The government has been defending the Work Experience programme on the basis that it is voluntary, and that it has excellent outcomes. Neither of those points is clear. In relation to the voluntary nature of placements, benefit claimants are subject to a range of requirements, including the tests of actively seeking work, “taking steps” each week to improve employability and secure employment, following instructions from employment advisers, and having benefits suspended if the placement is not completed. The legal case being taken by Cait Reilly complains that she was instructed to take on an unpaid placement. The figures just released describe a range of mandatory and voluntary activity, with mandatory referrals dominating.
In relation to outcomes, the picture is less clear, because the recent statistical release does not say anything about outcomes. The claim that 50% of people on placements “leave benefit” is suspect. A posting by Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research comments:
“well over 60% of young jobseekers leave JSA within three months, suggesting that the record of the Work Experience programme – 50% off benefit in three months – is pretty unimpressive at best”.
He cites other work suggesting that these placements may be slowing down the rate at which people move into work. That is not conclusive, because the figures the work is based on are unclear. It does, however, suggest that the government’s claims about the success of the programme are misleading.