Work Programme
The Work Programme has met with criticism from MPs once again (Reuters)

A cross-party group of politicians have launched a stinging attack on the Government's flagship welfare-to-work scheme, claiming it fails its most vulnerable participants.

Parliament's Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) said that the hardest cases - such as those with disabilities or a history of substance abuse - are being "parked" by those providing the Work Programme, who cannot cope with the problems they are faced with.

Instead, the providers are "creaming" the simplest cases off, in pursuit of an easy payment from the government.

"It is clear that the differential pricing structure is not a panacea for tackling creaming and parking," said Dame Anne Begg MP, WPC chairwoman.

"The Government must do more to ensure that the Work Programme provides effective support for all jobseekers, not just the ones who are easiest to help."

The Work Programme's early failings left the Coalition with a smaller payments bill than anticipated, and the WPC recommends that the £248m saved by the Government should be used to give additional support to vulnerable people not benefiting from the work programme's help.

"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," said Begg.

"We therefore think it would be inappropriate for the government to retain the savings they have made as a result of the Work Programme's under-performance in the early months of delivery," she added, before claiming that a move to "individualised, needs-based" pricing for job outcome payments would help negate parking and creaming.

Work Programme advisers are snowed under with caseloads - between 120 and 180 each - leaving the WPC "dismayed".

"This ratio is simply far too high for an effective service and must be brought down," said the report.

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the report highlights a number of serious concerns "that cannot be swept under the carpet".

"Providers of job support have failed to achieve their minimum performance targets and are not doing enough to help disadvantaged job seekers," she said.

"The committee is right to be 'dismayed' at the huge caseloads advisers are being landed with. This is clearly preventing them from providing the tailored assistance individuals need to find lasting employment.

"Instead of continuing to fund failing programmes, the government should introduce a job guarantee for all those facing long-term unemployment."

The Work Programme was launched in June 2011 by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith and is aimed at tackling long-term unemployment in the struggling UK economy.

Contractors carry out the Work Programme on behalf of the government and are paid by results based on whether a participant makes it into sustained employment, defined as employment for at least six months, either in one go or cumulatively.

"There is no such thing as an "easy win" on the Work Programme," said Kirsty Mchugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), a trade body representing providers.

"By definition, participants will be the hardest to help of all jobseekers and many will have experienced real difficulty in finding employment on their own accord.

"Jobseekers' needs of course vary and Work Programme providers are pulling out all the stops to help them into work. At the moment funding to support jobseekers is determined by things such as benefit type, which is a very blunt tool for assessing barriers to work. We therefore support the Committee's call for a more individualised assessment of a person's obstacles to finding employment."

Work Programme 'extremely poor'

The first set of data to emerge from the Work Programme revealed the number of people being helped into employment was worse than the government had forecasted for if the scheme did not even exist.

Just 3.5% of the 878,000 people referred to the Work Programme's providers in its first year were lifted into sustained employment, well below the government's 5.5% target for providers.

A separate group of lawmakers blasted the Work Programme as "extremely poor" and also voiced concern that the hardest-to-help participants were being left behind.

"While we recognised that it is early days for the Work Programme, such poor performance undermines the confidence in its long-term success," said the Public Accounts Committee (Pac), which took evidence from ministers and service providers.

"The DWP needs a better understanding of the factors that led to early performance being well below expectations in order to assess whether the longer term targets for the Work Programme are still achievable."

Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Pac, said it was "shocking" that just 20 of the 9,500 people on incapacity benefit taking part in the Work Programme had been placed in a job that lasted just three months.

"The Work Programme is absolutely crucial for helping people, especially the most vulnerable, get into and stay in work," she said.

"However its performance so far has been extremely poor."

'Fundamental flaws'

A man who represents 70% of the Work Programme's prime contractors has said the scheme is conceptually good, but it is "not yet working and there are some fundamental flaws in it".

"What the purpose of this or any other programme? I think there needs to be absolute clarity on this. If the assessment is simply to save money ... [it] is going to bear down on the success of the programme," said Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), a trade association for vocational learning and employment providers in Britain.

Hoyle said that the Work Programme must accept all unemployed people onto it, not just those who have been out of work for more than a year as is the current requirement.