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NCVO survey paints a troubling picture for charity involvement in the Work Programme

Jenny Gulliford

04 October 2012

Today (4 Oct) the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) released the results of a survey of 98 of their member organisations who are sub-contractors within the Work Programme. Their findings were, to say the least, worrying.

A third of organisations said they had yet to receive any referrals and about half said that referrals were significantly less than expected. This is a problem, and one that has already led high-profile charities such as St. Mungo’s to leave the programme. It looks as if other charities are also concerned that they may be forced to leave as well, with 71 per cent saying they believe their contracts are at risk of failure in the next six months.

These worrying figures are driven by several different factors. Most importantly, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants, who come with a much higher payment for success than Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants, have not been referred to the Work Programme in the quantities forecast in the Invitation to Tender (ITT). Only 39 per cent of the predicted ESA and Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimant volume has actually come through, partially a result of slower than expected implementation of the Work Capability Assessment and the high number of appeals. This has hit sub-contractors in the charity sector disproportionately hard, as they are more likely to be dealing with these claimants.

It certainly can’t help that a shocking 80 out of 98 of the organisations questioned felt they had not received help from their prime contractor managing the payment structure of the Work Programme. This figure should certainly prompt prime contractors to take another look at the ways they can help the organisations in their supply chains.

Thankfully it wasn’t all bad news, as the survey indicates that in the voluntary and charity sector at least, there is little of the ‘creaming and parking’ that many critics of the Work Programme feared.

But what does this mean for the future of the Work Programme? Whilst there is some evidence to suggest that the number of ESA and IB claimants being referred to the Work Programme is rising, it is not clear if this will translate into more referrals to the charity and voluntary sector. The government has, to its credit, been trying to improve this, and it should continue these efforts and encourage primes to help protect sub-contractors from the impact of low ESA flow. However, even if flows increase, it is still a tough job market. Sadly it might prove difficult for many charity and voluntary sector sub-contractors to live up to the expectations of contracts based on inaccurate forecasts and designed with a recovering economy in mind.


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