PAC highlights Work Programme flaws

6 Nov 14
The government’s flagship Work Programme has not been successful in helping hard-to-help jobseekers into work, a report by the Public Accounts Committee has found.

By Richard Johnstone | 7 November 2014

The government’s flagship Work Programme has not been successful in helping hard-to-help jobseekers into work, a report by the Public Accounts Committee has found.

Examining the scheme, which was launched in June 2011, MPs said that after a slow start in performance, the outcomes for people involved in the scheme were improving.

Under the initiative, the Department for Work and Pensions has appointed prime contractors in 18 regions across the UK to provide tailored back-to-work assistance, with contractors then able to appoint specialist subcontractors.

Those who have completed full two years on the Work Programme now have similar outcomes to previous welfare-to-work schemes, MPs said. Participants aged 25 and over claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance achieved jobs in 27% of cases, compared to 26% under the last government’s Flexible New Deal.

The Work Programme report stated the department was confident the upward trend in performance would continue, and estimates performance for those cohorts yet to complete the programme could increase to 38%.

However, committee chair Margaret Hodge highlighted that the scheme had not been successful in helping those in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance – which has replaced Incapacity Benefit – had not been helped. This is despite payments being intended to incentivise firms to focus on those in these groups.

‘Almost 90% of Employment and Support Allowance claimants on the Work Programme have not moved into jobs,’ she added.

‘Evidence shows that differential payments have not stopped contractors from focusing on easier-to-help individuals and parking harder-to-help claimants, often those with a range of disabilities including mental health challenges.’

Data from Work Programme providers showed that they are, on average, spending less than half what they originally promised on this groups, Hodge added.

‘It is a scandal that some of those in greatest need of support are not getting the help they need to get them back to work and are instead being parked by providers because their case is deemed just too hard.

‘The department must do more to encourage providers to work with harder-to-help groups by tackling poorly performing prime contractors and sharing information on what works. It should also collect and publish information from each provider on how much they are spending on different payment groups.’

Hodge said MPs were also concerned about how the DWP’s sanctions regime was operating for those who do not participate in the scheme. It is not clear whether the threat of losing benefits actually works in encouraging people on the Work Programme to engage with the support offered by providers.

‘Feedback from some constituents suggests that the number of sanctions has been increasing and that some providers have been recommending sanctions more than others,’ she added.

‘The department should monitor whether providers are making the right sanction referrals to the department and that they are not causing unfair hardship. It should publish the number of sanctions by provider.’

A DWP spokesman said: ‘The Work Programme has contributed to the largest drop in long-term unemployment in a generation and providers are paid by results, with more money for the hardest to reach ­– but only if they get those people back into lasting work.’


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