Despite a bullish report from the DWP, the Work Programme appears to be failing. This is not a surprise. The Office for Government Commerce had expressed doubts about the DWP’s ability to manage this kind of contract effectively. Comments from the National Audit Office in relation to Pathways to Work suggested that private contractors had not appreciated the difficulty of dealing with the client group, that the effect of out-sourcing and sub-contracting had been to reduce accountability and control, and that Jobcentre Plus actually did the job better. (Hardly anyone, in the DWP’s outcome figures, is coming off ESA and into work.) Jonathan Portes was suggesting six months ago that the Work Programme was appearing to slow down the rate at which people got back to work. That impression seems to be supported by the headline figures, which show that the Work Programme produced worse outcomes than doing nothing.
The failure of the programme rests, not just in its management, but in its basic concept. Improving employability does not, and can not, make jobs; it can only improve the relative position of participants in competition with others. The main way through the problem is to stimulate the demand – by injecting resources into the economy, by commissioning work, or by creating jobs. The government has set its face against all three approaches.