The Public Accounts Committee has been reviewing the operation of the Work Programme. The tone of report is muted – 9 of the 14 members are government supporters – but looking at what they say selectively, there are some strong criticisms nevertheless. These are all quotations from the report:
Performance for people who have completed the full two years on the Work Programme has been similar to previous welfare-to-work schemes. (para 1)
The measurements chosen by the Department distort real performance. (para 14)
There is no clear relationship between payment groups and the nature of the support participants receive. (para 7)
Data prime contractors … are, on average, spending less than half what they originally intended on harder-to-help groups. (para 12)
Differential payments have not been effective in preventing contractors from focusing on easier-to-help claimants and parking the harder-to-help clients.(para 7)
Almost 90% of Employment and Support Allowance claimants on the Work programme have not moved into employment. (para 8)
The number of sanctions was increasing … (para 13)
Previous attempts to develop ‘welfare into work’ programmes suffered from a range of problems. The most obvious was that once contractors commissioned sub-contractors, the government, as principal, lost control of what the programmes were doing. The same has happened again. This time, the DWP told us, no-one would get paid if they didn’t deliver results, but they haven’t, and they are being paid nevertheless.
There is another problem, however, which is more basic. The reason why welfare to work, and Pathways, and the Work Programme have all failed is that they’ve been trying to do the wrong things in the wrong way. Look, for example, at the lamentable results for ESA claimants, less than half the initial target figures. The reason that ESA claimants don’t move to work is straightforward: they’re too sick. They get ESA because it’s “not reasonable” to expect them to work – that is what the statute says, and the reason they qualified for the benefit in the first place. So it’s not altogether surprising if some sub-contractors have found it’s more practical to get people off their hands by sanctioning them.