Reading the latest Work Programme numbers

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has today thrown another statistical cat among the Work Programme pigeons by releasing some new data on how the scheme is going.

The figures show that 24% of people who joined the scheme in June 2011 have been off benefits for at least three months. But, as avid Work Programme watchers will know, a close exegesis of numbers relating to the scheme tends to reveal that their true meaning is much less clear than it might first appear.

Today’s measure of its performance – the number of people off benefits for three months – is different to that by which providers will be paid. To achieve an outcome payment for a Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimant over 25 years old, for example, providers need to get the person into a job that lasts for six months.

Focusing on the “off-benefit” part of the DWP figures, unfortunately being off-benefit isn’t the same as being in employment. In fact Office for National Statistics (ONS) data suggests that there’s a big divergence between the two figures. Administrative JSA claimant data shows that there are a number of destinations for people coming off JSA – failing to sign on, moving abroad, moving onto ESA, and a large number of people simply disappear from the figures untraced.

In fact, only around 46% of people who moved off long-term JSA between March and May 2012 went into work with certainty (see pie chart below). Of those who moved off JSA and didn’t go onto another benefit, the into work proportion is 50%. Around one in five of those moving off benefits fall into the ‘unknown destination’ group, so it could be that many of them are going onto work. But whichever way you look at it, the off-benefit figure doesn’t look like a very good barometer for three-month sustained jobs.

That leaves the 24% figure from today’s figures looking less positive than it might at first appear. Twenty-four per cent three-month job outcomes would be a very solid performance, giving real reasons to be positive about the scheme’s success, especially given that comparable figures for Labour’s Flexible New Deal were about 19% into 3 months’ continuous employment. Unfortunately that’s not quite what today’s figure means. As it is, we may have to wait for several more months – and possibly a reconfigured Work Programme – for that kind of news.


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