The Work Programme: sorting the wheat from the chaff

Today’s long-awaited Work Programme performance figures were rather worse than even the SMF anticipated.

Overall performance for the first 12 months of the scheme was 2.3% compared to the minimum performance level, set by DWP, of 5.5% (see our briefing note if you find these figures (understandably) baffling).

Every provider fell well short of the minimum, below which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) threatens contract termination. So will the department follow through on their threat and sack all the Work Programme providers? Obviously not. Partly that’s because if they did so they’d have no employment service, but mainly it’s because the Department recognises that its minimum performance figures were based on no reliable analysis.

The minimum performance figure is calculated to be 10% above the proportion of sustained jobs DWP thought would happen in the absence of any programme to help people back to work. That ‘policy off’ level was estimated by the Department at 5%. In the light of today’s figures, DWP’s analysis suggests that providers are preventing half of their jobseekers from finding work. That’s clearly an absurd conclusion, and so by implication is DWP’s minimum performance level.

But aside from the fact that DWP’s baseline is all wrong, there’s a more positive reason they don’t want to ditch the programme. That’s that it is beginning to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to helping people back to work.

It’s still early days, but the best performer is Ingeus’s contract in the East Midlands, which got just over 4% of referrals into sustained employment in year one. There is then a large bunch of providers between 2% and 3%, with Prospects bringing up the rear. It’s worth also noting DWP’s minimum performance level way up to the right of the chart in splendid irrelevance.

The performance range is substantial. The best performing contract is apparently more than five times as effective at getting people into sustained employment as the worst. Now there are lots of things going on here, and regional variation plays a large part in driving different performances. But if I was running one of the companies in the middle of the pack, I’d be very urgently trying to find out what Ingeus is doing in the East Midlands to have such great success. If others can learn from the best performers, the Work Programme will be working, whatever DWP’s arbitrary targets suggest.



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