We used to complain that no data was being released on the effectiveness of the Work Programme. Now we have all the data we could wish for, it seems, in the figures put out yesterday. You can see the document here. Some key figures are on the first page, but you'll need to get your calculator out. If we look at the "by all referrals" June 2011 to Dec 2013, we see that just under 19% of those on the programme long enough got an outcome. (The Factcheck blog says 17%.) But then look at how that tapers off, so that only 48,000 people were in work long enough for the provider to claim the full payments. In other words, the jobs tend to be temporary. 24,000 got 3-6 months of work, but then were back on the programme, and in all 352,000 have finished the WP and been referred back to the jobcentre. The other key fact from all of this is that while the figures for JSA claimants are considered satisfactory, they are terrible for those on ESA. For a good summary, read Channel 4's Factcheck blog. Looking at the breakdown by provider, we see that A4e isn't the worst-performing, but it's a long way from being the best.
Is it worth it? That's the really important question. Millions have been paid out to companies like A4e to achieve only a little above what would be expected with no intervention at all (and below that with ESA). The likelihood is that the vast majority of the jobs are down to the improving economy. So what's the point?
Other news takes us back to ATOS. The Public Accounts Committee had a go at the civil servants in the DWP and one of the bosses of Atos over the failure of the new PIPs assessment contract. The Guardian reported Margaret Hodge's interrogation of Robert Devereux, the Permanent Secretary. They have crossed swords before, and her questions revolved around the same issues as she has fumed over with the Work Programme. How can you give a new contract to a company which is in the process of bodging a similar contract? (My phrasing, not hers.) He said, "We are making a decision on the bids in front of us." As he has said before, the procurement process deliberately doesn't look at past performance. And they did not check that what Atos had put in its bid document was true. On the PIPs bid, Atos had claimed to have agreements with a large number of hospital trusts and physiotherapy practices, but far fewer actually signed up in the end. That meant that another claim, that everyone facing assessment would have a centre within an hour's travel time, has gone by the board. Huge backlogs are building up. Hodge had a go at the Atos person for misleading the DWP. But this sort of thing is common with the procurement process which the DWP has shaped. The big companies must form "partnerships" with smaller outfits, and can then list on their bid documents a number of sub-contractors who have, in fact, signed nothing and can duck out once they see the small print.
It's obvious to everybody that there has to be a better way.