In a report published today, Monday 4 November, the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee says that though the Work Programme’s performance has been improving over time, both in Wales and Great Britain, success rates are lowest in Wales.
The Work Programme in Wales
The Work Programme is the latest government-contracted employment programme, which aims to support long-term jobseekers into work and off unemployment benefits. Launched in June 2011, the Work Programme replaced a number of previous welfare-to-work programmes and consolidates employment support for a very wide range of jobseekers into a single mainstream programme. Providers, who are predominantly commercial companies, provide support to participants, for example with building CVs, interview techniques, confidence-building, mentoring, work experience and skills training, and receive payments for finding participants sustained employment.
The Committee says:
- The Work Programme was designed to be an improvement on previous welfare-to-work schemes by incentivising providers to support jobseekers with the most severe barriers to employment, such as those on Employment and Support Allowance (which replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support). This is a worthy ambition, and a significant challenge, but the programme’s success in assisting the most challenging claimants is yet to be proven.
- The Department for Work and Pensions should review—including a review of the differentiated pricing structure—whether there are means better to incentivise providers to support jobseekers with the most severe barriers to employment, including Employment and Support Allowance claimants.
- Working Links Wales and Rehab Jobfit—the two providers operating in Wales—must ensure that both they and their subcontractors have specific measures in place to support lone parents, who the Committee is concerned are particularly struggling to find sustained employment through the Work Programme in Wales compared to other parts of Great Britain.
- Work Programme participants in Wales—unlike those in England—cannot access European Social Fund training and skills courses: this is hampering the performance of the Work Programme in Wales and ultimately the opportunities available to the long-term unemployed. The DWP and Welsh government must resolve this by February 2014.
- Similarly, DWP must enable participants to exit the Work Programme if required in order to access Jobs Growth Wales.
In Wales one in nine people who joined the Work Programme in its first two years found sustained employment (defined as 13 or 26 weeks). The Committee is concerned that this is the lowest rate in Great Britain, though not much lower than the average.
In addition, though the Work Programme’s performance has been improving over time, both in Wales and Great Britain, performance in Wales has fallen behind the Great Britain average for the most recent groups to have completed one year on the programme.
The Welsh Government’s Welsh European Funding Office determined that Work Programme participants would not be allowed to access other courses funded by European Social Funds (ESF) because it constituted double-funding under EU rules. The Scottish Government has taken a similar decision in Scotland. This is not the case in England, where customers are able to access Skills Funding Agency programmes which are part funded by ESF.
Chair of the Committee
David Davies MP, Chair of the Committee, said: "The key issue here seems to be that there is a lack of flexibility in and between the various programmes set up to get people into work, and that this lack of flexibility appears to be more marked in Wales. It is obviously a matter of concern to us that the success rates in Wales are the lowest in Great Britain.
"The Work programme is designed to help particularly people facing multiple barriers to entering or re-entering the workplace, people who have been already out of work for two years. The last thing we need in this situation is bureaucracy getting in the way of people simply being able to do what is most effective. The fact that different programmes are funded differently or run by different organisations should not be "visible" or create barriers at the point of delivery. The point is to get people in to work, for all the benefits that brings both to them and to the public purse. That must be the sole focus and these artificial barriers must be removed."