Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Work Programme - not working

The Work and Pensions Committee has reported on the Work Programme, and its verdict is that it's not working for the long term unemployed and the most disadvantaged.  The official account of it is here.  The main points which I've picked out of it are:

  • The government spent about £248m less than it anticipated on the WP in 2012 / 13 because the results were poorer than they expected.  
  • They support the "black box" approach (they shouldn't) but they want it balanced by minimum service standards.  They point out that the providers are allowed to set their own standards which are currently "so vague as to allow providers to virtually ignore some jobseekers if they so choose".
  • There are no figures for the numbers being referred to specialist sub-contractors.
  • They want "a review of Work Programme sanctioning activity as a matter of urgency".
The media have picked up on various aspects of the report.  The Mirror quotes the committee's chair, Dame Anne Begg, who said, "Too often, the reality seems to be Work Programme advisers swamped by caseloads of 120 to 180 jobseekers, and employers deluged with poorly matched CVs and under-prepared candidates."  This is significant.  We know that people are being made to apply for jobs they know they can't possibly get, and suspect that WP advisers are sending out CVs off their own bats.
The Telegraph picks out the fact that the WP is "failing single parents".  The Independent talks about the problem of people who are "parked" because they're too difficult to help.  The BBC news website picks up the "poorly matched CVs" point.
The BBC's Today Programme on Radio 4 this morning ran an item on the report - but bodged it as usual.  They had a homeless man, Billy, whose experience of the WP was horrible.  He'd been sanctioned for missing an appointment which had actually been cancelled.  The interviewer, Sarah Montague, didn't know enough to bring this out, and Kirsty McHugh for the ERSA (the industry's trade body) was able to get away with blaming Jobcentre Plus for the "mistake".  McHugh has copied the politicians' technique of talking fast and throwing out misleading "facts".  She talked about 300,000 people being "helped into jobs" so far.  When Montague questioned whether these were long-term jobs the answer was a fudge.  And McHugh even stated that if a number of short-term jobs added up to 6 months, this was an outcome.  Is it?  Does anyone know whether the providers get paid for this?
I really hope that journalists (and I know that there are some who read this blog) will get the facts straight when the figures are finally published.

There have been some critical reactions to the Centre for Social Justice's report on "welfare ghettos".  Chris Goulden of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation picks the CSJ's figures to bits in an excellent article on the Foundation's website, and insists that it's not people's attitudes which drive worklessness, but what he calls "decayed job markets".  There's an angry response to the report by the leader of Birmingham City Council,  in the Birmingham Mail.  He talks about "character assassination" and emphasises the lack of jobs.  The Guardian went to Hull, to the offices of the WP subcontractor Pertemps, and concluded that the jobs simply weren't there.  But, of course, that's not the message which the government wants put out.  Blame the victims, it's so much easier than doing something positive.


  1. They support the "Black Box" no accountability and even more vague thoughts regarding actually training anybody,20 Months into this programme and only now the coin has started to drop that it is failing,should of asked the participants if we felt it was worthwhile 12 Months ago.

  2. The report goes on to say "The Government should be using the unspent Work Programme budget to fund a range of measures designed to tackle the long-term unemployment problem.” Hopefully this will happen once next months WP data is released.

    1. Given the DEL:AME funding model, I wouldn't bank on Hoban's negotioations with the Treasury bearing fruit. It's a useful suggestion from the Committee, though.

    2. If there is an "unspent budget" then by definition of PBR it is there because the Work Pogrom has failed to deliver. It is perverse to imply that failure has resulted in "savings". If this were the case then the greatest savings to the public purse would be achieved by having the pogrom achieve nothing!
      You cannot argue that the pogrom saves money by taking people off benefits and at the same time argue that there are savings because it has failed to do so.

    3. Gentle warning, Gissajob - any further comment with "pogrom" in it will not be published :)

  3. There are also those people who do everything right, who dont need the help from the providers, and are left alone trusting that they will get a job themselves so that they can claim an outcome. I send off lots of jobs myself, had NO emails about jobs from a4e that they have sent off on my behalf, I just go in once a month then its bye.. they appear to do nothing to help me get a job, not that there are many jobs out there.

    1. Me too (Anonymouse) I have a good CV, good covering letters, I apply for many jobs (more than the job centre or A4e say I should) but no luck. I see my advisor once every 6 weeks and that's it. They have never told me of any jobs they've put me forward for, except for the odd part time jobs, knowing I need a full time job. We both agree my problem is I haven't worked for 5 years and need some experience. I volunteer at a charity shop and have asked to do Admin courses but still no luck. My 2 years at A4e is nearly up and I can't wait.

  4. "And McHugh even stated that if a number of short-term jobs added up to 6 months, this was an outcome. Is it? Does anyone know whether the providers get paid for this?"

    It counts as an outcome for WP purposes, so they get paid for it. It's one of the ways that the current job market has been problematic for the Programme - the amount of short-term and fixed contract working that we're now seeing in the job market wasn't reflected in DWP assumptions (or by WP providers, I suspect), which leads to a number of problems, both in terms of payments (which are delayed) and caseloads (which are increased by people cycling in and out of work).

    Returning to the report, it's actually quite good in most respects, with some useful recommendations that DWP should consider. Doesn't (and can't) do anything to address the main problem, which pace CSJ, is a shortage of jobs, a shortage of decent jobs, and an economy that is desperately regionally unbalanced.

  5. Anyone get a chance to listen to Victoria Derbyshire on BBC R5L from 10.00am onwards today? There was a phone in segment on the latest WP failings.

    It didn't last too long with callers (including myself) only able to make short points. I pointed the lacklustre support given to those wishing to do things such as set up their own business.

    Kirsty McHugh was on saying how good the support from WP providers was and how 207,000 clients had found work.

    I did have the chance to point out that this was only the people who've started a job, not sustained one over 6 months or more.

    So not a great experience then. I could've spent an hour or two telling McHugh exactly why the sector she so valiantly supports and makes excuses for is failing in its basic duty of care.

    Reading the Daily Mirror article is interesting.

    Especially this bit:

    "A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “It is still early days but according to industry figures already more than 207,000 people have been helped into a job through the Work Programme by the end of September 2012 and performance is clearly improving."

    So around TWO YEARS into the WP and it's considered to be EARLY DAYS!!! Yet should anyone find themselves out of work for twelve months, they're classed as LONG TERM unemployed!!! Great to see how language can be bent, twisted and manipulated to fit a particular agenda!

  6. "But, of course, that's not the message which the government wants put out. Blame the victims, it's so much easier than doing something positive."

    This sums the whole situation up perfectly, the government have chosen to villify the unemployed whent he jobs are simply not there, I guess it's easier than admitting they've failed to create jobs and the continuing policy of mass immigration is madness.

  7. I'm a mandatory particpant of the Work Programme (A4e in my case). My personal Advisor told me she had 700 'clients' on her books. I've been on one course with them, 'Universal Services'. It's a complete sham.

  8. I work as an Employment Advisor under the Work Programme and I have to admit that we do help lots of people get into work. As an advisor though, I am trained and qualified to get people into work but am not qualified to support the massive range of issues away from job search activity that clients bring to their Work Programme appointments.

    There lies the issue to be looked at.

    Advisors within our company want the government to develop more support networks in conjunction with the Work Program Providers to help the harder to reach so that they get the correct support. There are plenty of Not For Profit organisations that would take a small percentage of the 248m underspend on the Work Programme to give the correct advice and support for the harder to help clients allowing the Employment Advisors to support clients with Employment whilst safe in the knowledge that the client was getting the correct level of support needed away from their Work Programme appointments which should be focussed on Job Search Activity.

    1. But the point of the Work Programme contracts was that the providers would bring in their own "support networks", the specialist sub-contractors, to do what you now want the government to do. This is a cop-out. I'm not sure how you can be "trained and qualified" simply to supervise job search. And yes, I do know what the job entails.

    2. On every main Providers website that I have looked at,they state that they provide tailored support and training,nothing specific just the generic statement that you will be made work ready,but their is nothing on offer. As for Job Search Activity(I sign on the day before the WP) so I have already completed it.

  9. Employment Advisor21 May 2013 at 15:43


    We do not supervise Job Search. We advise on job application processes, interview techniques and the best job markets in our area to get jobs for the long term unemployed.

    The Prime Work Programme providers did say that they would bring in their own support networks which I believe will happen but the providers need to generate income through the Work Programme for this to happen.

    A lot of long term unemployed need long term support which whatever way it is delivered can be an expensive process through staff hours which does require a more qualified staff member in this area.

    Employment Advisors can and will help people get in to work but when you look at the support networks available does one person give advice on drug issues, alcohol abuse, family issues, benefit advice as well as job search advice as an Employment Advisor is expected to do.

    Given my understanding of the report, the in-to-work figures are going to increase because the Work Programme is helping people get in to work but the long term unemployed that have specific issues are struggling to find work due to the lack of qualified support that can be given to them.

    Perhaps the question to ask is could a small percentage of the underspend be used to help those clients who need it the most whilst the Work Programme Providers create their own sustainable business model which will help future clients with specific issues that are preventing them from getting back into work.

    1. People can make their own minds up about your job description. Your second paragraph, however, states the problem. The companies bid for contracts undertaking to build these networks from the outset, knowing exactly what the financial model was to be. Nearly three years later they say they can't afford to do it, and you want more public money. There isn't actually an "underspend" in a PbR model.

    2. The One True Elg22 May 2013 at 00:55

      Like Historian I'm confused as to why you think it's the governments job to step in when the contractors promised they could do what you now say they cannot do.

      This is the problem I see with privatisation, a private company is never going to accept responsibility when they can just shift the blame on the government of the time, even though the government is only guilty in this case of being misinformed by the providers. We're never going to get a grip on private companies unless there are consequences for them but if there are consequences, the government takes the blame and we create a conflict of interest. I don't know how this is expected to work.

    3. I suspect comments from Sean Williams (P50 para. 155 & Ev 76, Q369) may shed some light on supply chains. The first is at least a partial abrogation of the role that Primes were supposed to play, and the second raises an obvious question - if the organisations to which he is referring do literally nothing to improve employability, what are they doing on supply chains in the first place? If they just do nice things that don't improve prospects of employment, their EOI should have been declined.

      I suppose one response would be that supply chains were assembled in a rush (particularly for the non-delivery Primes) but it does suggest a lack of care and diligence.

      Finally, even if supply chains do get used more as cashflow starts to increase, waiting two years to bring in specialist provision wasn't supposed to be part of the deal. The whole point of only allowing large providers to compete was specifically to avoid the sort of hand to mouth funding that providers are complaining about, although DWP were too optimistic about how easy it would be to raise commercial funding against the value of the contracts (potential investors rated them as low value / high risk) which poses a problem to smaller large providers, if that term makes any sense.

    4. I am sure that their are a lot of dedicated WP Advisers out there,but the business model is wrong.After watching Grayling last night talking about outsourcing the Probation service,he assured,that small charities would be included in the process and get a piece of the contracts,this is the same BS that he put forward when pushing the WP through..More Bid Candy?

    5. The reason the Work Programme has failed is simple: staff. It's the same despondent professionals that have been TUPE'D from programme to programme and provider to provider for decades, how can this possibly affect change?

    6. I suspect you're wrong about that. There is a big turnover of staff in all the providers.

    7. "We do not supervise Job Search. We advise on job application processes, interview techniques and the best job markets in our area to get jobs for the long term unemployed."

      So given that my advisor has never done any of the above can I say I'm being failed? I know advisors don't do job search, as that's done by "Trainers", although what they are training us to do I don't know. Likewise trainers also do the various courses on offer (how to fill out application forms, interview skills etc). As far as I can tell advisors do nothing but sit at a desk and ask clients what they have done since they were last seen and book them in for the stuff done by the trainers.

    8. So then Employment Advisor, you state:
      "The Prime Work Programme providers did say that they would bring in their own support networks which I believe will happen but the providers need to generate income through the Work Programme for this to happen"
      2 years into the pogrom is a little late to start thinking about what you promised to do when bidding isn't it?
      As for needing to "generate income" these are weasel words thinly disguising an appeal for yet more money, One reason given for the likes of A4e getting these multi million £ contracts was that they claimed they had the ability to provide the necessary capital. Now we hear that the money isn't there and that success can't be achieved until there is more money. Unfortunately there won't be more money without success! So we have a horse and cart scenario! What happened to all that promised capital? Surely Emma didn't take it all?
      The reasons for the Work Pogrom's abject failure are manifest All of them could have been predicted (and many commentators did so over 2 years ago). Yet still the wounded beast lumbers on its destructive way, trying to make the wrong set of "solutions" solve the problem. It is pitiful. If it didn't impact so negatively on so many lives its ineptitude and unsuitability would be a cause for laughter.
      But I'm not laughing, just holding my head in my hands at the sheer futility and waste.

    9. "We do not supervise job search" you don't even do a spot check to see if people are actually applying for jobs. I write down all the jobs I apply for, but my advisor just glances at the list & doesn't bother checking to see if I've actually applied for them. What's the point of even writing them down for you?

  10. In the Book of Exodus, Pharaoh decides to punish the Hebrews by making them make bricks without straw.

    A couple of millennia later and Pharaoh (Ian Duncan-Smith) is punishing the Hebrews (unemployed people) by making them make bricks without straw (look for work when there aren't actually enough jobs to go around).

    Eventually Moses (a government with sensible policies) will lead the slaves (mandatory work activity "volunteers") out of bondage. They will all then spend 40 years in the wilderness (the time it will take to fully repair the economy from the devastation of many decades of de-industrialisation and austerity).

    Strange how things never really seem to change that much.

  11. The Teflon Don21 May 2013 at 17:39

    The wp contract tender docs for providers clearly state they will offer tailored support to customers. Many providers are clearly in breach of contract, but their contacts are with the DWP.

    And Hobain said, if I'm not mistaken, failing providers will have 5% of their future referrals sent to the other provider. But since all providers seem to be failing, not much of a solution or punishment!

    But where does that leave the customer or should I say, participant/conscript? We don't have a contract with the provider. What can we do when we receive poor service?

    Do you come to the inescapable conclusion you a mere commodity to be bought and sold by private business, or is it just me?

  12. "McHugh even stated that if a number of short-term jobs added up to 6 months, this was an outcome. Is it? Does anyone know whether the providers get paid for this?"

    Yes they do, and it only has to be 13 weeks, not 6 months.

  13. The Work Programme has failed. I am currently on the WP and the support I have had is miserably. HOWEVER, I also recognise that it is not all A4E's fault.

    The problem is a woeful shortage of jobs. Until the government start investing in jobs and creating opportunities for the long-term jobless no amount of administrative tinkering will ease the unemployment figures.

  14. Absolutely. It's a supply-side intervention designed to allocate jobs more efficiently, or potentially to reallocate them away from some groups of people in favour of others according to policy intent, by differential pricing and related interventions like the Youth Contract wage incentive. At periods of full (not that we've experienced that for 40 years) or high (i.e. until 2008 or so) employment, it might be a worthwhile exercise, but not when the main problem in many parts of the country is simply a lack of jobs, and intense competition for those that exist. Given the latter, it's a reasonable assumption that the labour market is already working quite efficiently (from the perspective of an employer) and the evidence in the report is that WP providers might in fact be an unwelcome participant, by providing poorly prepared candidates for vacancies when they scent a potential easy win.

    Ultimately this government, as with their immediate Labour predecessors, are equipped largely with policies that only work when things are going fairly well anyway and are terrified of and / or completely ideologically opposed to anything that looks too interventionist - and that's a term that's itself been eroded beyond recognition in the last 30 years.

    Having said all that, the question of opportunity cost raises some interesting questions. It was clear before it started that the WP would fail, but if we take the hypothetical original £5bn as a starting point, it's sufficient to achieve modest but potentially useful long-term outcomes - if you can decide what the outcomes should actually be. This government hasn't been very clear about that - is it GDP growth in its most basic form, or regional imbalance, or long-term unemployment, or youth unemployment, or their absurd interpretation of social justice?

    Maybe it's none of them. I suspect it probably is because other than that unemployment is bad and so are the unemployed, and they're even worse as individuals when they're clustered together, it's difficult to pick out much of a narrative.

  15. There is no black box approach. This is a lie.

    There are certain rules for dealing with different claimant groups. Granted ESA claimants can expect (ideally speaking) more latitude. JSA claimants can expect to be made to comply with a lot of stuff that isn't explained and merely threatened or inferred on pain of sanction.

    And if anyone thinks those sanctions won't be decided by someone on the side of the industry (ie the WP provider), then i have some magic beans to sell them.


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