How to improve the Work Programme

28 November 2012

Everyone who has been involved in the Work Programme has been warning ministers for some time that there were serious problems with this flagship policy. As this is the opposite of a listening government nobody took any notice. Big homelessness charities have warned that the system doesn’t work for people on the streets, small work creation charities like the one I run have seen a trickle of referrals from the ‘prime providers’ who won the contracts. Large employers are mystified by the plethora of organisations knocking on their doors offering to partner up on getting people back to work.

And now the first official statistics show that just three per cent of people going through the Work Programme are finding sustainable employment – i.e. remaining in work for six months. The most authoritative analysis comes from Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion. This recognises that the model developed by Lord Freud for Iain Duncan Smith was designed for different economic times – in layman’s terms, the Work Programme would function a whole lot better if there were more jobs for people to go into. CESI’s analysis is scrupulously fair, but it is all the more devastating for that.

These figures are catastrophic for everyone involved. With the media in full navel-gazing mood in advance of Leveson, the figures have not received the publicity they might otherwise have done. But the hard truth is that the Work Programme figures seem to suggest that the new scheme may even have made things worse. The government’s own estimates suggest that around five per cent of people who are long-term unemployed would find work without any intervention. Iain Duncan Smith is a lucky man: no other Cabinet minister would survive such devastating statistics.


It’s easy to carp, especially when it is completely justified. But is there a way out of this appalling mess? As a critical friend, here are five suggestions:

1. The Work Programme figures coincided with the publication of the Richard Review of Apprenticeships. This proposes a radical rethink of the system giving more powers to employers to set apprenticeship standards. The government should embrace the report’s findings wholesale.

2. A complete overhaul of Jobcentres. The very institution designed to get people into work is no longer fit-for-purpose and needs a complete rethink. This is where welfare-to-work reform should have begun, but better late than never.

3. The new Employment Minister, Mark Hoban, has already begun to consult charities about their concerns. This needs to extend to making real changes to the Work Programme where it is seen to be failing.

4. Prime Contractors who are failing to deliver need to be removed from the Work Programme to show the government means what it says.

5. More coordination of local back-to-work initiatives and recognition that Labour’s Future Jobs Fund is now seen as a roaring success compared to the Work Programme.

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  • rndtechnologies786

    Your blog is nice

  • Roshan Jones

    I don’t understand why money being given to Work Programme providers cannot be given to the unemployed in the form of a grant for a training course. I have now been unemployed for 3 years and I would love to re-train – but I don’t have the money to access any of the college courses that might provide me with a skill for a job which is available. I would love to get into project management/support – but I don’t have a PRINCE qualification or classroom assistant – but I don’t have £700 to pay for a classroom assistant course. Surely sending me on a classroom assistant course for £700 would be far cheaper than keeping me on a Work Programme which presently entails me doing exactly what I was doing when I wasn’t on one – looking for jobs – the person who should be looking for roles for me is off sick, so I presume nothing is being done for me and having me on their books is costing the government money even though nothing is being done for me. I am happy to help myself by studying and re-training – I just need the resources to do so.

  • IAS2011

    What a shame, even a failing, that any of the intelligent words or experience, wisdom or perceived ramblings expressed by all contributors to this forum will be used effectively to develop and improve policy aimed at the employment/career goals of any of us.

    One has to wonder, with all the analysis and research done into the Work Programme and the supplemented information and data that highlights the frustration and distress by many, even skilled job seekers, who are desperate to regain a work structure in their lives, politicians continue to fail to improve on their failed policies.

    Do politicians really care about improving our Upwards Social Mobility, if so why aren’t our ‘voices’ being given the platform (media attention) it deserves in order to grab the attention of policy makers at Whitehall?

  • IAS2011

    There are jobs out there!! Again, between 60-70% of jobs go unadvertised as they are usually given to employee or a friend of employers.

    POLICY has to be questioned here, as does PROCEDURE.

    To reiterate, the Work Programme needs to ensure that it is building relationships with employers/business owners that reflect the demand of the skilled job seeker. This, at least, projects a viable platform for further positive opportunities to be born.

    Policy decision-makers initially need to be aware of the challenges they will face with building these fundamental relationships with employers/business owners, prior to setting-out ‘HOW’ they will accomplish the goals they seek. I struggle to see signs of this, as someone who continues to experience the existence of the Work Programme.

    Have the Employment Support Team (EST) achieved a practice that enables them to communicate Effectively with potential employers, and are they able to Promote the skilled job seekers towards opportunities as a direct result of these fundamental relationships? Or, once again, are the EST’s struggling with HR managers who are specific about ‘HOW’ they select an applicant.

    Business owner’s should be willing to sit down and listen to the valuable knowledge and transferable skills of job seekers who are willing to work with them and transform their businesses. Especially, if a job seeker (or Work Programme contractor) makes a firm effort to contact business owners and to promote these asset-worthy skills.

    Please bring back the 190’s and 1990’s where putting on your suit and knocking on the doors of employers was rewarded with an interview, rather than the quite appalling high wall one has to climb only for their CV to be placed on a stack of hundreds of others.

    Opportunities for the skilled unemployed are suffering as a direct result of changed Attitudes, and the Policies that dictate the operations of HR managers – rather than a REAL will or intent to seek the depth of knowledge and skills of VALUABLE skilled job seekers who can make a REAL difference in progress for business owners – who, unfortunately, continue to hide behind HR managers.

  • treborc1

    I went down this week about a training program for the out of work disabled, got in had my interview the same interview I’ve had with Remploy, Shaw trust, A4e , and about another ten.

    I get asked the same question and they are the same questions because the training program for these people come from the same company. what job do you want, what is your dream job, why are you in a wheelchair do you really need it.

    Your then ordered to turn up on a certain day at a place and you will get nine weeks training and you can become a carer , or your going to be a cleaner or your going to work in a big office, sadly they do not know which one. Come the Friday before the Monday you will get a message saying sorry it’s been cancelled because not enough people have joined, or the other one we cannot find a teacher, or it’s been shelved as we have no employers interested.

    Twelve training programs I’ve been sent to and nine have been cancelled the Friday before the Monday.

    It’s not working because all they are doing is training programs to be sheep, it’s not real training, and then if you get on one the teacher is more then likely to have no interest what so ever.

    And the biggest problem no jobs.

  • Robert Burns

    As someone who has actually been through some of the predecessors to the current Work Programme I can confirm that they are for the most part a complete waste of money.
    But this is not to say that nothing can be done or should be attempted.
    If the government (and I don’t single out the present administration here) was serious about takling unemployment they should have the following prominently in mind:
    (a) Any business that contracts with local or central government should be under an obligation to make recruitment from the registered unemployed a key qualifying requirement before they are allowed to bid for, obtain or retain a contract;
    (b) Both the government and the contractor need to keep in mind that this is the electorates’ money they are handling and there are more issues on the table than the explicit subject matter of the transaction.
    This means that any money disbursed by government is done so on the clear understanding that members of the electorate have priority when it comes to being employed and that unreasonable failure to comply with this requirement will result in contract termination, severe financial penalties and black-listing for future contracts.
    Doing this would achieve far more than the £5.5billion so far wasted on the “Work Progamme”.
    Too many people get marooned in Jobcentres because HR theorists have propagated the poisonous belief that a person who has been away from the workplace of six months or more becomes ‘unemployable’.
    To be sure there may be plenty of horror stories out there to superficially support this belief but they describe experience of a tiny minority of the unemployed and these stories are just sugar coating on a body of belief that is as pernicious as the idealogy of the National Front, BNP, etc.

  • Anthony Makara

    The providers add to the problem, they are an industry that has grown rich on the back of Welfare-to-Work, govt allowing providers a 95% ratio for failure encourages providers to do ‘just enough’. The provider system should be scrapped with a computerized job-matching system used to replace it. The money freed-up from providers should be used to build a rotating Waged-Work programme into the benefits system which becomes an automatic replacement for dole after a given time. This would eradicate long-term unemployment forever with people offered work after a given period and obliged to take it. The waged work/training could be done through local MBCs on social projects, thus providing a direct return for the taxpayer and a working wage and job satisfaction for the employee. However these measures can only deal with long-term unemployment. To put millions back to work will require the re-industrialization of the economy which may take a generation. For now the government has to focus its resources on long-term unemployment. The Multi-Billion provider-culture has to end with the money re-directed and put to proper use.

  • andagain

    the Work Programme would function a whole lot better if there were more jobs for people to go into.

    Isn’t this the criticism of the minimum wage – that it prices people out of the labour market?

    • Anthony Makara

      Mr Unsackable, IDS, won’t ever allow MW be abolished. It would scupper his ideological plans to support bad wages with taxpayers money. Don’t worry though, inflation will smash the idea of In-Work benefits when the state finds it can’t afford to keep up with rising prices. Once the economy does start moving again, the effects of QE and artificially low interest rates will be felt.

    • IAS2011


      Don’t get stuck on a perceived notion that jobs don’t exist. Jobs DO EXIST! However, 60% of them go to those who know an employer or employee. Also, with HR departments stacking CV’s as high as possible and then seeking only certain ‘words’ from the huge overall skills and knowledge that many job seekers have – this type of practice has become an ‘obstacles’ for employment selection.

      Personally and professionally, I do not think such HR practices are worthy to extract those who are possibly most asset-worthy than others if they are only focused on a narrow picture rather than a much needed BIG picture.

      Business owners have become lazy – hiding behind HR – and not doing all that is necessary to engage with skilled job seekers. The Work Programme contractors FAIL because they have not found a way to engage skilled job seekers with potential employers. Instead, they too suffer the obstacles contained by HR departments.

      If business owners seek asset-worthy individuals who not only have the much needed passion, but the VALUABLE transferable skills that can drive ‘business’ forward, why are these business owners not making themselves more available to such individuals – thus, looking at the whole picture that projects these valuable skills rather than the ‘word seeking’ HR department that seemingly belittles the bigger picture gained by those seeking opportunities and a career?

      • andagain

        The Work Programme contractors FAIL because they have not found a way to engage skilled job seekers with potential employers.

        As I understand it the Work Programme deals only with the long term unemployed. Presumably most of these are not SKILLED jobseekers.

        The real question is why anyone would want to employ an unskilled person who has not worked for many years, if ever.

        In the meantime, the people who argued against having or raising the minimum wage did claim that this risked reducing the number of available jobs – and we do indeed see people claiming that there are no available jobs.

        • IAS2011


          Not all Work Programme clients should be dismissed as long-term unemployed or unskilled. Some of these claimants have had only 12-months of hurdles to overcome, and may also possess a strong background in their field of work. I know this as I am one of them. Therefore, you can understand my own frustrations as someone who is trying so hard not to return to a management career in the private sector, but who wants to utilise these transferable skills in the third sector. Furthermore, given that I have also gained work experience in both the public and third sector’s, my deeper frustrations are clear.

          Since February 2012 I joined the Work Programme. All I have been offered are Tesco jobs!

          One has to ask, with such a unique balance of valuable skills that is eager to be utilised effectively in the third sector, why is this person still without a job?

          I have no doubt that my own case, as well as a diverse range of others, confirms the Work Programme is failings the social mobility of those eager to return to employment. However, the BIGGEST failure has to be David Cameron’s denial that these issues exist in the first place.

          Hence, I am now focusing my attention on returning to the third sector, as frustrating as that sometimes feels.

          Just to let you know more about the Employment Support Team (EST) whose role is to seek this fundamental engagement between skilled job seekers and potential employers at Work Programme contractors, last year the government injected £18mn into a Community Organiser Programme aimed at engaging and empowering people, communities, businesses and helping them to achieve their goals. Now, given that Government is the Work Programmes BIGGEST partner, one would have expected that their EST would have informed me and others of these Community Organiser roles. But, no. They didn’t! But for the fact that I have had to ‘reach out’ all the time and do my searches for such opportunities on a daily basis, I would never have known about these roles.

          Understandably, I was angry that I wasn’t told earlier as I could have applied. THIS IS HOW MUCH THE WORK PROGRAMME LACKS VIABILITY!

          • andagain

            Not all Work Programme clients should be dismissed as long-term unemployed or unskilled.

            I take your point, but as the majority of their clients probably are unskilled and long term unemployed, and they are the people the programme is primarily intended to be about, the success or failure of the programme is mostly going to depend on its success or failure with them.

            • IAS2011

              I agree with that, andagain.

              Empowerment was meant to be a continuous, stressful dose of job searching. But, at some stage one has to ask “what exactly are you doing for me?” A BIG question. And, the right question.

              The Work Programme has two main goals. Firstly, it’s to improve employability of clients. Secondly, it’s to provide the tool and training to helping clients job search to employment goals. But, I feel the biggest hole in the Programme is when it gets to encouraging clients to job search, job search and job search. How stressful!

              I remember the days when one could put on a suit and shiny shoes, and armed with a CV take off down the road to find work by knocking on doors and talking to decision-makers – business owners! HR managers have replaced this.

              We first need to identify the problem and then set-out new strategies on how to achieve goals. This does not seem like it will ever be done with a PM in denial. Who is actually standing-up for the skilled or unskilled job seekers who have identified these problems and who desperately need employment now!??

  • IAS2011

    Oh, there are jobs out there. We know that between 60-70% of jobs are not advertised, thus goes to people that employers know or internal staff.

    How can the Work Programme be viable if it fails either in policy or by procedure to develop a fundamental relationship and a worthy ‘plan’ to engage efficiently and effectively with potential employers reflecting the demanding of clients? And, in doing so, promote the expertise, the vision and career goals of the client towards such employers – thus, utilising a ‘back to basics’ approach that always worked in the 1990’s, 80’s and before.

    It is my view and experience that the Work Programme has failed to understand the challenges it faces by achieving such fundamental goals towards engaging with ‘business owners’ – the ultimate decision-makers! Instead, unlike the better years of being able to engage with business owners, now the private sector – even the third sector – has HR departments only focused on staking high levels of CVs and watering them down based on word searches. THIS IS NOT GOOD! Thus, there fails to be a necessary demand by HR to seek individuals who can improve the business. Remember, it’s not their business! So, where are the ultimate decision-makers – the business owners – in all of this?

    It is clear the Work Programme providers have a lot of work on there hands. But, it is the mind that needs to be in-tune with these obstacles I have mentioned, and the strong, if not sometimes unnecessary focus on social media being the roots of ALL success. Surely, by adopting a ‘down to earth’ methods of a ‘back to basics’ approach, and thus motivating business owners who truly seek people for their businesses that are passionate and committed towards achieving the same goals are key. So, in order to stimulate a recovery towards achieving this form of worthy interaction between business owners and skilled job seekers, surely the Work Programme contractors have to become more innovative in their approach and thus secure this type of policy approach and explain ‘how’ they plan to do it in practice.

    For a society to have so many skilled individuals NOT IN WORK simply because POLICY has FAILED to understand the challenges and the demands, is truly unbelievable. What is more unbelievable and increasingly concerning should be the fact that Government seem to be sticking by there guns by stating that ‘we are on the right track.’

    Dear PM, if we were on track, we would be moving in the positive direction we had hoped for. If you insist we are ‘on track’ then I would respond by also saying that the track (policy) is either confused about direction or its direction is not clear (procedure).

    So, who do I turn to for support to achieve my employment/career goals now that the PM has shown he is in denial?

    *I have always understood that a lack of innovative policies by government that reflect the understanding and demands of community are responsible for economic stagnation. But, denial has now now become the BREAKS for any stimulus that inspires and encourages recovery towards MY desperate employment goals.


  • Troika21

    The Apprenticeship scheme is pretty awful. I’ve been through one myself and they’re not great. The work aspect isn’t that bad, but the tuition is very poor.

    Not only that but whilst I was on the scheme the provider that I was with suffered from a sudden loss of government funding, nearly going bust. They are basically government job-creation schemes by the back-door.

    • treborc1

      That’s no different to when I was in college way back in the 1960’s the tuition was bloody awful and if the teacher turned up, if not we played football for the day.

      • global city

        Ever since the government became involed in ‘Job Skills’ it has become utterly useless, bureaucratic and designed around the needs of the providers, rather than business or students and trainees. There is an opportunity to redesign workfare, JC’s, NVQ and other vocational training and technical courses. Will they do that though?

  • jono

    I believe everyone who runs a business should take on someone who has no employment-this would be a psycoloygical booast;formost, then would come the funding at a later stage. You see its all about people not money. Money can be sorted afterwards. People make money not money makeith the people. Robbing Peter to fund Paul is correct in this case;( not something new- so raid the pots of the banking sector!) Ideas come from people; which in turn generate remuneration. Please see sense government. You dont want another riot!!

  • Giselle

    I’m not being petty here Jules, but this “government” has not got any sense. It’s on an idealogical mission to enrich further the rich and let the poor sink in to oblivion.

    • John Lea

      I do not get your point – grateful if you could provide more details as well as define what you mean by ‘the poor’.

  • Jules

    If there are no jobs for people then no one can put people back to work, not even Jesus Christ himself. The problem here is as ever, George Osborne and his disastrous management of the economy. He has cut too much, laying off thousands of people who then go onto claim welfare, he has increased VAT at a time of rising energy bills & living costs, so there is less money to spend and therefore less consumption leads to recession and the downward spiral continues. Outside of the South and rich areas like Tatton, the rest of the Country is being decimated by Osborne and his bankrupt economic ideology.

    If this Government had any sense it would scrap these work programmes, that are nothing less that lining rich executives pockets with tax payers cash. Use the money to start a mass house building programme. This will create jobs in the collapsed construction sector, reduce homelessness, stimulate the economy and reduce the housing benefit bill. Creating jobs, growth and affordable housing will get people off welfare and reduce Government spending.

    • HJ777

      Osborne hasn’t “cut too much” – spending has increased under Osborne.

      The problem is that he has, so far, reduced the deficit principally by raising taxes.

      If he had cut taxes (especially employers’ NI) and cut spending then things would be looking better.

    • IAS2011

      Jules, don’t start believing there are no jobs out their because this is incorrect! There are jobs out there, but the problem is so much has changed in the way in which we now have to gain positions. Furthermore, it is known that between 60 – 70% of jobs go unadvertised – going to friends or colleagues of employers. So, don’t allow this myth to suppress your goals!

      Where the Work Programme has failed is to recognise this change in the way HR departments now dominate all nature of job application processing. One can no longer put on there suit, shiny shoes and walk armed with a CV, knocking on doors of businesses expecting to sit before a decision-maker whereby you can promote yourself and opportunities can be achieved. Now, if one makes such a journey, staff will kindly tell you to go to their website and look for jobs.

      The government is part of the problem, in that, along with the contractors, it has failed to acknowledge and understand these changes in the way job roles are achieved, and find new and innovative ways on how to influence ‘business owners’ and enable ambitious, skilled, unemployed individuals to promote themselves to these business owners – who need asset-worthy individuals to improve their businesses, whether it be private sector or third sector.

      Thus, HR seems only willing to stack CVs as high as possible and then base a good applicant based on looking for specific words they may use on CVs. This is poor! Directors of businesses seem happy to leave such processes to HR, without acknowledging that much need to be achieved creatively to encourage the BEST, or at least encourage output from those with potential they seek as part of their businesses.

      The failure of both the Government and Work Programme contractors is to become innovative in how it addresses such challenges, and progressive in how it inspires opportunities for skilled, ambitious, asset-worthy unemployed individuals – who are trying so hard to ‘reach out’ and ‘stand out’ from the crowd.

      There is your FAILURE!

      But, please stop saying there are no jobs!

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