it’s only 2
                    hours a week.”

Routes and barriers to employment
Several participants talked about the difficulties of securing employment and
described being caught in a Catch 22 - many employers want UK work
experience and did not recognise experience gained in countries of origin27. Even
if people have gained UK qualifications since entry, only UK work experience
appears to count in terms of getting a job.

Case Study 5

                    One Kurdish young man explained how working as a
                    volunteer had been a positive route for him into
                    employment. It had provided him with the UK work
                    experience he needed to get a job.

    See also Phillimore et al: undatedA/B: Schellekens: 1999
   Bailey & McCabe: 2005
   Employability Forum: 2004: 2005A
   Hek: 2005
   Dhudwar: 2005A/B

Apr 06                                                                                24
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                                                           The Birmingham Experience

Several people mentioned vocational or professional qualifications they had
gained in their country of origin. People were in different situations, some had
been able to bring their certificates with them, others had managed to send
them out of the country before they left but others had fled with nothing and
had no evidence of the skills and knowledge they brought with them. People
were willing to do any job, but they would really like to work in professions they
were trained for.

Case Study 6

          One young woman, with English as her first language, who was a
          trained, qualified and experienced social worker in her country of
          origin, reported going into JCP with copies of her qualifications.
          She explained to an adviser that she wanted to continue with
          Social Work and asked what she needed to do to get her
          qualifications recognised in this country.

           The adviser felt unable to deal with her and made her an
          appointment to see a more experienced colleague The young
          women returned to the JCP to see the second adviser who told
          her she was aiming too high and that she should look for cleaning
          or catering jobs.

          She asked again about converting her qualifications and what
          courses she would need to do – she was told it would take far too
          long and she should look for unskilled work. Without any further
          support from JCP, she found a Social Work course and a part time

This example illustrates one of the difficulties identified by JCP staff themselves.
Services are focused on supporting people to get jobs as quickly as possible and
there is limited Adviser time to support them into their job or career of choice.
Staff directed by this approach inevitably advocate the quickest route into work,
even if it may not fulfil customers’ ambitions or address higher level skills
shortages within the local labour market.

Several refugees commented on positive experiences where a Refugee Champion
or Adviser had acted as a ‘broker’ in negotiating job interviews. They felt that
where this happened, an employer was more likely to recognise them as a
serious candidate who was eligible for work – rather than when refugees tried to
get appointments for themselves. Given time pressures, however, JCP staff have
a limited capacity to offer this service. As one refugee noted:

Apr 06                                                                        25
Job Centre Plus and Refugees
                                                              The Birmingham Experience

“They (JCP) sent me to an open day (health service jobs). I could have got a job.
They wanted cleaners. I could do that, but I needed to fill in a (application form).
There was no-one there to help me. So I did not get a job.”

              Refugees reported that some employers placed unreasonable
              demands on them in terms of prior experience:

             “I went for a packing job. They asked me for qualifications…..for a
                                        packing job!”

                “I went for a job in security. I was told I needed 5/10 years
               experience in this place. How do I get that. They say you need
                        experience, but there is no help to get that.”

A strong theme which emerged during refugee focus groups was the extent to
which participants felt increasingly disadvantaged in the labour market as a
result of EU expansion. They felt that they were competing in similar low/semi-
skilled employment sectors with, particularly, Polish and Baltic State nationals
and that:

•     These groups had the advantage of EU recognised qualifications e.g. driving
•     Unlike refugees there seemed to be no expectation that English language
      skills were essential for employment
•     Such migrants arrived on their own with a view to sending money home. It
      was felt that they were, therefore, willing to accept very low paid jobs/live in
      hostels etc and would return home at some point in the future. Accepting very
      low paid jobs was not seen as a particularly viable option for those refugees
      with families who intended to be permanent UK residents.

This is a new and emerging theme28 and there is clearly further research
required to assess the impact of EU expansion and recent migration patterns on
refugees in the employment marketplace.

     see also Bailey & McCabe: 2005

Apr 06                                                                             26
Job Centre Plus and Refugees
                                                         The Birmingham Experience

         JCP Staff and Refugees: Shared Themes and Experiences

         •   There is a lack of appropriate and intensive ESOL provision in
             Birmingham and concerns over the quality of some existing
         •   Limited access to language support in local offices means that
             communication between staff and refugee customers can be
         •   Prior work experience and qualifications gained in country of
             origin are not always identified or valued due to restricted
         •   JCP staff work under significant time constraints making it
             difficult to allocate additional time to customers with complex
             support needs
         •   Staff and refugees recognise the benefits of building a
             consistent relationship between an Adviser and a refugee
             customer but that the compartmentalised nature of service
             delivery in JCPs, and staff rotation does not always make this
         •   There can be difficulties or delays in securing National
             Insurance Numbers resulting in delayed benefits or declined
             job applications
         •   Some employers demonstrate negative attitudes towards
             engaging refugees
         •   Refugees demonstrate high levels of motivation to work

Apr 06                                                                       27
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                                                             The Birmingham Experience

5        Utilising the Evidence Base

This research was commissioned to provide an evidence base for the
development of the TRELLIS project and to inform the implementation of the
Refugee Employment Strategy [RES] in Birmingham and Solihull. JCP at District
level is tasked to draw up an Action Plan to manage implementation of the RES
and it is intended that the findings presented here will feed into that planning

This section is informed by the primary research findings in this report, other
relevant research, cited in the literature review and throughout this document,
and discussions with the TRELLIS team.

Alongside the need to implement the RES, current developments in the
structuring and monitoring of services within JCP create opportunities for work
with refugee customers to be prioritised. From now on, job outcome targets will
no longer be measured at the level of individual Advisers, they will be measured
at District level so all local offices will be contributing to District level targets.
There will be specific targets around supporting refugee customers into
employment. This focus will enable JCPs to prioritise refugees as a customer
group and to explore ways of creatively deploying staff to extend their services
and respond more appropriately to the needs of refugee customers.

Another key change, as set out in the Refugee Employment Strategy, is the new
ability for JCPs to work in partnership with non-contracted support agencies and
organisations, as well as contracted ones. This change provides the opportunity
for JCPs to draw on the specialist knowledge and experience of voluntary and
community sector organisations who work with key client groups such as
refugees. It also means that JCP will be encouraged to work more closely with
private sector employment agencies, through which many refugees currently find

Developing closer links with Refugee Community Organisations [RCOs] and other
voluntary sector support agencies could be a joint role for JCP Refugee
Champions and TRELLIS link officers. The TRELLIS team have already
established contact with many organisations in Birmingham.

TRELLIS could also offer support in working with employment agencies and
training providers to negotiate appropriate levels of support and skills/knowledge
development for refugee jobseekers.

Apr 06                                                                          28
Job Centre Plus and Refugees
                                                            The Birmingham Experience

Improving support into employment for refugees
The evidence gathered in this report demonstrates that JCP Advisers have been
working hard to provide a high quality service to all their customers, including
refugees, but that the constraints of time and working to tight individual targets
meant that they have been unable to provide as flexible a service as they would
have liked to meet the needs of customers requiring additional support.

The views expressed by JCP Advisers and refugee customers provide an
indication of what the key elements of an improved employment service for
refugees might look like:

English language training
Intensive English language training provision would benefit many refugee
customers. There should be a range of options for people requiring English
language training to ensure provision is appropriate. These could include:
   •     Full time access (at least 30 hours per week) to English Language classes
         for the first 26 weeks of a JSA claim. These English classes should be
             o undertaken in small groups of 12-15 people
             o have an agreed national curriculum that is standardised and
   •     Classes should be available at entry, basic skills level and at higher
         education levels
   •     Training providers should develop a range of vocationally related English
         courses to more effectively support the move towards employment
   •     Groups should avoid being made up of participants from one country of
         origin, or with a common first language, to encourage spoken
         communication in English at all times in the learning environment.
   •     English language learning could be incorporated into the role of NASS so
         that asylum seekers leaving the support system, once leave to remain is
         granted, have a greater level of spoken English and some familiarity with
         UK service delivery systems.

   •     All JCP centres with significant refugee numbers should have access to in-
         house language support/interpreter facilities

Skills assessment and recognition
A comprehensive skills assessment toolkit for refugee customers, specifically
probing for transferable skills and work experience garnered in their country of
origin, could provide an informed baseline for on-going support into employment.

A clear process for converting qualifications achieved abroad is also needed. This
is integral to the RES but has yet to be fully implemented at the local/regional

Apr 06                                                                         29
Job Centre Plus and Refugees
                                                          The Birmingham Experience

level. If the skills assessment toolkit was developed in conjunction with FE/HE
providers, it could form the basis of a Credit Accumulation and Transfer, or
Accreditation of Prior Learning, process.

Refugee Champions
A Refugee Champion based in the regional Call Centre to help at the first point of
contact for refugees.

JCP Advisers talked about refugees’ poor levels of confidence. They felt a named
contact or case worker approach would provide refugees with a similar level of
service as other Hard to Place groups – a New Deal for Refugees. Lessons can be
learned from the good practice of some of the existing Refugee Champions in
supporting and signposting refugees. This approach has already been particularly
valued by refugee customers.

Building on the outreach work piloted by 1 or 2 JCP Refugee Champions,
additional community-based drop-in JCPs, with online access to JCP systems,
could be rolled out across the District, with support to identify appropriate
locations provided by TRELLIS. This model would fit with the broader move
towards customer self service but in a specifically supportive environment

Support to Employers
JCP Advisers identified the need for active brokerage with employers on behalf of
refugees, to address the apparent restrictions being imposed on refugee job
applicants. This could be a role for the TRELLIS link officers working in
conjunction with JCP Employer teams.

JCP Advisers agreed with focus group participants that a lack of UK work
experience is a barrier to employment – an employer incentive scheme, offering
financial incentives to employers taking on refugees, a New Deal for Refugees,
may offer better opportunities for employment for some.

Apr 06                                                                       30
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