LMC Recommendations on the Back to Education Allowance Evaluation/Report


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Background to Recommendations by the LMC Evaluation Group

The BTEA Report undertaken by the ESRI under contract to the Department of Social Protection is a rigorous evaluation of a major activation scheme using the Department’s newly constructed Jobseekers Longitudinal Dataset. The LMC is very supportive of such evaluations as a major input to the debate on Pathways to Work and the effectiveness of the suite of existing activation measures. As such, the LMC welcomes the publication of the BTEA report. The BTEA scheme is the second largest in terms of numbers of participants and expenditure on activation schemes. The scheme expanded very significantly after the recession hit the Irish labour market and unemployment soared, reflecting its mainly demand-led nature.  The increase in demand may also have been influenced by the fact that at that time BTEA payments could, in certain circumstances, exceed standard jobseeker payments.

While it is accepted that there can be significant economic and social returns from increasing educational levels, it is of concern that the evaluation indicates that participants on the BTEA had significantly less chances of getting a job than a control group of similarly unemployed people. In short the analysis indicates that the treatment group who chose to participate in further and higher education while unemployed rather than prioritise job-seeking activity may have improved their employment outcomes once the course of education was completed, but that this improvement is not of sufficient magnitude to compensate for the employment opportunities forgone while pursuing the course of education.  There are at least two countervailing effects of schemes like BTEA – one is a ‘lock-in’ effect whereby participants cease to look for work for the duration of the programme, the second is a progression effect whereby having completed the programme participants prospects of getting a job improve. In this case however the study clearly shows that the ‘lock-in’ effect outweighs the progression effect as BTEA participants had a significantly lower employment rate even two years after finishing their course. Unambiguously therefore the scheme is not having the desired impact with regard to one of its main objectives – helping to move people from unemployment to employment.

Recommendations

In response to this report, the LMC recommends the following:

  1. Detailed evaluations of all other Labour Market Programmes should be expedited utilising the Department’s new innovative longitudinal database and other evidence. The evaluation of PLC courses by SOLAS is also a priority, as PLCs account for substantial share of the courses undertaken by BTEA recipients.

  2. Research should be undertaken as a priority to establish the drivers behind the poor employment outcomes of BTEA when account is taken of potential factors such as ‘the lock in effect’ of the programme. Towards this end the DES/DSP should undertake complementary qualitative evaluation(s) to help inform why the BTEA is failing to meet its employment objective and provide guidance on the future of the scheme. In this regard, course completion rates, the quality of the qualifications received, the earnings of those who do progress to employment and the employment outcomes over a longer duration (e.g. at 2016) are all factors that warrant assessment in a more comprehensive analysis.

  3. The DSP should consider using existing models and databases to update the BTEA evaluation to establish if there are any changes in reported impacts since the evidence was compiled and whether recent changes to the scheme have led to improved outcomes or not.

  4. Data sharing should be implemented between DSP and DES to support improved oversight and monitoring of BTEA participants. In particular this should be done to establish if the course completion rates and the level of educational attainment achieved by participants had an impact on the post-completion employment rates. This would require sharing of client identifiers between DSP and DES.

  5. Increased supportive interaction should take place between DSP and participants on BTEA so that participants are clear on what is expected of them; and that the operational guidelines, for example, continued participation dependent on educational achievements, are clearly understood by both sides. At least one mid-term meeting with each participants on BTEA programmes of more than 6 months should be undertaken by case officers to advise participants on the appropriateness for them of continuing with the programme.

  6. In the short-term, new approval processes introduced in 2014 should, together with all monitoring and control mechanisms, continue to be applied to ensure labour market relevance of programmes approved for BTEA purposes. In the medium-term, consideration should be given to restricting access to new entrants onto BTEA until there is an understanding of reasons for negative employment impacts (recommendations 2 and 3 above). In the longer-term, consideration should be given to increasing provision on specific programmes for which there is evidence that they enhance job prospects of participants (this action will be informed by the outcome of recommendation 1 above).

Approved by the Chair of the Labour Market Council, Martin Murphy

14th July 2015​​​​​

Last modified:20/10/2016