Friday, 30 November 2012

Hope Springs Eternal

On Tuesday this week the government announced the figures for their flagship work programme designed to reward contractors if they find jobs for the long-term unemployed. You may recall that this topic was discussed at some length a couple of weeks ago when former A4E boss Emma Harrison continually told Channel 4 news that the figures they had "were wrong." 

Well of course it turns out that they were spot on with no contractor achieving the government's minimum of 5.5% of those referred obtaining employment. In fact the average achieved of 3.5% is actually less than if people hadn't been referred to the programme at all. So much for the huge success of Payment by Results then, particularly as it's being hailed as the government's answer to tackling high reconviction rates within the criminal justice sector. 

So far the scheme has cost £485 million with little obvious benefit. Contractors such as Ingeus achieved only a 3.3% success rate and A4E only 2.8%. Funnily enough Emma Harrison has appeared loathe to comment on these official figures. 

Although a huge embarrassment for government, and you can bet these figures were the subject of many recounts, why on earth should it come as any great surprise? Here we are still in the middle of a worldwide recession, with high levels of unemployment, and these work programme providers are expected to somehow magic jobs out of thin air for some of the most challenging clients imaginable.

It is of course 'mission impossible' at the best of times and certainly requires a great deal of coaching, support, perseverance and dogged determination on the part of staff in order to achieve a change of mindset in many cases. Huge numbers of those referred have been 'languishing' as Ian Duncan Smith put it, on Disability or ESA for years and have now failed the dodgy eligibility tests administered by Atos. Significant numbers would be regarded as unemployable by many without some intensive and expensive interventions which are simply not regarded as economically worthwhile by contractors paid on the present results only basis. 

The most obvious point to make in all this is that in most cases work programme contractors are not doing anything more than that formerly undertaken by Job Centre Plus staff, but at considerable additional cost to the public purse. There will surely come a time when the penny finally drops that the 'work' could be brought back in-house in view of the very poor outcomes, and save all the money being paid over to the likes of A4E. Now there's an idea..... 


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