In February, I wrote to the UK Statistics Authority to express concern about some uncheckable claims being made about the benefits of work experience. The Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling MP, had published an open letter to Polly Toynbee on Politics Home, claiming that “a significant number of placements turn into jobs, with the employer getting to like the young person and keeping them on. … so far around half those doing placements have come off benefits very quickly afterwards.” In the Times on 24th February, he also claimed that “half those young people stop claiming benefits after taking part.” (p.32) This was referred to in BBC’s Question Time on 23rd February as evidence that the scheme was working well. The only evidence, however, was based on a first cohort of 1300 people on placement from January 2011 to March 2011, when by the time of the statement the scheme had been extended to more than 34,000 people.
The DWP has now published more data, this time covering 3490 people in the scheme from January to May 2011. It shows an increase in employment, by comparison with a group of non-participants, from 27% to 35%. There are two main reservations to make about the figure: that it still relates only to an early cohort, who may (or may not) have been easier to place than later cohorts, and that there is no explanation of what being “in employment” might mean in terms of hours or duration (the only test seems to be that the employer has sent a return to HMRC). It is also a lot less than the 50% originally claimed.