As we await the Work Programme performance data, we can see that the excuses are already prepared. The figures for the number of long-term unemployed show that, far from being reduced by the WP, they are going up. In September there was a 2% increase on the previous month for those out of work for 12 months or more, and that's a 128% increase on the same time last year. That is a huge indictment of the scheme that was going to solve everything. Yet we read (in the Telegraph, for example) that providers are complaining that not enough "hard to help" claimants are being put on the programme. Those on ESA are not being referred in the numbers expected, and that cuts the possible profits of the providers. We often read that Jobcentres are not referring people in the expected numbers, but nobody seems to have asked the Jobcentre managers why that is.
Are the providers really concerned that they're not getting enough of the most difficult clients? They appear to be doing little or nothing to help those they do get. We know (from the whistle-blower on Channel 4 News) that A4e's advisers have huge caseloads and have to concentrate on those most likely to get work i.e. those who've been out of work for the shortest time. Perhaps that's because so few people are getting work. Instead of getting them off the books, providers have to maintain contact with all these clients. It's a mess, and it will be very difficult to present it as anything else.
We are not to be allowed to know which organisations are taking part in "workfare" programmes. The DWP has defied the verdict of the Information Commissioner, asserting that the hostile action which would follow that disclosure would make those organisations withdraw. That would be particularly true, they say, of MWA, the mandatory work activity programme. The quote (in the Guardian) is that it would collapse "with incalculable losses to the taxpayer and many thousands of persons in long-term unemployment who are supported by the scheme." I don't get the "losses to the taxpayer" bit. And as the article says, "The government's own research also showed that the scheme does not help the unemployed to get a job once they've finished the four weeks of work. It also had no effect on getting people off benefits in the long term." It seems, though, that most of the organisations involved in MWA are in the voluntary sector.
The government is fast approaching a formal return to the age-old concept of deserving and undeserving poor. It's going ahead with plans to give priority in council housing lists to "working families, ex-servicemen and people who volunteer". (See another Guardian article.) This may not work in Labour-controlled areas. And what constitutes volunteering? Everybody else who is homeless would be shoved into private rented accommodation, perhaps miles from where they've always lived.
Critics talk about a return to the workhouse. No, there won't be workhouses. But the mindset is very similar to that which produced the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act.