Work programme 'failing homeless & disabled'

The government's Work Programme (WP) has been slammed by the Works and Pensions Committee, which has concluded that it is "unlikely" to help the most disadvantaged long-term unemployed.

“The performance of the WP in its first 14 months was poor. There are signs that it is now improving significantly for mainstream jobseekers. However, it has proved much less successful to date in addressing the problems faced by jobseekers who face more serious obstacles to finding a job – people with disabilities, homeless people, and those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse," said Dame Anne Begg MP, the committee's chair.

The Committee's report notes that government spending on the WP was £248 million less than anticipated in 2012/13, due to providers’ under-performance in a “payment-by-results” programme.

In the short term, the Committee has urged the government to use the unspent Work Programme budget to:

  • Extend proven, alternative provision for disadvantaged jobseekers, such as the Work Choice programme for disabled people; 
  • Extend and continue to promote Access to Work to help disabled people overcome the practical difficulties of starting a job;
  • Provide further support for individuals who complete their two-year attachment to the Work Programme without finding sustained employment.

Anne Begg continued: “At a time of low growth and high unemployment it is important that disadvantaged jobseekers are kept as close to the labour market as possible. We therefore think it would be inappropriate for the government to retain the savings they have made as a result of the WP’s under-performance in the early months of delivery.

"The government should be using the unspent WP budget to fund a range of measures designed to tackle the long-term unemployment problem.”

In the longer-term, the Committee has called on the Department for Work and Pensions to consider moving away from the current differential pricing model, which is based on the type of benefit a participant is claiming, to a much more individualised, needs-based model.

The report recommends that the DWP should assess how a needs-based pricing structure could determine the appropriate level of up-front funding and the types of services required to support individual jobseekers.

Housing charity Crisis has welcomed the Committee's findings. Chief executive Leslie Morphy said: “The WP has been a huge disappointment for too many homeless people. It has taken them no closer to what they really want: a better life through work. The support they’ve received has been minimal and at worst clients have been hit with sanctions rather than offered support.

”After helping hundreds of people on the long journey from homelessness to paid employment, Crisis has learned that homeless people, like other disadvantaged groups, need support and encouragement that addresses individual’s particular needs. Our own clients’ experiences and the Work and Pensions Select Committee report show that the WP just does not deliver this.

“Those furthest from the labour market, like homeless people, should get extra help before the W and access to the specialist support and voluntary organisations that have the track record to actually get them into work.”