Government should work with charities on 'poor' work programme - report
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Central Government
Government extends youth unemployment pledge
The "poor performance" of the work programme in getting harder-to-help jobseekers into work demonstrates there is a need for the government to work more closely with charities and service users when designing contracts, a new report has argued.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisation's (NCVO) study is based on feedback from charities taking part in current contracts and the latest figures from the National Audit Office (NAO), which show lower than expected performance levels after the first two years of the scheme.
The report also reveals that contractors are failing to help people furthest from the labour market to find work.
A lack of consultation with service providers, including specialist charities and voluntary organisations, led to design flaws that have hampered the programme from the start, the report claims.
Not only was there no consultation with the voluntary sector during the design of the programme - a factor that the NAO has been critical of - but the speed of its launch also limited the opportunity for creative or collaborative approaches, according to the report.
Successful bidders for work programme contracts were announced in April 2011 just four months after the initial invitation to tender was published in December 2010, "giving potential prime providers little or no time to discuss with potential subcontractors".
The report says that people with multiple or complex barriers to work are not receiving the help that they need as contractors focus on people who are easier to help.
Just 2.3% of employability support allowance (ESA) claimants expected to be fit for work by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) within 12 months of being referred to the work programme have been successful in finding a job.
Moreover, prime contractors have reduced their budget for harder to help claimants by 54% since the start of the programme. For many voluntary organisations carrying out services, a lack of referrals to the programme has put pressure on existing budgets and forced some charities to spend their reserves in order to provide services.
However, the DWP has defended the work programme, pointing to recent stats from the ONS that show there are 166,000 fewer long-term unemployed people than this time last year, the largest annual fall since 1998.
A DWP spokesman said: “The work programme has transformed how long-term unemployed people are helped into work. Charities and voluntary sector organisations play a vital part in its success by using their expert knowledge to tailor services for some of the very hardest to help people.
“The work programme is helping more people than any previous employment programme and we have already helped 300,000 people to find lasting work, which has contributed to the largest fall in long-term unemployment for 16 years. "
The NCVO recommends that the DWP works more closely with charities when designing contracts to bring maximum benefit to service users in future welfare to work programmes.
Karl Wilding, director of public policy at NCVO, said: "The recommendations set out by this report seek to address the failings of the work programme and the lack of input sought by the government from specialist charity and voluntary organisations.
"Front-line charities are in an excellent position to help people furthest away from the job market to gain skills, experience and confidence to help them towards and into employment. The government can benefit from taking their expertise into account at the earliest stages. In the future, we would like to see voluntary organisations involved in the design process from the very beginning, to prevent the waste and inefficiencies that have blighted the work programme so far."
The final referrals for the current work programme will take place in March 2016.
The NCVO recommends that charities and umbrella groups should be brought in to the planning process for the next welfare to work scheme as soon as possible.