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MWA Extended & Work Experience Analysed

Chris Grayling has formally announced the much anticipated extension to the Mandatory Work Activity programme. The extension of the programme means that 60-70,000 JSA claimants a year could now be mandated to undertake a four week work placement of 30 hours a week.

The MWA programme has already seen Jobcentre Plus mandating nearly five times more JSA claimants than initially anticipated (although only a third actually started), so it comes as no surprise that the budget is being increased. Chris Grayling has made it clear that this programme is about deterring people from "gaming the system". DWP try to balance this by stressing that MWA helps jobseekers to gain work related disciplines such as attending on time, regularly carrying out specific tasks and working under supervision.

Grayling also stated that the sanctions regime would be toughened up as well to ensure that claimants cannot just sign off benefits to avoid the placement.  Once referred JSA claimants will have to complete a placement or face sanctions.

The announcement comes on the back DWP's publication this week of the early impact of MWA (click here) and the government's publication of a paper regarding work experience schemes covering both voluntary work experience and MWA (click here). 

MWA Impact

DWP's research was peer reviewed by National Institute of Economic and Social Research, but only looks at people referred to MWA in the first few months of operation.  It concludes that MWA had a small and transitory impact on benefit receipt, and no impact on employment.  Bear in mind this is an almost impossible piece of research - by their nature, the claimants referred to MWA will be those who are not engaging with the labour market.  To compare their outcomes and status to those of the non-referred group is like comparing apples and pears. 

NIESR also seem to miss the point in comments that they have subsequently put out this week suggesting that MWA "isn't working" and that extending it is a flawed policy.  Nearly half of the JSA claimants initially referred to MWA signed off (for however short a period), and many have been sanctioned.  This is a direct cost saving to the government - no payment made to a provider and a reduced benefit bill. You tell us how that equates to MWA not working?  

Work Experience 

The government paper pulls together research across many different programmes about the success of work experience.  It's worth a read even if you just want to reminisce - come on, who remembers Employment Action or Project Work?

The paper concludes that the strictest work experience schemes are less likely to work as they can deter all people from claiming benefit without improving their chances of finding employment.  Moderate schemes achieve better results.  Workfare (of which MWA is our closest programme) can "via the motivation or deterrence effect, reduce the number of people claiming benefits."  So ultimately it depends on what the motivator is and what outcomes a government wishes to achieve that should dictate how a scheme is designed.  In the case of MWA it is clearly to move people off JSA who do not wish to comply with the conditionality rules.

The paper looks back at the different schemes from 1979 that have included work experience.  StepUp appears to have been one of the most successful initiatives - this "post-New Deal" programme was introduced by Labour in selected areas of the UK.  The Future Jobs Fund was also highlighted as being a particular success.  

The paper provides links to a range of research material for those of you who want to dig deeper and have a few hours to spare!

While work experience is currently under the spotlight, this paper shows that it has been around for over 30 years in some form.  It's also unlikely to go away any time soon, so let's make work experience work!

13 June 2012

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