Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Work Programme

A critical report from the Work and Pensions Committee says the Work Programme is not working well for people furthest from the labour market. The report finds that, while the programme is more effective for mainstream job seekers, members of vulnerable groups are being “parked”- i.e. the providers commissioned to run the payment-by-results schemes are choosing to focus on those most likely to get a job anyway, rather than devoting resources to the harder-to-help client groups. Work Programme providers are only paid once they get people into sustainable jobs lasting six months or more, and higher payments are made for more difficult clients. However, the report suggests that these differential payments are not sufficient to incentivise providers to focus their resources on those with complex needs.

According to the report, during the first 14 months of the scheme, 3.6 per cent of claimants moved off benefits into a job lasting over six months. But people in the most vulnerable groups, including the mentally ill, the disabled and the homeless, fared worse. Of the 9,500 former incapacity benefit claimants in the programme, only 20 people were placed in a job that lasted three months. Anne Begg, chair of the Committee, said that the Programme has proved much less successful to date in addressing the problems faced by jobseekers who face more serious obstacles to finding a job — people with disabilities, homeless people, and those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse. She said, “It is clear that the differential pricing structure is not a panacea for tackling creaming and parking.” This message is repeated in a letter in today’s Times, in which the chief executives of Crisis, Mind and Drugscope argue that Work Programme is not delivering as it should for the most vulnerable client groups.

If the Work Programme is to fulfill its potential, it must cater to those furthest from the labour market as well as those with less severe barriers to employment. It is essential that additional payments for hard-to-help clients are sufficient to ensure that they receive full support into employment.  The select committee report shows the Government spent £248 million less on the Work Programme than anticipated in 2012/2013 because of under-performance. ACEVO strongly supports the proposal that the sum saved should now be targeted to help prepare more vulnerable people, such as those dealing with drug or alcohol problems, for the workplace. This could ensure that providers have an appropriate financial incentive to work with hard-to-help clients, and fund the specialist expertise and support that those with complex needs may require.

The Work Programme has potential to help tackle unemployment but it must not allow hard-to-help cases to fall by the wayside. It is now time for the Government to act to ensure the Work Programme delivers for everyone, including those most in need of help.

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