Charities ‘can make Work Programme more successful’

28 Jul 14

The government has been urged to work more effectively with charities and service users when designing outsourcing contracts to ensure the ‘waste and inefficiency’ of the Work Programme is not repeated.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations today said the back-to-work scheme had performed poorly since it was launched in June 2011, and had failed to assist harder-to-help jobseekers into work.

The programme was intended to give tailored support to people at risk of long-term unemployment, but has been criticised for being ineffective, and the NCVO said lessons must be learnt.

Using feedback from the charities taking part in current contracts, the NCVO noted that the initiative had made little impact on helping those furthest from the labour market into work. For example, only 2.3% of Employability Support Allowance claimants deemed likely to be fit for work within 12 months had been successful in finding a job as a result.

Karl Wilding, director of public policy at NCVO, said a lack of consultation with service providers led to design flaws that hampered the programme from the start.

For example, the speed at which it was introduced limited the opportunity for creative or collaborative approaches involving charities, today’s Stepping stones: the role of the voluntary sector in future welfare to work schemes report stated. Successful bidders for Work Programme contracts were announced in April 2011, just four months after the initial invitation to tender was published in December 2010, giving potential prime providers little or no time to discuss with potential subcontractors.

In addition, prime contractors who lead the Work Programme across 18 regions in Britain have reduced their budget for these harder-to-help claimants by 54% since the start of the initiative.

Wilding urged the Department for Work and Pensions must work with charities to maximise benefits to service users when letting the next generation of contracts. Voluntary organisations have experience and local knowledge that could be used to ensure the needs of claimants, especially those who are harder to help, are taken into account, he said.

‘The recommendations set out by this report seek to address the failings of the Work Programme and the lack of input sought by the government from specialist charity and voluntary organisations,’ Wilding added.

‘The government can benefit from taking their expertise into account at the earliest stages. In the future, we would like to see voluntary organisations involved in the design process from the very beginning, to prevent the waste and inefficiencies that have blighted the Work Programme so far.’

Responding to the report, a DWP spokesman said the Work Programme has transformed how long-term unemployed people are helped into work. The most recent stats from the Office for National Statistics show there are 166,000 fewer long-term unemployed people than this time last year, he added.

‘Charities and voluntary sector organisations play a vital part in its success by using their expert knowledge to tailor services for some of the very hardest to help people.

‘The Work Programme is helping more people than any previous employment programme and we have already helped 300,000 people to find lasting work, which has contributed to the largest fall in long-term unemployment for 16 years.’

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