The latest Private Eye has some interesting sidelights on the Work Programme and attendant issues.
- The first concerns those sanctions targets which the government so strenuously denies. Labour's Liam Byrne and his colleague in the Lords, Lord McKenzie, have made much of this, wanting an investigation. But the Eye reveals that in 2006 Labour had an explicit target of 6% sanctions, and when this came out the excuses were “spookily similar” to those given recently. They also point out that Freud, who has masterminded much of the current “reform”, was also advisor on welfare to Labour. No wonder Labour's opposition is so lame.
- FoI requests made by the Eye have also revealed how the government tried to massage the Work Programme figures before their release last year. Mark Hoban, employment minister, met Kirsty McHugh who is head of the ERSA, the trade body for companies like A4e, involved in the WP. “She told Hoban, 'On performance overall, I think it is really important that both the industry and the department are robust in terms of defending the Work Programme as much as we can.'” Hoban's response was that he was keen to put the ERSA's own figure of “200,000 job entries” out there because it would be “much more understandable to the media / public than discussion around Job Outcomes”. This was, of course, deliberately misleading, since the 200,000 figure means nothing without knowing the percentage figure for actual job outcomes. But Hoban and his masters obviously didn't want that to come out. There was a lot of discussion with the ERSA, not, apparently, about why they were doing so badly and what measures were going to be taken to improve the situation, but about how to spin the failure. The emails suggest that the DWP even considered ignoring the contractors' minimum performance levels completely, but McHugh thought they needed to be prepared for questions on it. She was right. The DWP press release did ignore the minimum performance levels, but the media went with it anyway. This hardly inspires confidence that effective measures to tackle the dismal performance of the WP providers are being taken. Indeed, the apparent vow of silence on the whole subject might be a sign that they hope we'll all forget about it – except for those obliged to take part in it, of course.
- Finally, the much unloved Universal Jobmatch. The last edition of Private Eye showed that many of the vacancies for carers were being advertised on the site at well below minimum wage when travel time was taken into account, and that the DWP was not interested in doing anything about this. Now they've turned their attention to the non-jobs (which many of our readers know only too well). They found adverts which turned out to come from outfits which demanded personal data but then never responded; simple data mining, in other words. And they chased down adverts for what are not real jobs but “multi-level marketing”, particularly from Kleeneze reps. Again, people were using UJM simply to garner contact details and make money out of desperate people. This isn't new. Such “opportunities” have been a familiar feature of job sites for years. But now that people can be punished for not pursuing them, it's only a matter of time before someone loses their benefits for refusing to join one of these pyramid selling schemes.