AI trialed to listen in to job centre meetings with benefit claimants

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Department for Work and Pensions hope the tech will drive down costs across the public sector

Artificial intelligence is being trialled in London to “listen in” to conversations between job centre staff and benefit claimants to help get them into work, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The pilot is among a series of AI projects being tested by the Department for Work and Pensions, with ministers hopeful that the technology will revolutionise services and drive out cost across the public sector.

The Government is currently carrying out a review aimed at increasing public sector productivity.

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, said at the Conservative Party conference that if the UK could increase its public sector productivity growth by half a per cent it would “stabilise” spending as a proportion of GDP, while increasing it by any more could “bring the tax burden down”.

Ministers believe that AI has huge potential to transform services, with benefits viewed as one of the most promising current applications of the technology.

The DWP is currently trialling five projects, including a pilot in London aimed at improving job matching for people looking for work.

Under the scheme, AI listens in to conversations between work coaches and benefit claimants, using machine learning to provide tailored advice on the best next steps to help get them into work.

The Work and Pensions Secretary, Mel Stride, has previously spoken about how AI has also been used to tackle fraud by spotting suspicious patterns in benefits data.

A Government source said: “Mel sees AI, working hand in hand with our excellent work coaches, as the future of employment support.

“As we bring through the next generation of welfare reforms, it will help us to achieve even better outcomes for claimants, taxpayers and the economy at large.”

While AI offers the potential to revolutionise the efficiency of the public sector, its application will stoke fears that it could displace large numbers of jobs.

However, the DWP minister Mims Davies said last month that it would “never replace” the role of job centre staff in “supporting customers throughout their journey”.

She said the department’s pilots were taking place under the auspices of a team called the Generative AI Lighthouse Programme, which was designed to “test and learn” the technology in a “safe and governed environment”.

“Where Artificial Intelligence is used to assist its activities in prevention and detection of fraud within Universal Credit applications, DWP always ensures appropriate safeguards are in place for the proportionate, ethical, and legal use of data with internal monitoring protocols adhered to,” she said.

‘Tailored help’

She added that AI would not “replace human judgement to determine or deny a payment to a claimant”, with a human always making the “final decisions, safeguarding the protection of individuals”.

Deploying AI to transform the DWP enjoys cross-party support. In a speech in July, the then shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said the technology should be harnessed for “analysing job seeker skills and preference matching them with potential jobs”.

He said that AI would improve “personalisation” and provide a better experience for unemployed people while freeing up job centre staff “to offer greater support for more vulnerable individuals who need more tailored help, rather than spending hours correcting CVs and wading through lists of job postings”.

A DWP spokesman said: “Artificial intelligence brings great opportunities to grow our economy and deliver better public services for less.

“We are safely testing the use of new technology through five projects to match people with jobs, tackle fraud and provide a more efficient DWP service as we grow the economy and halve inflation.

“We will always ensure the appropriate safeguards are in place when using this technology.”

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