In another blow to the coalition’s efforts to streamline welfare spending and increase employment, figures released on Thursday suggest that the Work Programme, brought in during 2011, isn’t working.
The Work Programme, now two years into practice, was a coalition initiative which aimed to get 1.2 million long-term unemployed people living in the UK, back into a job.
The programme runs by using private contractors such as A4E and G4S, to help lift the long-term unemployed, those who have been out of a job for more than a year, into employment. These contractors operate on payment-by-result basis, meaning that the more people they move into employment lasting 6 months or more, the more money they are awarded by the government.
However, the latest figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions show that just 1 in 10 people have been helped back to work by the £5 billion scheme in the last two years, meaning that so far, each job has cost the taxpayer around £40,000 to secure.
Despite the seemingly obvious shortfalls of the scheme, on Thursday after the release of the government’s latest figures, Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: “The improvement in performance over the past year has been profound and the scheme is getting better and better. And because providers are rewarded for success, the Work Programme is designed to give taxpayers a far better deal than previous schemes.”
Although the figures do suggest that the scheme is improving, many have still accused the government of “spin”, with homelessness charity Crisis pointing out that statistics also showed just 1 in 20 sick and disabled people on the scheme have managed to find lasting employment.Despite improvements in its overall employment numbers since last year, which saw just 9,000 people finding a job lasting 6 months or more, the programme has missed government targets across the board. The most alarming of these missed targets is the Work Programmes effectiveness to get those who receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) back in to work.
ESA is the benefit for those who are ill or disabled and therefore find it hard to find a job – the very people that the programme was supposed to be helping the most, as invariably, those who receive ESA have been unemployed for the longest terms. From March 2012 to March 2013, just 5.3 per cent of those who received ESA found a job that lasted 6 months or more – well below the governments own minimum target of 16.5%.
When asked about the effectiveness of the Work Programme, Crisis Chief executive Leslie Morphy said: “The Work Programme was set up to help those furthest from work back into employment. On that measure, it has been a miserable failure. The Government’s own statistics, our research, charities and thinktanks are unanimous: homeless people and others who need more support have been left parked without meaningful help.”
The DWP has issued ‘improvement notices’ for 12 contractors who are “lagging behind” their contracted levels for helping claimants in to jobs, in an effort to try and boost numbers by the end of this year, with the threat of termination of the contracts if the companies do not show “significant” changes with their job success figures.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne has also waded in to the debate over government spin, saying: “The Work Programme is still failing and failing badly.
“The government missed every single one of its minimum targets and in nearly half the country, the Work Programme is literally worse than doing nothing.”
Careers Development Group in East London, Pertemps in Solihull, Newcastle College Group in Solihull, Rehab Job Fit in Wales and Newcastle College Group in Yorkshire have the worst conversion rates for getting those who receive ESA into work, managing to help just 2% of those who are on the Work Programme as – opposed to the minimum set target of 16.5%.
According to the Independent, the Government was warned by the private contractors that the cost of helping those on ESA could not be met by the scheme.
Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said: “It will inevitably take longer to help those on ESA into sustained jobs as many are a long way from the labour market. Over 25 per cent of people on ESA have been out of work for at least 11 years and therefore we’re going to need to pool skills and local health budgets with Work Programme cash to help more of this group into work.”
If this is indeed the case then why have the government not already started looking into other ways in which they can help those on ESA? Well, the answer, as always, seems to be money.
In his budget speech this week Chancellor George Osborne announced that as part of a bid to save £11.5bn in 2015, the DWP will have to find a further 9.5% of savings in the department’s running costs.
He warned that this will require a “difficult drive for efficiency” and a “hard-headed assessment of under-performing programmes”.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, agrees: “These figures will confirm what many disabled already know about the Work Programme – it’s not working for them. A one-size-fits-all approach means disabled people aren’t getting the individual, tailored support they need.”
Head of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg has also warned that change is needed if the government want to get the Work Programme working: “We remain deeply concerned that the Work Programme, as currently designed, is insufficient to tackle the problems faced by more disadvantaged jobseekers. Doing nothing and hoping things improve is no longer an option.”
Let’s hope that this means there will now be a re-assessment of how contractors can help those who are furthest away from securing jobs, such as recipients of ESA, as opposed to just focusing on those that will yield the contractors the easiest and fastest payment securements.