12 Mar 2014

Work programme needs more work

The government’s own assessment of how the work programme is going, conducted for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by independent experts, suggests it is still badly under-performing.

The “work programme evalulation: interim meta-report” was signed off ready for publication in September 2013, but has been sat on ever since.

A Whitehall source told Channel 4 News that the decision not to publish was taken “at a ministerial level” on the basis that the department didn’t want another embarrassment to deal with.

The report is not written in the most strident language, but contains confirmation that one of the DWP’s pet projects is failing in one of its central tasks.

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad



The scheme has been devised to incentivise “prime” contract holders to focus extra efforts and resources on those who are hardest to get into the labour market.

Earlier assessments have complained that instead of doing that the prime contract holders have been “creaming” –  focusing on the easiest to place – and “parking” – reducing attention to the hardest to place.

The September 2013 report, two years into the work programme, suggests that “creaming” and “parking” are still significant problems.

The authors report “participants with health conditions and disabilities … being seen less often and being offered less support than other groups.”

The whole payment-by-results contract structure didn’t seem to be doing what it was meant to do.

The authors report “no clear relationship between an individual participant’s work programme payment group and the nature and intensity of support that participant received, which suggested … that the differential payment regime was unlikely to have effectively mitigated creaming and parking.”

This all matters. Not just to make the scheme work, but to make sure that if the government tenders new contracts it improves the mechanisms.

Payment-by-results is one of the central planks of the government’s public sector reforms, being rolled out in justice and health amongst other areas. Getting it right is pretty important and, you could argue, getting relevant data into the public domain to inform that discussion is pretty helpful too.

The report also challenges the use of sanctions against those who don’t take up work opportunities under the work programme.

Challenging some of the government’s rhetoric and thinking, the report says there is “no conclusive evidence that sanctions were changing job search behaviour or increasing job entry rates.”

It goes on to say there is: “little or no evidence among (work programme participants) of preference for a life on benefits …”

A survey of work programme providers makes horrible reading for the government.

It suggests that only 5.3 per cent think the work programme is “very effective.” Of those surveyed, 22.5 per cent thought it was “somewhat ineffective” and 25.4 per cent thought it “very ineffective.” 10.1 per cent thought it was “neither effective nor ineffective.”

I make that about 58 per cent thinking it’s not helping or worse.

The DWP told Channel 4 News: “the reality is that the work programme is working… Previous schemes simply didn’t do enough for disabled people or the long-term unemployed.

“Since we launched the scheme in 2011, we have taken action to drive performance up significantly and we are committed to making sure providers continue to improve the service they give to jobseekers.

“Any draft interim analysis from the early days of the programme won’t take these improvements into account.”

ACEVO who represent some of the involved charities who’ve been complaining about the way the contracts are structured insist the work programme is “not bust”, but needs re-working and adjustment.

And the participants seem to appreciate the individual attention they get from work programme workers. Satisfaction amongst them is really surprisingly high.

You can see our report on Channel 4 News at 7pm.

Follow @GaryGibbonBlog on Twitter

Read more: Work programme ‘may be unsustainable’

Tweets by @garygibbonc4