Work and career support for the long-term unemployed: a better Work Programme

8 May 2015

Recent commentary on the Work Programme has been more positive, recognising that it has delivered results for jobseekers that are at least as good as previous programmes and it has done it at probably half the cost – it is a very efficient programme. However, whilst young people on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) have been the most successful group at 32% getting sustained jobs, only 8% of those on the Employment Support Allowance have been successful.

At the beginning DWP and providers promised a ‘step change’ in performance that could be expected from longer contracts, greater freedoms and payments by results built into the Work Programme. But it’s been a tough environment to deliver and it isn’t all providers’ fault that original expectations have not been met.  

DWP targets were set too high – leading to lower payments. The CESI report: Making the Work Programme work for ESA claimants identified that overall funding per participant has fallen to just £550 for ESA claimants against an original expectation of £1,170. It was hoped that better integration of other funding streams would be achieved but that has rarely happened in practice. 

The transition to the Work Programme was also badly managed – leading to huge volumes of JSA and low volumes of ESA.  There was too strong a focus on driving performance at the margins, rather than ensuring quality service for all; or for that matter minimising ‘parking’ of those with more needs. Participants with greater needs, have not been served well as illustrated by the ESA results.

NIACE and Inclusion has made several proposals for the replacement of the Work Programme in its Ten Policies for Ten People policy solutions document. We believe that Government should ensure the replacement is fit for purpose for the most disadvantaged claimants. New service standards based on what is known to work should be at the heart of all services so that participants receive the right support at the right time. To adequately reward providers, the level of funding and the nature of payments should more closely reflect need rather than the welfare benefit an individual is claiming.

Sourcing the right type of support will require strong links to other forms of support within the community. A more localised approach to commissioning may deliver more locally integrated provision. But to secure this, we believe local partners should work together to develop protocols on joint working. We also recommend that Local Enterprise Partnerships take on an oversight role to ensure that local skills providers prioritise long-term unemployed adults when deciding how to allocate their skills budgets to meet the needs of their community.

Greater integration of skills provision will help individuals gain the skills they need at each stage of their journey into and once in employment. This would support people to progress beyond sustained employment which otherwise can remain low paid. We have suggested that paying providers according to a participant’s earnings to ensure providers offer support not just to help people into work, but also to help them get on at work.

Whatever we do we must make sure that the next programme fosters innovation, partnerships and collaboration, and genuine testing and learning as the way to improve performance in the future.


Find out more about this policy area here or visit our proposals page. Download Ten Policies for Ten People