Coffee House

PMQs sketch: PM paints Work Programme a marvellous success

28 November 2012

While Leveson packs his sun-cream and flip-flops and prepares for a holiday in Australia, the nation holds its breath in anticipation of his report. One lucky citizen, the prime minister, is permitted a sneak glance at the findings of the great inquisitor into press malpractice.

At 11.45 this morning, the monumental hardback landed with a thump on Number 10’s doormat. David Cameron barely had time to turn to the index and see how many name-checks he’d been given before he was whisked off to the Commons to answer questions from Ed Miliband.

It was not a great occasion. The opposition leader challenged Cameron on the failure of the Work Programme, (b. June 2011), to terminate long-term unemployment. Reports yesterday revealed that just 3.5 percent of the programme’s recruits had graduated into permanent jobs. Miliband claimed it was barely 2 per cent.
Cameron took no notice. He bullishly announced that whole thing had been a marvellous success. Eight hundred thousand people had taken part, he said, and two hundred thousand had found work. Which sounds like a triumph. Except that Mr Miliband is correct. Only a tiny fraction of participants have found work for six months or more.

But Cameron was determined to rescue his wounded puppy from Miliband’s molestations. He quoted a CBI report claiming that the Work Programme had helped ‘turn around’ the lives of thousands. As in, turn around and head for the dole office, presumably.

Miliband unwisely compared the Work Programme with Labour’s chosen solution, the Future Jobs Fund. This brilliant scheme, he declared, had found work for 120,000 youngsters.

Yes, said Cameron, but 98 per cent of those jobs were in the public sector.
The conclusion – that government is constitutionally incapable of turning the Job Centre into the Harvard Business School – is obvious to everyone untouched by the Westminster delusion. Ed Miliband meanwhile became fixated on a statistical detail which has about as much bearing on the problem as a cornflake has on the gravitational pull of Neptune.


He pressed Cameron to admit that ‘long-term unemployment has risen by 96 per cent since the Work Programme began’.

When faced with tricky statistics like this, Cameron turns the other way and starts to whistle. Or, in parliamentary language, he turns Brown. He’s now so adept at rhetorical duplicity that he appears not to know the difference between ‘answering the question’ and ‘answering any question’.

He heaped abuse on Labour’s ‘poisoned legacy,’ and boasted that his government had reduced claimant numbers by 190,000, and created ‘a million private sector jobs.’

Miliband’s reply matched the PM’s for predictability. ‘The more he blusters and the redder in the face he gets, the less convincing he is,’ he shouted.

Cameron began to fidget and shift as Miliband trundled through some pre-scripted tri-partite insult. ‘We have a work programme that’s not working. We have a deficit that’s rising. We have a government that’s failing …’

At this point, Cameron squirmed in his seat like a hungry child hoping to hear the dinner-gong. And instantly the Labour benches pounced. ‘Calm down!’ they shouted. ‘Calm down!’ Cameron tried to laugh it off by pointing at his watch. He gestured for Miliband to conclude his attack.

‘He can’t keep his cool when he knows he’s losing the argument.’

‘It’s his leadership that’s drowning,’ hooted Cameron vapidly.

As the session ended, William Hague stood up to make a statement on Palestine which may mark a decisive shift in British policy in the middle-east. But Cameron didn’t wait to listen. He sprinted out past the Speaker’s chair in a blur of grey tailoring. He was gone. His famous Brylcreemed quiff flashed briefly in the overhead lights as he vanished.

It was Leveson, not lunch, that was on his mind.

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  • Anthony Makara

    The Work Programme exists for one reason. It allows politicians to claim they are doing something about the scandal of unemployment. Yet the fact that it allows for a 95% failure rate tells us all that the politicians themselves don’t expect the programme will ever work. So we the taxpayers are left to foot the Billion-Pound-Bill for this exercize in political vanity. Appearances are everything in politics and appearing to be doing something about unemployment deflects serious scrutiny over a subject that has been ducked by the political classes for thirty years now. Mass unemployment and its monumental cost in welfare has never been tackled head-on. Gone are the days when just one million unemployed was front page news. Now being able to get a few thousand into work is heralded as a great success. Shame on the political class as it wallows in its comfort zone. Unless we return to a mass industrialized economy, one that not only exports but also serves the UK internal market, this problem will never go away.

    • HooksLaw

      Where do you get that from? Oh yes your prejudice. People have been unemployed and parked on benefits for a long time. You are not bothered then? whats your big idea.

      • Anthony Makara

        My big idea? Well, in the short term government has within its powers the ability to build a rotating waged public works programme into the benefits system, one that could provide periods of work to replace dole. Ending continual long-term unemployment forever and providing a platform and gateway into vocational training. Such work would also provide a return for taxpayers money in terms of applied manpower. In the long-term our economy has to be re-industrialized with UK industry supplying the UK internal market. For this to happen government would have to introduce tariffs to iron out the currency and wage differentials that give the likes of China a clear advantage over UK producers. The Minimum Wage, restrictions on merger and other red tape that holds back UK business has to be replaced with business-friendly legislation that recognizes the value of producers as being paramount to the needs of consumers. For example consensus on pricing should be allowed so that business can afford to pay the better wages that end the need for In-Work benefits. Wages should be paid according to productivity and should rise and fall in line with that. In effect we need a new culture. This has to be done or nothing will ever change.

        • Noa

          Mr Makara.
          Whilst they seem positive, sound and workable to me, I’m afraid that your solution is far too straight forward and honest to ever have any chance of acceptance by the ideologically driven and spinally challenged denizens of the green leather romper room.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Super fun. The unemployed however only seem to exist as a weapon to be waved during parliamentary grand guignol. No indication from any side that they actually give a toss about the wasted lives or the waste of money in this programme.

    I am not being fiippant. In a serious world three million unemployed and the same number under-employed would matter far more than the stupid westminster village coffee morning gossip that is the whole Leveson affair, hacking, libel, privacy of ephemeral celebs and all.

    We are ill-served by our politicians for behaving this way and by our press for joining in the fun instead of stamping on it.

    • Chris lancashire

      Agreed Rhoda, but as Mr Evans points out – does anyone outside the Westminster bubble believe that governments “create” jobs? I certainly don’t. To paraphrase Reagan one of the most frightening sentences for an employer would be “I’m from the Government and I’m going to create jobs”.

      • HooksLaw

        Ms Klapp moans and acts like nothing is happening, but the govt are as we see spending a lot of our money attempting to get the long term back to work.
        Miliband is of course a waste of space. These people were parked on benefits whilst he was in govt. If he were on the other benches he would have a similar scheme under a different name.
        The scheme or something like it is needed because people have been left institutionalised on benefits so long.

        • Rhoda Klapp

          Hooky, I wouldn’t mind if they were spending money effectively on the programme. But it is borrowed money and is doing no good.

    • telemachus

      Forget the unemployed
      We know the Coalition care not
      But we know that unemployment will fall when balls gets in in 2 years to stoke growth
      Why do we not have a full post on Hagues statemen on the brave Palestinian people

      • MikeBrighton

        Labour couldn’t give a rats ass about the unemployed either. Feed them on the drug of welfare benefits, warehouse them on sink estates, allow them to declare themselves unfit for work and claim IB and a little bit more money, make no meaningful effort to reduce the 5million plus non-working welfare recipients shamefully inherited in 1997 and even-more-shamefully handed over intact in 2008. Keep ’em poor and keep ’em voting Labour should be the motto of your shameful party.

        • telemachus

          The Left exist to equalise society
          From each according to thir abilities
          To each according to their needs
          This philosophy much vilified is a true christian caring philosophy to which most of us would sign up

          • MikeBrighton

            Really?? Please forgive me to disagree with this utopian nonsense.
            The left exists in order to obtain power for its political class members period. It has absolutely nothing to do with equalising society. Your fine words crash on the rocks of the reality of a labour government in office and its shameful record
            – removal of the 10% starting rate of tax, so raising taxes on the poorest members of society (to fund a middle class tax cut)
            – unrestricted immigration forcing down the wages of the low paid, and low-wage employment highly competitive forcing more low-paid and unskilled poor into unemployment and welfare
            – welfareism trapping poor people onto the drug of welfare with huge marginal exit tax rates as people try better themselves through employment
            – massive hikes in non-payroll taxes making it highly expensive to employ people, unsurprisingly this massively impacts the lowest paid whose jobs are lost to surprise surprise immigrants
            – adoption of highly restrictive EU driven employment legislation again raising employment costs unsurprisingly massively impacting the lowest paid
            – extension of students at university both making the costs of university unobtainable of the poor and making it necessary to have a degree for level jobs….making employment for the unskilled unsurprisingly more difficult

            • telemachus

              You forget the good
              Hip waiting lists down from 5 years to 6 weeks etc

              • MikeBrighton

                All the fine words of the left about “equality” “rights” “egalitairiaism” and Guardian leaders are destroyed by Labour’s actual record in office.
                Let me leave you with one small example. Labour very heavily pushed the human rights agenda in opposition and then in office enacted human rights legislation. It patted itself on the back for being such nice people as opposed to the Nasty Tories.

                In reality it actively took part in a war where the rationale was disguised and the public actively lied to, a war who’s actual legality was dubious at best. It connived with the US in illegal rendition as at best turned a knowing blind eye to the torture of british citizens and others swept up during its wars, at worst actively and knowingly connived in torture.

                You wonder why people like me and on this blog hate Labour. They are the walking talking definition of hypocrisy.

    • 2trueblue

      The government are also unpopular for trying to make not working less profitable than being in work but are not supported within their coalition partners, or Liebore. No matter which way it goes there has to be a real benefit for those who work. The trouble is that Liebore spent 13yrs in power and we were supposed to be enjoying growth and at the end of it we had nothing to show for it. The gap between rich and poor grew, child poverty grew, and youth employment grew. These things were all within that period when immigration also grew and nothing was added to cater for the massive uplift in our population. These is the reality but the media colour it in trivial terms and we are presented with vacuous dialogue.

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