Back-to-work scheme failing to target Britain’s long-term jobless

Back-to-work scheme failing to target Britain’s long-term jobless

The Government’s flagship Work Programme is not reaching enough of the hardest-to-help benefits claimants, writes Telegraph Jobs’ editor, Louisa Peacock.

When the £5bn Work Programme, the Government’s flagship back-to-work scheme, launched last year, it was billed as providing a tailored job-seeking service to tens of thousands of long-term benefits claimants.

Unlike previous jobs schemes introduced by Labour, third-party providers would be paid “by results” to help those who have been “left to their own devices” for years on long-term benefits, such as sickness support, get back to work.

Every year, some 300,000 workers drop out of work because of health issues, even though the majority could get a job with the right help.

More than one year on from the Work Programme’s launchthe Government says it is “on track” to get tens of thousands of people off long-term sickness benefits – where they are deemed fit to work – back in jobs. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is pleased with early progress ahead of official performance statistics due to be published at the end of this month.
But those responsible for carrying out the day-to-day work of matching the long-term jobless to roles, the prime contractors, have been repeatedly grumbling that things aren’t working out as they should.

A big complaint from Work Programme providers is that Jobcentre staff are not pushing enough of the hard-to-help claimants on to their books. They argue the main point of the new programme is to help the 2m people on long-term benefits – who have been given little previous support in job hunting – return to work, when they are deemed mentally and physically fit to do so.

Official figures, however, show only 40,000 people on so-called Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were pushed towards the Work Programme in its first six months. This is about 30,000 fewer than expected.

New statistics out on Wednesday also revealed that of the 837,000 people actively registered with the Work Programme in its first year, just 8.7pc were from the ESA group. The majority of candidates were those claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), typically those out of work for months, rather than years, on end.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Service Association, the welfare-to-work trade body, said: “These latest figures continue to show a far lower level of referrals to the Work Programme of people on ESA than originally predicted by government.

“The Work Programme operates on a very tight financial model and any variation in the mix and volume of jobseekers referred to the programme can have serious implications for provider finances.” Many providers complain they have brought in extra specialist staff to deal with the huge expected numbers of harder-to-help claimants, such as those with mental health or drug abuse issues, only to find they haven’t had the volume of job seekers in this category.

One large contractor, which preferred not to be named, said specialist subcontractors in its supply chain were struggling to make ends meet due to the lack of business from the hard-to-help category, facing the prospect of closure because there aren’t enough “clients” in the system.

Chris Grayling, the former employment minister, told The Telegraph in July he would “step up” the number of ESA referrals to address the problem. Those on long-term sickness benefits, who have been told by independent assessors that they need more than a year to fully recover from illness before entering the Work Programme, would be eligible to join sooner, he said.

But he also pointed to a number of reasons why the target has fallen short, including that the grim jobs market has pushed up the number of people on ISA.

The industry points the finger at the process behind fitness-to-work assessments, where it is claimed poor management of the case load has caused delays and led to many claimants who are deemed fit for work, appealing – which could have been avoided.

This article was originally featured on

Monday, 12 November 2012

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