Why is the Work Programme failing?
Authors: Daniel Wainwright
22 February 2013
The Work Programme is failing everyone. But it’s the most vulnerable that are being hit the hardest.
The report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found that none of the providers contracted to deliver the Government’s Work Programme have hit their target. In fact, fewer people moved into sustained work as a result of the programme than would have done if there had been no intervention at all. It’s clear that the programme faces huge problems. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has blamed the providers, and some may stand to lose their contracts for poor performance.
The DWP dismissed the idea that local economic conditions have played a part in these generally dismal figures. Instead, it attributes poor performance to the competence of the providers. But when even the highest performing provider is achieving less than half of their target, then it’s clear that there are wider problems. In a year of flat-lining economic growth, helping the hardest to reach into work is tougher than ever. Without growth, we will continue to see providers and job-seekers struggle, though the Treasury wouldn’t be happy for DWP to shout this from the rooftops.
But the overall failure hides a more worrying problem. The Work Programme has fundamental flaws in its design. The National Audit Office highlights several ‘innovative’ features that were supposed to address weaknesses in previous schemes. One of those was the differentiated payment rates for different claimant groups, which means providers earn more for successfully placing harder to help groups (such as the disabled) into work.
This was supposed to ensure that providers focussed their efforts on helping everyone into work, rather than just spending their time on the easiest to help (creaming) whilst leaving those with complex barriers without any support (parking). But according to the PAC’s preliminary findings (released in December) ‘the available evidence to date suggests that providers are engaging in creaming and parking...those assessed as hardest to help are in many cases left with infrequent routine contact with advisors, and often with little or no likelihood of referral to specialist (and possibly costly) support, which might help address their specific barriers.’
The data bears this out. There were just 20 successful outcomes for individuals who had moved from Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance (therefore ill or disabled). That’s out of 9,440 referrals – a success rate of just 0.2%.
The Work Programme is clearly not delivering. Without a step change in performance, the programme will continue to fail both the unemployed and the tax payer. Working is not just a means of accruing income. It is a source of pride, it gives people an identity and it allows them to connect to other people, which is why ensuring that all those who want to work are able to is vitally important.
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