Deven Ghelani argues that we could drive far more value out of local authority data sets by using them to identify who could benefit most from work support programmes.

Knowing who is most likely to benefit from employment support programmes is key to targeting support programmes effectively.

Employment support providers want to know who is most likely to benefit from the programmes they have developed, and policymakers want to ensure support gets to people most in need.

We believe that the combination of spending reductions, alongside major reforms to the welfare system, and local authority partnerships on ESF programmes, and Universal Support, create a unique opportunity to unlock the power of local authority data, to help with targeting.

Council finance teams have access to some of the most detailed information available on income, employment and poverty via hugely detailed data sets on Housing Benefit and Council Tax. This data has always been available and now some local authorities are starting to unlock its full potential. A quiet revolution is taking place.

This information is being used to deliver improved outcomes, and design targeted, preventative support in a more cost-effective way to help people into work.

A revolution in predictive analytics is enabling local authorities to:

• look at the cumulative impact of current and future welfare reforms
• take mitigating action to households they know will be impacted by a lower benefit cap
• target employment support to households that will be better off under Universal Credit

Councils are now learning how to unlock their own data to understand which individual households will be impacted, and how. Councils can model, for example, the impact of the National Living Wage or the introduction of Universal Credit to understand whether a given household will be better off.

They are using this analysis to target financial support to households that are identified as having high barriers to work, and employment support where these barriers are low.

Therein lies the key for organisations who help people find jobs.

By working together, local authorities and work programme providers can identify which people have particular barriers to entering work and target support programmes accordingly. This approach enables proactive, preventive support to help people to make the decisions that are right for them.

Together with the Welfare Reform Club, Policy in Practice has worked with a number of local authorities to help them to begin to unlock the power of their benefits data.

The ‘leading lights’ councils we’re working with use our analysis to underpin difficult decisions. 

At a strategic level, they’re designing better council tax support schemes, balancing financial and policy priorities, and commissioning support based on the analysis of future impacts.

At an operational level, they’re pinpointing which individual households are at risk of falling further into arrears. They know who will be better off under Universal Credit, or worse off under the Benefit Cap and, where appropriate, targeting support to help these people into work.

Deven Ghelani is a director of Policy in Practice, a social policy, software and consulting business that makes the welfare system easier to understand and bridges the gap between the development of policy and its implementation. Visit and follow @deven_ghelani.