The Work Programme is useless. Don’t take my word for it, this was the opinion of the Daily Telegraph back in November. Their piece observed that according to the government’s own calculation, around five per cent of long-term unemployed people (i.e. those out of work for over a year) would be able to find work if left to their own devices. The government’s flagship Work Programme managed a less than stellar rate of 2.3%.
The Work Programme, for readers fortunate enough not to have sustained engagement with the social security system, is supposed to help people who’ve been out of work for long periods back into the labour market. It replaced Labour’s ‘New Deal’ programme, which introduced an element of compulsion into Jobseekers’ Allowance (i.e. either get with the programme, take a job, or get your payments cut). The New Deal wasn’t without its problems, but its youth component – New Deal for Young People – managed to find jobs for around 42% of participants between 2001 and 2005. What the pay and prospects of the majority of those jobs were I’ll leave for others to determine.
The Work Programme is similar, but “tougher” and is delivered by a number of “providers”. These include the usual big beasts who gather around the public sector watering hole, like Serco, G4S, and notorious troughers, A4E. But to make things look good arms-length public sector bodies, like networks of FE colleges, and the 3rd sector can also provide training. These providers are paid by results. They receive payments from monies saved for every period of employment lasting between 13 and 26 weeks, and additional cash on top for every four weeks served.
But that is not all it does. Participation in the Work Programme requires people to basically work for their JSA payments. Readers will recall there was something of an outcry last year when it was revealed large retailers were profiting from taxpayer-provided workers.
I am sure no one has any objection to the availability of retraining for anyone who find themselves out of work. It is also sensible that a guaranteed job is provided after a period of time on the dole. Though it remains to be fully thought through, the principle of Labour’s job guarantee is a step in the right direction.
However, the figures for the Work Programme continue to show it is a dismal failure. While Dave was happy to trumpet today’s in-work figures (though, of course, studiously avoiding the precarious and part-time nature of many of the new jobs), the performance of their flagship welfare-to-work scheme remains woeful. According to the statscompiled by the Office of National Statistics, between June 2011 and May 2012 (the latest period of time for which a dataset is available), in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central some 1,510 long-term unemployed people were referred to the Work Programme. Of that number, just 30 – two per cent – got a job as a result! It’s not that Stokies are no-hopers. Down in more affluent Stone constituency, 10 out of 290 people who went through the scheme got a job. In Dave’s Witney constituency, it was 10 out of 330. In wealthy Kensington only 40 out of 1,660 were successful.
If the job market is as buoyant as official figures suggest, then why does the Work Programme’s results tail the ‘do-nothing’ figure – an estimate drawn up to take continued economic turbulence into account? There is only one possible answer: that it is broken, irrevocably. By the Tories’ own questionable standards of competence, to produce a programme that is worse than doing nothing is really something.