Coffee House

Work programme figures disappoint

27 November 2012

Today’s headline figures on the Work Programme are not good news for the government: in its first 12 months, only 2.3 per cent of participants actually landed sustainable employment against the department’s target of 5.5 per cent. This sounds even worse when you contrast it with the government’s own figures suggesting that 5 per cent of people who have been unemployed for a long time can find sustainable jobs without any intervention at all, suggesting the programme is actually worse than doing nothing.

At Coffee House, we are keen to see the Work Programme succeed, not just because it will vindicate the ministers co-ordinating it, but also because a successful programme would bring those furthest from the labour market back into employment. So the first tranche of figures is disappointing.

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But they must be read as part of the broader economic picture: when this scheme was set up, it was based upon the assumption that the British economy would be growing by 2 per cent a year. The Work Programme was not set up as a solution to the weak economy, but to the problem of a long-term unemployment rate that was too high even before the recession bit. But because the recovery is dragging its feet far more than anyone (including Sir Mervyn King) believed it would, there are not as many jobs available as a whole, let alone for those who, in spite of intensive training, will have long gaps in their CVs.

Some of these problems were highlighted earlier this year by the CBI in a report called Work in Progress, which said ‘providers are… operating in a much tougher economic and labour market conditions than originally envisaged, with potential implications for their financial and commercial models’. The CBI recommended improving the referrals process for those furthest from the labour market to ensure they move onto the work programme as soon as they are capable of looking for a job, encouraging self-employment, joining the programme up with services for ex-offenders and encouraging more employers to work with the programme. The government may well want to take heed of some of these recommendations if the figures continue to disappoint.

And, as Pete Hoskin points out in his ConHome blog, it is too early to condemn the Work Programme as a failure, especially if you’re a Labour MP, as that party’s own welfare-to-work programme also missed its targets.

But in the short-term, this is an awkward piece of news for the Government. Employment minister Mark Hoban has written an upbeat piece for PoliticsHome, saying ‘critics call for us to change course, but we won’t be doing that’, but he is writing to under performing providers on the programme, threatening that if they do not up their game, they will not receive as many new claimants. The success of this programme is hugely important to the government’s ability or otherwise to sell itself in 2015 as the party that finally reformed welfare: ministers will want to do everything they can to prove the critics wrong, and that includes taking on board some of the early warning signs about providers and the design of the programme.

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Show comments
  • Simon Fay

    Had a brush with this myself: after several months of almost no work I landed a post as a ‘contractor’ (a temp by any other name) whilst I happened to be attending a back-to-work scheme run by Age Concern, who now wish to take (paid) credit for my short-lived good luck.

  • FF42

    The National Audit Office declared the similar scheme of the previous Government to be poor value for money, although they accepted it was a difficult problem to solve in a depressed economy.

    “Overall, whilst a serious attempt to tackle an intractable issue, Pathways has turned out to provide poor value for money and the department needs to learn from this experience.”

    It seems the current Government did learn and decided to replicate it all over again.

  • Daniel Johnson

    Create 3 million new jobs, import 3 million immigrants to fill them, then spend millions on a “Work Programme” to get the 3 million indigenous unemployed back to work.

    Sounds like a plan (a government plan — and only they could come up with such an idea).

    Government schemes like these just don’t work in my opinion. The Work Programme is even more useless than JobCentre Plus. If the government closed down both, and used the money to cut taxes, that might create some jobs.

    Since the government has created an unfair playing field where foreign corporations don’t pay the same tax as domestic companies, use the money saved to cut/abolish corporation tax. Morrisions for example paid £250 million in tax last year — imagine what they could have done if they’d been able to invest all that money

  • Robert Bentley

    If you pay people not to work, what are they going to do ?

    • Troika21

      Spoken like someone who’s not receiving JSA (and quite possibly never has, lucky you).

      It’s insurance.

      Not a wage.

      Plain ignorance, if you think it is.

  • Troika21

    I’m presently unemployed at the moment.

    Going to JCP every two weeks really is a soul-destroying experience, like Rhoda says above. Banks of JCP staff who really have no other job than day long box-ticking.

    Not that I blame them, politicians loath the idea that someone might be able to game the system, and would rather employ an army of public sector workers to make sure that won’t happen than just pay people anyway.

    Part of the problem is that JCP wants you to apply for pretty much every job that crosses your radar – whether it’s suitable or not, and gets you into the mindset of applying for jobs to meet some ‘quota’ (to make sure your seen to be applying) rather than trying to find sustainable, long-term and suitable employment.

    What they require you to do is also depressing – I now have a long list of everyone who I’ve sent a CV to and been rejected by, the staff are all miserable (at least my ‘caseworker’ seems happy enough) and the rooms are patrolled by bored, overweight G4S staff just looking for someone to start something.

    To be a supplicant at this bureaucracy is depressing and unhelpful.

    I’ve been volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau in my local area to keep my skills up. But nothing I can do will measure up to what employers can get hold of because of the terrible economy; lots of over-qualified people chasing too few jobs, and that pushes little old me down the queue.

    Honestly, have you seen some of the vacancy postings these days? ‘Three years experience required’, ‘Must have proven record’ and the like. Employers can put down pretty much any damn requirement they please.

    Lastly, Apprenticeships. Bravo DWP, now every company in the land seems to be using this cheap labour rather than hire experienced staff. Just £2.65 per hour.


    • Daniel Maris


      Your post really does show the damage done by the present system. Clearly you should be in employment and there is something wrong with our society if you aren’t – it’s not your fault, however much the system is designed to tell you it is your fault.

      What is required is a guaranteed system of at least part time work, which will give people plenty of opportunities for advancement and for acquiring good references.

      The idea that we can’t afford it is ridiculous.

  • Eric Jones

    This is really a disaster. This is the worst government I have ever known. It really is time for a General Election. Come back, Labour!

    • Span Ows

      I am getting that impression from the Spectator lately, keep thinking I’ve strolled into labour Uncut by mistake.

      • Daniel Maris

        I think Rod Liddle with his breaking of the butterfly Owen Jones invited in a lot of Labour Luvvie types.

    • 2trueblue

      Ah, you really miss them? They took 13yrs to make the almighty screw up that will take a generation to fix. Go out in a boat, get into trouble and find out what power it takes to steer back into safe water, that is what is needed now, not Balls/Millipeds/Brown/Blair type motion.

  • Jules

    There are hardly any jobs outside the SE of England thanks to Osborne has his disastrous economic policies, that put us in a double dip recession. Providers, whoever they are, cannot put people into jobs that do not exist so it does not matter if they get letters telling them to ‘up their game’. If the jobs are not there people will claim welfare and that is also why public spending is not going down.

    If more people find jobs without the welfare programme then it should be cancelled and the money put into something that will stimulate the economy and create jobs, ie a house building programme.

    • Daniel Johnson

      In American, the left blame the bad economy on Bush (despite Obama being president for the past four years).

      In Britain, the left blame the bad economy on Osbourne (despite the Tories only being in partial power for two and half years).

      Is it always someone else’s fault?

  • Thomas Paine

    Excuses excuses. Thought it has to be said the main issue here is neither unrealistic targets nor the general economic situation. Rather the fundamental problem is the unemployability of much of the underclass when compared to skilled and motivated (mainly EU) migrants.

    The solution to that is not entirely clear (well it is to the more swivel-eyed but short of leaving the EU it’s pretty intractable).

    • HooksLaw

      The solution is entirely clear – keep socialists away from educating our children.

      • 2trueblue

        Surely you mean keep socialists away from education, which is something they know nothing about? They can hardly be accused of actually educating our children whilst they were in power.

    • 2trueblue

      Blair/Brown/Balls/Millipedex2 actually created the situation and only David Millpiede has stood up and spoken out about the dire growth of youth unemployment during Liebores time in power. They created the client state for themselves and

  • Anthony Makara

    For many years now a number of us have been begging government to get wise to the provider gravy-train that is milking the taxpayer. We have to ask why govt allows a 95% margin for failure as its target and whether the very idea of Welfare-to-Work has now run its course? The ideological drive to force the unemployed into low-paid jobs with income topped up by the state, with the government paying Billions to providers to do the pushing, is seriously flawed and a piece of social engineering that we simply can’t afford. After the failure of Labour’s New Deal and now the Work Programme, government has to accept that Wefare-to-Work is an ideological experiment that failed and as today’s Times newspaper points out, has cost the taxpayer Billions more than having no policy at all.

    • Yoann

      The thing is if they had actually invested that money in a mass house building programme of social housing and affordable housing, we would not have a housing shortage, the construction industry would not have collapsed and the housing benefit bill would have been reduced. Instead the money has just lined the pockets of these ‘providers’ and their rich executives. It’s a national scandal.

      • Anthony Makara

        The Government has totally bought into the Welfare-to-Work ideology and now is more afraid of losing face than in doing the sensible, cost-effective thing and closing down this failed and dated venture. Taxpayers are going to pay a heavy price for giving Ministers the satisfaction of pretending that they are doing something about moving people off benefits and into work. Unless it introduces a rotating NRA style programme built into the benefits system then it isn’t going to be able to reduce long-term unemployment during its tenure in office. A case should be made for the state employing the long-term jobless on social projects, providing a wage to replace dole and a return for taxpayers money in terms of manpower. However I fear this government is far too ideological to ever embrace such a common sense solution. Perhaps Mr Ed will now propose the obvious?

      • HooksLaw

        Mass housebuilding?

        ‘We must develop a third more land’ to meet housing demand’
        ‘More than 1,500 square miles of open countryside — an area twice the size of Greater London’
        These clever ideas are fine in principle – try enacting them.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    There aren’t any jobs, after the Polish temp agencies have hoovered them up. And no employer is desparate to get the long-term unemployed, fearing that they are in that position for a reason. The day to get people into work is the first day they walk into the jobcentre, not after they go onto the long-term list. The measurement system is stupid. It encourages what it wants to reduce.

    Here’s an idea. The Spect always seems to get its idea of what is going on from lobby sories and pressreleases. Go out and interview a few folks who are on the dole. Mike up a ciaimant and send them in for their first meeting in the jobcentre. From what I hear it is a soul-destroying experience. Don’t look at this problem in terms of percentages and excuses /sneers re govt schemes. Go out and find out what is really happening.

    • Daniel Maris

      I agree. That’s why it is the duty of any well run community to ensure that work is available for everyone. There is plenty of productive work for them to do, from cleaning rubbish out of rivers and streams, to tidying up beaches, to staffing information kiosks in town centres, to cleaning street signs, to running errands for the housebound, to identifying diseased ash trees…the list is endless really.

      They don’t need to work full time – just pro rata part time to cover their benefits. The cost of providing productive work would be only marginally more than currently, especially as they wouldn’t have to go on expensive training schemes or be monitored as to their job finding.

      Doing the work will provide them with references.

      • telemachus

        No Dan
        That was Schicklegrubers way
        The way forward is to promote growth and them get them into sustainable jobs
        I am fed up of drawing everyone’s attention to Ed Balls’ build for growth

        • Colonel Mustard

          “I am fed up of drawing everyone’s attention to Ed Balls’ build for growth”

          Good, then give up doing it because we are all fed up with it too.

          • telemachus

            Simple way of getting round that
            Tell Osborne to do it instead of frog watching

            • Span Ows

              How much of this building for growth did Balls do when he wa sin a position to do it?

      • Jules

        Daniel Maris

        The jobs you describe are done by PAID employees, if you get people on benefit to do them that will just create more unemployment.

        This issue is overblown. 60% of the welfare budget goes to pensioners and their entitlements, the majority of housing benefit is paid to those IN WORK but whose employers do not pay a living wage, not the unemployed.

        • HooksLaw

          60% of the welfare budget does not go to pensioners.

          Pensions themselves, which are not ‘welfare’, account for £120 billion and ‘Welfare’ itself for 113 billion.

          Of this latter £24 billion goes to families and £25 billion to ‘social exclusion. £53 billion goes to ‘social protection and a large part of that goes to to families of working age.
          So it would be impossible for 60% of welfare to go to pensioners.

        • Daniel Maris

          No. They are not. If you look in most streams and rivers you will find all sorts of rubbish. Most towns don’t have people say in information kiosks ready to help with people’s enquiries from early morning to late at night. You might have a tourist information centre in some centres, but not all. It would be a useful service that could be provided cheaply. Street name signs are often left dirty. There would be benefit from having some additional cleaning. Many housebound people especially the elderly would value some more contact in the day. There aren’t many people employed as visitors to the elderly. NO way is every ash tree in the country being inspected on a regular weekly basis.

          Unemployment is associated with a wide range of social and health problems including low self-esteem, self-harming, alcoholism and drug addiction.

          I am all in favour of raising the minimum wage.

          • Troika21

            Daniel, even if the jobs you describe are almost always unpaid ones (which I dispute) then they still need to be supervised, with appropriate insurance, legal clearance and maybe other things depending on the issue. All of that costs money, and where will it come from?

            ” Many housebound people especially the elderly would value some more
            contact in the day. There aren’t many people employed as visitors to
            the elderly.”

            I mean, seriously, do you have any idea how many legal hurdles your looking at there?

            • Noa

              “Moriarity. Always with the negative waves…”
              So many reasons for not doing things.

              Then cap or exclude the legal liabilities.

              • Troika21

                I was thinking more about the supervision rather than the legal issue.

                But the real concern for me is the attitude that voluntary organisations (who I assume would do this) can be used as dumping grounds for people who are out of work.

                Charities are not grateful for them, even if they need the bodies, they still attempt to have hiring standards, and they want people who want to be there. Not because they’re obliged to be.

            • Daniel Maris

              Self-insurance is a well established principle in the public sector. I doubt any of the activities I mentioned really need insurance cover.

              As for legal clearance, well yes, to a certain extent but there are plenty of legal people already employed in the civil service. Legal clearance would be a v. small marginal cost.

              Regarding visits to the elderly, clearly you have to have risk assessment in place. But I would suggest that if you looked at people in the age category of 50-60 (people in that age group who become unemployed often find it difficult to get re-employed) from particular backgrounds (e.g. no criminal record and having worked in responsible positions) you are already reducing risk. There is no reason with modern technology why visits shouldn’t be recorded.

              Let’s not forget charities do undertake such visits.

              • Troika21

                I think I understand a bit more where you’re coming from now, I’m really not opposed to it. I like the idea, and I’m not trying to rubbish it.

                I do, however, just get a little concerned when people assume that community groups can solve big problems, (Cameron, I’m looking at you, especially. All that Big Society blather, and then gutted the third sector).

          • Noa

            I’m much in agreement with that sort of positive approach.

          • HooksLaw

            You are talking about the public paying for workers out of their income which they then cannot spend. So there is no money going back in the economy, you are robbing peter to pay paul.

            All the work you describe is paid ultimately out of successful investment generating a return which sustains jobs and pays taxes which in turn support public services.

            • Daniel Maris

              Pay attention, Hookie.

              I am saying that we convert welfare benefits into payment for work.

              Once you have removed the costs of monitoring job seekers allowance/training, additional health costs resulting from unemployment (well established) and additional costs of crime etc (ever noticed – the devil makes work for idle hands).

              The example I gave were mostly productive in the sense of either making society healthier or more pleasant but partly also more productive as in being more efficient. But they were just a snapshot. There are lots of ways you can add to our national wealth without impinging on existing economic activity. An example would be promoting UK tourism over the internet. The tourism industry can only devote a certain proportion of its earnings to promotion. But a state-sponsored employment scheme can simply add to that promotion effort indefinitely. It may operate at low efficiency but in comparison with the alternative (welfare) it represents a clear marginal gain for the national economy.

              There will be lots of activities that offer similar marginal gains.

      • 2trueblue

        Ah but then you have the unions to contend with. Just turning up for something would be a discipline.

  • Derk Aderkaderk

    No surprise there,I wonder when we will start putting our economic fate in private investments and savings instead of government debts and bureaucratic inventions. Gotta happen at some point and thats the first step to putting this country back together

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