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Work Programme Job Outcome Data Published - but how useful is it?

The much anticipated release of job outcome data for the Work Programme has seen a flurry of announcements and analysis today. Critics of the Government's welfare agenda are claiming the Work Programme isn't working, and supporters are claiming the news is positive in a difficult climate.

ERSA (the Employment Related Services Association) has summed up the data release by the Department for Work and Pensions as being extremely limited in scope. 

W2W Solutions has summed up the data release as being a major disappointment that raises more questions than answers!

The data released today shows the number of people attached to the Work Programme up until July 2012 and the number of job outcome payments made to providers in the same period.  A job outcomes is claimed when a Work Programme participant has been in work for 13 or 26 cumulative weeks (depending upon the customer group).  DWP have also completed some analysis of the benefit status of people referred to the Work Programme in June to September 2011, and attachments in June 2011.  There are multiple reasons why people sign off benefits, not just because they enter employment, so unfortunately this analysis adds little to the debate.  

Work Programme providers have two years to work with customers and move them into sustained employment.  The only meaningful statistics will be those that offer performance data for a specific cohort once the full two year programme has been completed and any potential sustainment periods completed.  W2W Solutions appreciates that even for the customer group who started in June 2011, the earliest indication of base performance will be June 2013, with full performance information not being available until the start of 2014.  While we accept that this level of data is not yet available, it seems self defeating to issue broad headline figures that bear no relation whatsoever to the way in which provider performance is being measured for contractual purposes.  By failing to follow their own methods of measuring provider performance in the data release, DWP has paved the way for commentators to use the limited available data without fully understanding how contractual performance is measured, which is hardly the grounds for intelligent debate.

Providers have already had 16 months to work with customers who were referred in June 2011.  Understanding the movement of this specific cohort would give commentators, critics and supporters far more meaningful data about how the Work Programme is performing against its targets.  If memory serves us correctly, Flexible New Deal data was available on a cohort basis.  We can only hope that DWP releases data in this format in the near future to enable real analysis of the success of the Work Programme.

ERSA's own analysis, using information supplied by providers, looks at the number of job starts, rather than the number of job outcomes.  Their data indicates that 29 percent of the people who started in June 2011 and 27 percent of those starting between July and September 2011 have entered some form of employment.  The analysis stops short at converting the information into sustained job outcomes, due to the issues highlighted above.  It does however give critics the opportunity to compare like for like between the Work Programme and previous provisions whose success was measured against the number of leavers who started work.  Note that DWP do not hold data about job starts, only job outcome payments made.

More analysis and comment is likely over the next few days, but until further data is made available we will still not really know how the Work Programme is performing.

27 November 2012

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