By Youth Ambassador Kenechi Eziefula
Delivered by a range of private, public and voluntary organisations, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) launched its Work Programme In June 2011 to guide those who are out of work and claiming benefits into employment. The three main principles behind the design of the program are to give participating organisations a free role as service providers to innovate, to give financial incentive to service providers for succeeding with the hardest to help benefit claimants, and finally to ensure that service providers maintain a long term commitment to the Work Programme. The Work Programme has had mixed results, with a large disparity in outcome between Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants and Economic Support Allowance (ESA) claimants.
As of June 2015, the Work Programme has been referred to 1.7 million people, with over 432,000 subsequently benefiting from a sustained job outcome.
The Centre of Social and Economic Inclusion highlight that the work programme has worked successfully for those who are prepared for work, and are receiving Job Seekers Allowance (JSA).
From a youth perspective, this success with local organisations could be further augmented by devolving the commissioning Work Programme to local councils. What this would mean is that the service providers, who are in a better position to identify and aid those looking for work and more dedicated to achieve targets due to incentives, would be immediately answerable to local councils instead of the DWP. In return, service providers would be able to use their networks and institutions more readily.
On the other side of the coin, the Work Programme has been failing those who need it the most. As the Centre of Economic Inclusion points out, in many cases only 10% of ESA claimants have achieved a sustained job outcome within two years. The failings of the Work Programme for Economic Support Allowance (ESA) claimants have been protracted with no sign of improvement.
In the new Conservative budget of 2015, the changes for 18-21 JSA claimants, encouraging them to instead “earn or learn” will undoubtedly create new issues that Work Programme will have to deal with. While the provision of much needed support immediately after formal education is welcomed, considering the rise in university tuition fees and the university maintenance grant becoming a repayable loan, this shift in policy may see the current successes with reducing the number of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) . As more young people will be financially unable to continue on in their preferred subject in higher education, this could make them withdraw from education and employment altogether.
The narrative much of the media has created has illustrated the Work Programme as being either fairly draconian, or unfairly draconian. This narrative gives the impression that, rightly or wrongly, the Work Programme is at the very least being meticulously thorough in garnering positive employment results, and indentifying who is in need of economic support. In reality, it is a programme that is not meeting its own principles and standards.
While the DWP aim to establish clear incentives to service providers to deliver positive outcomes it has struggled to do so, and in July 2014 it was reported that many service providers would receive bonuses regardless of their flagging results. On top of this, whistle blowers have claimed that the least vulnerable slip through the cracks of the Work Programme due to many cases simply being a box-ticking affair, denying ESA to vulnerable people regardless of their circumstance.
This information is alarming and should trigger immediate investigation and change, but they have been allowed to go on, unchallenged and unchanged. The government should own up to these shortcomings and promise improvement, rather than hide from them.
Overall, this shows that the DWP’s needs more help and support in getting its Work Programme to be a success for all. While it is a project that has great intentions and some success, it is falling short of its potential. The DWP should open a national dialogue on reforming the Work Programme, focusing on how service providers can better deliver this much needed scheme.