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Can the Work Programme work for all user groups?

The latest report by the Work and Pensions Committe into the Work Programme has been published.

This report looks at how the Work Programme works for the different user groups, and concludes that it has the potential to work well for relatively mainstream jobseekers but is unlikely to reach the most disadvantaged long-term unemployed people.

The differential pricing structure, which is designed to financially incentivise providers to support those with more challenging barriers to employment, is not having its intended impact on providers’ behaviour. The hardest to help jobseekers remain at risk of receiving little or no support by providers who assess them as being unlikely to find sustained work. While there are signs that performance is improving, the Work and Pensions Committee, found that people with disabilities, homeless people, and those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse are often not receiving the support they need.

Dame Anne Begg MP said, "It is clear that the differential pricing structure is not a panacea for tackling creaming and parking. The Government must do more to ensure that the Work Programme provides effective support for all jobseekers, not just the ones who are easiest to help”.

The Report notes that the Government spent some £248 million less on the Work Programme than anticipated in 2012/13, due to providers’ under-performance. In the short term, the Committee has urged the Government to use the unspent budget to extend proven alternative provision for disadvantaged jobseekers, eg Work Choice; extend and continue to promote Access to Work to help disabled people overcome the practical difficulties of starting a job; and provide further support for individuals who complete their two-year attachment to the Work Programme without finding sustained employment.

The Committee also highlights that people with the severest barriers to work, such as homelessness and serious drug and alcohol problems are often not ready for the Work Programme and need support first to prepare for it. It recommends that DWP pilots ways of providing this additional support to prepare these groups for effective engagement with the Work Programme before they are referred.

In the longer-term, the Committee calls on DWP to consider moving away from the current differential pricing model, based on the type of benefit a participant is claiming, to a more individualised, needs-based model. 

Other key conclusions and recommendations include:

  • Balancing the black box approach by appropriate Minimum Service Standards so that every participant knows the level of service to which they are entitled and are protected from being “parked”.  This is a long running recommendation which seems to be ignored by ministers.  Currently each of the 18 prime contractors has its own set of Minimum Service Standards, but some are so vague that they are of little to no value.
  • Many specialist providers are not involved in the Work Programme to anywhere near the extent they anticipated. This suggests that the specialist support some disadvantaged jobseekers need is not currently available.  The Committee would like to see more publicly available information at subcontractor referral level.
  • Poor working relationships between DWP and providers are at times hampering participants’ effective engagement with the Programme and leading to the inappropriate use, or threat, of benefit sanctions. The Committee calls on DWP to conduct a review of Work Programme sanctioning activity as a matter of urgency and publish its findings by the end of 2013.
  • There is room for improvement in the way providers engage with employers.  The Committee highlighted that Work Programme advisers are often swamped by caseloads of 120-180 jobseekers and employers deluged with poorly matched CVs and under-prepared candidates. More activity is needed to prepare jobseekers for real vacancies and offer an effective recruitment solution to employers. Excellent examples of employer engagement with the Work Programme do exist, and should be encouraged.
  • There should be much more focus on the participant experience. Providers should be required to conduct standardised participant satisfaction surveys, the results of which should form part of DWP’s assessment of providers’ effectiveness.
  • Regulation of the welfare-to-work market needs to improve. The Merlin Standard, which governs supply chain relationships, should be given more ‘teeth’, including the power to impose financial penalties on prime contractors which treat subcontractors unfairly. The Merlin accreditation process should also include an assessment of the levels of satisfaction of participants, local authorities and employers.

Click here for the report - Can the Work Programme work for all user groups?

22 May 2013

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