Can the Work Programme work for all user groups? - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

8  Conclusion

168.  We believe that the Work Programme, as currently contracted, has the potential to work well for relatively mainstream jobseekers who face less severe barriers to employment. The early under-performance of the programme can, at least in part, be explained by the worse than predicted economic situation and the rapid commissioning process, which inevitably led to some implementation delays. We hope and expect that the next set of official job outcome performance data, now due for release on 27 June 2013, will show significantly improved performance in the mainstream JSA payment groups. We will be deeply concerned if they do not.

169.  However, we are less confident that the Work Programme can address the problems faced by jobseekers with more severe barriers to employment. The Work Programme's differential pricing model is a welcome evolution in welfare-to-work but it is not a panacea; there is growing evidence which suggests it is not having its intended impact on "creaming and parking".

170.  Poor performance in the first 14 months of delivery meant that DWP spent much less on outcome payments than it anticipated; in a period of low economic growth and relatively high unemployment it should use this unexpected budget shortfall to extend alternative provision for highly disadvantaged jobseekers.

171.  In future contracts, DWP should consider moving away from differential pricing based on benefit type being claimed; it should assess the merits of implementing a needs-based pricing model instead. It should also give consideration to funding models which reward providers for achieving steps along the way to employment by jobseekers with severe barriers to work and which recognise the need for greater up-front funding for some user groups.

172.  Work Programme providers' relationships with external stakeholders must improve. Poor working relationships between JCP staff and Work Programme advisers are hampering participants' effective engagement with the Work Programme in some areas. Local JCP managers must take responsibility for ensuring that frontline JCP staff establish close working relationships with their Work Programme counterparts. Work Programme providers must improve the recruitment service they provide for employers and work more closely with local authorities and local business groups to match suitably prepared candidates to real vacancies.

173.  Evidence suggests that specialist subcontractors with the expertise to support jobseekers with complex barriers to employment are not involved in delivering the Work Programme to anywhere near the extent anticipated. This in turn suggests that the help some jobseekers need is not currently available. The Work Programme requires increased transparency of referral and outcome data—both to enable effective scrutiny and to help the market develop. The Merlin standard, as currently designed, cannot regulate the market effectively; it should be given more "teeth", including the power to impose financial sanctions.

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