A new set of Work Programme Statistics have been released, with rather more detail than the figures I was considering last week. They show that
- 1.5 million people have been referred to the Work Programme
- nearly 300,000, one fifth, have been the subject of ‘job outcome’ payments
- just under 75,000 of those who have been the subject of ‘job outcome’ payments also were the subject of the maximum number of sustainment payments
- over 520,000 have been referred back to JCP at the end of the two year programme.
The figures are difficult to make sense of, because it’s not clear from this how this differs from the return to work that might normally be expected, and so what difference the Work Programme has made. There are about 1.2 million people on JSA. Half of them will be gone in six months, two thirds in a year, leaving roughly 400,000. Another 150,000 or more would normally leave benefit in the next year after that, leaving a fifth. The Work Programme seems to be doing worse than that – but the point of the Work Programme, of course, is that it’s supposed to pick out the people who are likely to be difficult to place, and besides it includes people on ESA who aren’t up for work, so that’s not a fair comparison.
There are other reasons to doubt that the Work Programme is performing adequately. A recent IPPR report comments that any apparent gains are flattening out; that the results for people who are most disadvantaged are poor; and that the performance is very uneven. The problems with the Work Programme seem to me to be much more fundamental. The most basic problem with the programme is the assumption that the problems of unemployment are essentially down to the behaviours and competencies of the job-seeker, so that they can be corrected by addressing individual circumstances. If that was true, then prior to this sort of programme unemployed people wouldn’t have found jobs; but overwhelmingly, they did. The biggest group of people without a job are not job-seekers; they’re people on ESA, with severe restrictions of their capacity. Very few people who are able to work are continuously unemployed for several years at a time; the numbers are increasing, because the jobs aren’t there, but it’s still less than one in thirty. It seems likely that the Work Programme is carrying a large proportion of deadweight – services to people who, left to their own devices, would find a job anyway.
‘Welfare reform’ has been driven by an obsessive focus on employment as the basis for a benefit system serving millions. Most benefits, even for people of working age, have nothing to do with people’s work status. What most people need when they are unemployed is protection of their income while they’re unemployed. Some people may also need to develop new skills, but that’s a separate issue. I commented earlier this week that the Work Programme “ties specialised work support to the receipt of benefits, and ends up serving the needs of neither”. Even if the Work Programme was able to provide intensive work support – there are doubts as to whether it actually does so in practice – there is precious little evidence to show that such work support is appropriate or useful for a substantial majority of unemployed claimants.