Described by Chris Grayling as a “giant employment dating service”, the Government have released the first set of figures for their Work Programme and hailed it as a success; but the figures have provoked a mixed reaction from industry experts.
The Work Programme is the Government’s flagship employment scheme, and involves 15 private companies, two charities and one public sector contractor working to get the unemployed back to work for at least two years. Those involved have been given a five year contract, totalling up to £5bn, and are paid according to their success – with a job outcome payment being made after 13 or 26 weeks in employment, and further payments being made for sustained employment after that.
A year after this programme was first launched; figures show that a significant number of participants are staying off benefits for at least three months. These figures are the first official insight in to the performance of the Work Programme. They reveal that after nine months, 24% of 28,600 participants that started in June 2011 had already completed at least three successive months off benefits. Furthermore, according to the Department of Work and Pensions, early signs are that the figure will have continued to rise and is now – a year into the scheme – perhaps in the region of 30%.
Rebutting claims that these figures showed that the private sector providers had “creamed off” the easiest group to get back to work, the minister said this cohort was not exceptional: “We are not saying that they all got jobs. But we think that the full picture is much higher than 24% and probably closer to 30% [for those off benefits for 13 weeks].”
Matthew Fell, CBI director for competitive markets, said: “The Work Programme seems to have made a promising start, with nearly half of participants coming off benefits at some point since joining, but it’s still far too early to tell how the programme is performing overall.
“In a challenging economic environment we should take action to make sure the programme delivers on its promise, not write it off.
“The Government and programme providers must work together, and with employers, at a national and local level, to ensure that the programme can grow and fulfil its potential.”