The Work Programme (again): Reading the runes

The Work Programme saga continues. I’ve argued before that we need some real figures to be able to assess how the Work Programme is going. So it’s very welcome that DWP has said it will start to put out official performance statistics from the end of this month. But with the Public Accounts Committee hearing on the Work Programme tomorrow, nobody wants to wait that long.

So right at the end of last week, the welfare to work trade body ERSA released some figures on the performance of the new scheme in its first six months. A survey of their members suggests that of those people who started on the scheme last June, around 20% had started a job six months later. How does that compare with Labour’s old Flexible New Deal that Work Programme replaced? Unfortunately the comparison is a tricky one but there are some straws in the wind.

In a recent Parliamentary Question, employment minister Chris Grayling released figures from the Flexible New Deal. They showed that, on average, by six months into the programme 16% of jobseekers had found a job which subsequently lasted for a continuous three months. So to make the comparison between Work Programme and FND, we need to have some idea of how many of those 20% might hang onto their jobs for three months.

Figures on this sort of thing are hard to come by so it’s hard to say what sustainment to three months is likely to be. One research paper from DWP suggests that around just 61% of long-term unemployed who start a job stay in it for at least three months. If that drop-out rate occurs on Work Programme then performance will be lower than FND. On the other hand, another DWP evidence paper looking at the performance of Employment Zones seems to imply that about 90% might stay in work. This would mean performance is up on the Work Programme. None of these groups are directly comparable, but this gives us a sense of the likely range. If you’re a Work Programme provider, maybe you’ve got a better sense of how many job-starters make it through to three months, in which case please do leave a comment.

Putting it all together, staying on rates need to be around 80% if the Work Programme is to be on track to perform at the same level as FND. That seems like a reasonable guestimate. Replicating FND performance might not be quite what the Government hoped for, but it’s not bad given the economic circumstances and newness of the programme. Given that the economy was adding jobs in 2010 under FND, and it’s shedding them now, maintaining performance would be a good showing by providers.


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