The Work Programme: experience of different user groups

Single HomelessSingle Homeless Project (SHP)

I. SHP is a London-based charity set up 35 years ago to support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Today the charity works with 6,000 people a year across 16 London boroughs, providing a wide range of accommodation and community-based support services to prevent homelessness and promote social inclusion. For more about SHP visit

II. Summary

a. SHP has direct experience of the Work Programme as an end-to-end sub-contractor. We were commissioned to provide employment support to homeless people. In our experience this client group needed intensive support to deal with significant barriers to employment including homelessness, mental ill-health and substance misuse. We withdrew from the contract after nine months because the payment structure was not designed to meet the costs of providing support to this group.

b. Our experience suggests that the current Work Programme provision for homeless people and others with complex needs is inadequate and cannot achieve the professed aim of supporting those furthest away from work.

c. We have also listened to the experience our clients have had of the Work Programme, and their experience (documented in a number of case studies) endorses our view that it does not meet their needs and, in some cases, makes their lives a great deal more difficult.

III. SHP’s involvement in the Work Programme

a. SHP was selected by Seetec as a specialist sub-contractor working with claimants who were homeless or at risk of homelessness in East and South-East London. We became involved for a number of reasons:

1. We thought the Work Programme was a good idea in principle. Work can lift people out of poverty, provide structure, independence and a sense of achievement to people’s lives.

2. We had experience of providing employment services for homeless and socially excluded people

3. We wanted to use that experience to support people referred to the Work Programme

b. We worked on the contract from June 2011 until the end of March 2012. We have the following comments to make:

1. The differential payments model including: the extent to which it is incentivising providers to help all participants and thereby addressing "creaming and parking"; how effectively the model reflects claimants’ relative needs; and variations in job outcomes between the different payment groups;

c. The WP wasn’t designed to accommodate clients who need more extensive support to be job-ready despite that being one of the professed aims of the programme.

d. People who have experienced homelessness can have complex problems and often need long-term support before they are even in a position to contemplate returning to work. Many of people referred to us had been out of work for at least five years and many of them had far more pressing problems than finding a job – for example being homeless, sleeping rough, struggling with mental ill-health or substance misuse. For us the priority had to be to help people with these problems, and ironically although we were there to get people in to work, this was of secondary importance to the more basic needs with which people presented. The payment structure militates against an investment in clients with these types of need – the only outcome that’s rewarded is a job outcome.

e. Whilst we have no evidence, our experience suggests that ‘parking’ clients with the kinds of needs with which we worked must happen as a matter of course. Contracts are really only financially viable if staff work with a minimum ratio of 1:200 referrals, with a good proportion of those already being job ready. SHP worked with a ratio of one member of staff to 30 referrals as this was the only way we could meet the needs of the people referred to us.

f. There needs to be flexibility and resources built in to the Work Programme which is based on the reality that some groups are going to struggle to comply if they have no where stable to live and are not linked in to appropriate support services. Adequate resources need to be available to help people deal with the barriers that stop them from looking for work, rather than punishing them with benefit sanctions.

1. The prime provider model including: its impact on subcontractors; and the extent to which it helps ensure that participants receive services tailored to their particular needs;

g. SHP was the only sub-contractor specifically working with homeless referrals in London. Despite our unique position and our expertise and experience of the needs of homeless people, referrals from Job Centre Plus were made on a random basis to each of the three primes operating in east London. So homeless people were routinely referred to the other two primes on the basis of an allocation process which focused on the need to be fair to the primes, not to meet the needs of the participants.

1. The level of service provided to participants in different payment groups including: whether minimum service delivery standards have been specified in sufficient detail by providers and DWP; and the rigour and effectiveness of DWP’s monitoring and complaints procedures;

h. The fact that the payment groups are purely based on which benefit the client is on, means that many individuals with multiple needs are actually in the lowest payment band which doesn’t make them any more attractive to work with. The vast majority of our clients were on JSA despite having high needs around housing, mental health, substance use etc.

1. The "black box" approach to service delivery including: whether it is proving to be effective in fostering innovative and personalised interventions for claimants in all payment groups; and DWP’s role in monitoring this

i. The black box approach is designed to give the providers, who are deemed to be the "experts", the freedom to do what they want as long as they achieve the outcomes set. In reality this often means that it gives providers the freedom to do very little with those people who need the highest levels of support as the most effective way to achieve the employment targets is always going to be to focus on those clients closest to the labour market.

IV. Why did we decide to leave the WP?

a. The WP didn’t provide the resources to enable us to support people properly. It works on the basis pretty much that one size fits all. By taking the approach of allocating resources evenly regardless of need, inevitably the most vulnerable will lose out and potentially get lost in the system.

b. The resources were insufficient to provide the kind of support that at least half of our clients needed. Frankly we were surprised that some of the referrals were even on JSA given the complexity of their needs and their limited ability to meet the expectations of the programme

c. The current WP structure left those in need of the most support at greatest risk of sanctions. We don’t believe those sanctions served a constructive purpose for the client. Rather it forced them further in to poverty with little option other than to beg, steal or work for cash in hand in order to find the means to survive

V. Can the work programme really help homeless people?

a. Potentially yes, as long as the right support is in place and they are not viewed by employment services as "too hard to help".

VI. What needs to change for homeless people?

a. Acknowledge that some people will find it harder to engage: some people are such a distance from the job market that a (theoretically) intensive two year programme is virtually impossible for them to engage in unless barriers such as homelessness are addressed.

b. Have a more flexible approach to outcomes: for some clients the reliance on hard outcomes (jobs of 16hrs pw) overlooks the distance travelled and fails to acknowledge that services can have a genuine impact in moving people along the path to work without actually getting them there; and the agencies working with them (prime or sub) receive nothing for that

c. Avoid sanctioning disadvantaged clients: we've seen aggressive sanctioning of vulnerable people. For ESA clients acknowledged to be vulnerable, there is a duty to carry out further engagement work prior to raising a compliance doubt. We recommend that this is extended to JSA Disadvantaged clients – in keeping with personalisation and segmentation.

VII. SHP’s clients’ experience of the Work Programme

a. SHP provides support services across London to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We have attached a number of case studies based on the experience of some of our clients who have been referred to the Work Programme.

Client A

Client A has diagnosed learning difficulties and been referred to SHP by his local authority learning disabilities team. Client A has been receiving ESA and is on a work-related activity group. He has been attached to an East London Prime WP provider for over a year.

Client A had WCA in September and subsequently his ESA benefits have stopped. Client A, with the support of SHP, appealed the decision and his now waiting for the appeal decision.

Client A used to work as a cleaner and catering assistant from 2000-2010. Some of these jobs were paid and some were work placements; vacancies were found for him by a local specialist LD support project.

His WP advisor is trying to be helpful, however he lacks understanding of Client A’s learning needs. Client A has been offered a couple of vacancies, however they were either part-time or 50 hours a week and he was unable to fulfil application requirements. Client A was also supported to update his CV, though we have updated it further at SHP.

Client A feels anxious regarding the WP rules and new Welfare to Work system. When SHP staff called the Advisor to query a vacancy he was asked to apply for and was scared not to apply for as he might be sanctioned, the Advisor was very angry and asked the client why SHP staff was phoning her although the staff member had explained the connection to SHP and the client’s support needs. At the time Client A was not receiving benefits for four weeks and did not understand that his ESA been stopped, so he thought he was sanctioned.


Client A has been referred to a LD specialist by SHP, a non-Work Programme LD project, which offers him specialist support and ‘on-the-job training’ opportunities. (The organisation he has been referred to also has a large WP contract and is a sub-contractor with a different prime WP Contractor).

Currently SHP and the LD specialist are providing support the client was supposed to get from WP:

· Client A attends SHP ETE drop-ins for help using his email address and for help in sending his CV and job applications.

· Client A was referred to literacy course in an adult learning programme.

· Client A attends employability workshops and SHP’s Fuchsia programme for help with all aspects of Job application process.

· Client A attended an accredited word processing course at SHP.

Client B

Client B is 48 years old; he is on JSA and suffers with depression. His life can become chaotic at times due to relationships he is involved with.

Client B been with a West London WP prime provider for over a year and has been looking for warehouse and retail work or support starting his own business.

Client B has worked in a variety of jobs, such as school cleaning and ground maintenance, stock control for a large charity and as a catalogue agent. His last job ended in 2010.

Since being with the Work Programme he has been sanctioned twice. The first one was for failure to evidence his job search which he was doing at SHP ETE drop-ins. WP providers would not accept the ‘business start-up preparation and training’ that Client B was engaged in at this time unless he could start his own business within six weeks. Job Centre Plus also did not accept this as a viable career.

The second sanction was due to Client B becoming depressed and not attending WP on some of the days he was required to attend. Client B knew that failure to attend would result in sanctioning, however he felt depressed and was not coping well with commitments. He was frustrated due to lack of money as the first sanction got him into debt and was physically attacked and robbed not long before that. Although the sanction seems justified, SHP staff feel that clients with mental health needs need a bit more understanding around their ability to cope on certain days.

Client B attends SHP ETE drop-ins on a weekly basis; he has also completed the Fuchsia (life skills) programme and GOALS training. He also volunteered at Whitecross Street Party last July.

In the ETE drop-ins SHP staff have supported the client with:

· Applying and securing funding to start his business selling comics.

· Writing his CV and cover letters through one-to-one support.

· Emailing employers for his job search.

· Coaching for job interviews through one-to-one support.

· Securing a paid job-full-time temporary job which may extend after Christmas.

Client B’s SHP support worker supported client with:

· Attending the job centre with him to explain his support needs.

· Inviting WP advisor to our ETE drop-ins, so that they have better understanding of SHP’s work and client’s training.

· Working with Job Centre Plus, so SHP can help client evidence job search.

Client C

Client C has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and subsequently is prescribed with anti-depressant tablets.

Client C has over 10 years of photography experience as well as experience in retail on a volunteer basis with Oxfam and experience driving a community bus for the elderly.

The client was transferred to the Work Programme in Summer 2012 following a failed medical assessment. Client C reports that he attended weekly, but felt the advisors at the WP were merely following a tick box exercise and did not take note of his past or current experience to aid him in locating a job. The client states "the advisors were invasive and just wanted to see me to fulfil the requirement, not help me get a job." Despite being advised of Client C’s past experience, the WP failed to locate any training or job opportunities for the client. The client reported that his anxiety levels were increased in the lead up to attending the WP appointments and after.

With SHP staff, Client C appeared confused and stated his job search skills and training needs were not being met and has advised that he has received more help from the SHP staff in a very short space of time than in his WP appointments.

Client C has attended the SHP’s ETE drop-ins consistently, which have helped him with:

· Claiming the appropriate benefits. Client C is currently claiming ESA.

· Assisting to locate a local driving training course to obtain a PVC licence for free which would enable Client C to find paid work in driving with a recognised qualification.

· Assisting to obtain paid contract work with the Paralympics 2012.

Client C continues to receive support to source jobs and complete job applications. He has booked to attend SHP GOALS training and attends ETE drop-in weekly. He wants a paid job, but needs specialist mental health ETE support as on some days he is very confused and anxious.

Client D

Client D was on the Work Programme although he has now made a long overdue claim for ESA.  He has mild learning disabilities and suffers with anxiety. 

Client D was compelled to attend numerous sessions and courses which weren’t suitable for him during his participation in the WP, for example computer classes which he was unable to follow and staff said they didn’t have time to give him the support he needed.  His abilities didn’t seem to be taken into account, for example courses he attended were for office jobs whereas his learning difficulties, IT illiteracy and problems reading and writing, meant had difficulties in those courses. 

The requirements of the WP and particularly the compulsion to attend a number of sessions during the week and the threat of sanctions if he misses any caused a great deal of stress for Client D, compounding his anxiety and its physical symptoms.  The requirements also prevented Client D from attending more therapeutic activities or better suited work readiness programmes run by SHP and other partners.

Despite leaving the work programme Client D recently took up a work experience placement, organised by the Job Centre, in the post room at Southwark Council’s Tooley Street office.  This will provide Client D with something to put on his CV, but it is clear it will not lead to a paid position.

Client E

Client E is a 39-year-old woman who has been diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Paranoia and a Personality Disorder. She has not worked for many years.

Client E is supported by a psychiatrist and a mental health nurse at CMHT. She also attends Studio Upstairs, a long-term art therapy group, one day a week.

She has recently been assessed as needing more intensive support and is currently being supported to apply to attend the Studio Upstairs two days a week and is also going to begin intensive CBT immediately after Christmas, with a view to accessing long-term group therapy to address the difficulties she experiences due to her Personality Disorder.

Client E was migrated from IB to ESA and was asked to attend A4e’s offices in Stratford as part of the Work-Related Activity Group. She was unable to attend due to her difficulties, so when she received the appointment SHP staff called A4E and the Job Centre to arrange that all her appointments would be conducted on the phone.

A4e did this for the first appointment. Last week she received a text notifying her of another appointment last Friday at 4:20 pm. Client E called A4e on SHP staff’s recommendation to check that this would be done on the phone. She was informed that this would be the case and Client E waited for the call at 4:20. She was not called, but instead received a letter on Saturday to say that she had been sanctioned and her ESA had stopped.

SHP staff are still dealing with this matter and have no more information about what will happen next at this time.

7 December 2012

Prepared 3rd January 2013