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Kathryn Ray
Senior Researcher
Kathryn  Ray

Work Programme underperforming for those who need more help

Authors: Kathryn Ray

03 January 2014

The new Work Programme statistics out before Christmas (Thursday 19 December) were hailed as “encouraging” evidence of improvement by the Government and of programme failure by the Labour Party.  Both perspectives have some truth to them.  There are indeed some positive signs in the figures.  
Work Programme performance appears to have steadily improved since the start of the programme, although this has levelled off recently. Moreover, the programme seems to be performing above expectations with regards to sustained job outcomes.  Over 60% of participants who achieved a Job Outcome payment (which is paid to providers for work of three or six months in duration - depending on the benefit group), go on to achieve five or more sustainment payments  (which are paid for every additional four weeks spent in work).  This shows that a majority of those who stay in work for the short-term go on to stay in work for the medium-term.  It’s an important measure of success, since the Work Programme payment structure is specifically designed to promote sustained work outcomes.
The programme has seen steady, albeit modest, improvements in performance since its inception. 12% of participants who started the programme in September 2012 attained a job outcome after 12 months on the programme, compared to 8% for the June 2011 intake and 13 % for the June 2012 intake.  However as Inclusions’ analysis shows, the programme is only just meeting the minimum performance standards set by the Government. This hardly seems like a cause for celebration, especially when viewed alongside the statistic that over two thirds of Work Programme participants return to Jobcentre Plus after two years without finding sustained work.
When you look at the relative performance of different groups on the programme a depressingly familiar picture emerges.  The figures show that the programme performs much more poorly for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants (those people with a health condition or disability). The level of job outcomes after 12 months on the programme are currently around three times higher for Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) claimants (between 12% and 15% for the various JSA groups), compared to around 4% for ESA claimants. Work sustainability is also considerably lower than DWP expectations for ESA claimants.
Previous assessments of the programme suggest that this is to do with problems in the subcontracting process, with financial constraints limiting the use of more specialist provision and providers prioritising more ‘job-ready’ participants. It’s a depressingly familiar picture. This was also a problem with the previous (specialist) programme for people with health conditions, Pathways to Work, as noted in the programme’s evaluation
Although successful in some areas, last week’s figures show that the Work Programme is not providing the innovations in delivery, or the fully personalised service that was promised, for those facing the most difficult challenges. The government must address this  if the Work Programme is to better support disadvantaged groups to enter and remain in work.