Work Programme continues to fail those furthest from the labour market

Ramzi Suleiman was at NCVO between January 2013 and December 2014, leading on NCVO’s Work Programme initiatives and running the work shadowing ‘Day in the Life…’ scheme. Ramzi has left NCVO, but his posts are kept here for reference purposes.

We need to call for milestone payments, a ‘need based’ grouping system for service users and below prime level performance and referral data. These changes will:

  • allow the VCS to bring in their expertise
  • allow services to be tailored to the individual
  • increase transparency as an end in itself and in the interest of learning about best practice.

On Thursday 26 September the DWP released the Work Programme performance stats (PDF 600KB). These stats set out its performance to June 2013, so were the first results that showed the first cohort of service users who joined it in June 2011 on its launch and spent the maximum two years on it.

Overall, the Work Programme seems to be improving for certain service users. The percentage of service users achieving a job outcome within 12 months has increased to 13% for the June 2012 intake from 8.5% for the June 2011 intake. The proportion of JSA claimants to achieve a job outcome within 12 months is still three to four times higher than service users claiming ESA.

Overall, after two years, 22.5% of the June 2011 intake achieved a Job Outcome payment.

However, the Work Programme is still failing service users who are furthest from the labour market.

Overall, just 5.3% of New ESA Claimants who have been on the Work Programme for two years have achieved a job outcome. Job outcomes for ESA claimants between supply chains range from 2.8% to 8%. Even the best performing supply chain is only achieving half of Minimum Performance Levels expected of them at this point of the Programme.

ESA claimants often need intensive, specialist support which the VCS can provide. However, because DWP do not publish referral or performance data below Prime level, we do not know if VCS sub-contractors have been given the chance to provide their services to those who need it most. That is why NCVO have called on DWP to publish below Prime referral and performance data. The data will allow any ‘parking’ that is happening to come to the fore, and will also enable well performing sub-contractors and good practice to be highlighted.

NCVO have suggested that significant milestones towards employment be recognised and rewarded financially. The current programme only rewards job outcomes and does not recognise the complexity of barriers that some individual service users face. These individuals need specialised support to get them closer to the labour market, which many VCS organisations are well placed to give. These milestone payments will allow the Work Programme to use the skills and expertise in the VCS, whilst making it financially viable for these VCS sub-contractors to stay in the supply chain.

Anecdotal evidence from service providers has suggested that many individuals in the JSA claimant group need significant support towards employment. However, because they are in the JSA Payment Group, this is not being reflected in the payments attached to them. Primes are not being incentivised to work with these individuals intensively and many are being ‘parked’.

In parallel with the milestone payments suggested above, NCVO have advocated needs-based payment groups, to replace the benefits received model currently in place. With a needs-based system, an individual’s needs would be asses and services would be developed around the individual’s need to a greater extent than seems to be happening at the moment. This approach would hopefully result in providers being sufficiently incentivised to work with individual who are furthest from the labour market.

The Work Programme is improving as time passes and is helping some people back into work. Our concern is that those who are furthest from the labour market and need the most intensive support, are being failed by the current Work Programme. Changes like the ones suggested here will bring the expertise and knowledge in the VCS into the Work Programme and allow individual service users furthest from the labour market the help they need towards employment.

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