I do not think; if I had written Beyond the Barriers that I would have devoted nine pages to the Work Programme. I would just have written, scrap it and recycle the money to use to better effect elsewhere. However, it is best I guess to not lightly dismiss it out of hand.
In my opinion, the WP has failed all those participating within it, regardless of their personal circumstances. The WP was doomed to fail from the off. The WP was predicated on the idea that the private sector knows best and that payment by results would help the full spectrum of participants within it. Neither assumption has been proven and was not proven when Employment Zone providers roamed some of the most deprived areas of England. They often did not know best and to get the full tranche of money per person they focused on the easiest to help into work, many of whom did not need the help to find and secure a job. Sometimes, I feel I am living through a particularly depressing version of Groundhog Day.
Introducing a major programme with neither a pilot nor pathfinder phase was a gamble and, as Beyond the Barriers shows one that has failed completely. IDS has put most of DWP’s back to work support on Red 13 and watched the roulette ball slot neatly into Black 13. Alas, the fashion for impeaching Ministers belongs to another age.
The private sector said it could give effective back to work support for next to nothing on the basis that the total payments, the bulk paid out on job sustainment (see page 7), would replenish reserves or pay off loans incurred during the work support phase of WP. Moreover, they were incentivised to help those with greater barriers to work by the provision of greater job sustainment fees for helping the same into employment. Such an incentive would, according to those wedded to the market make sure that those furthest from the labour market would receive greater help than those nearer to it. WP providers are obviously ignorant about how markets ‘should’ work, preferring short term, quick wins to long term, slow wins, the extra money for the latter notwithstanding. Again, those needing least help have been the focus of a private sector led, payment by results initiative designed to focus on those furthest from the labour market.
One area where the WP set out from the start not to imitate the market was in terms of how participants are attached to a provider. One does not get to choose to whom one is sent. One is randomly allocated to ensure all the providers within a particular area get an equal share of the participants. No possibility then for a proxy market mechanism to develop to show which providers in an area are building up the best reputation for delivery. Consequently, there is little information that would allow potential participants to vote with their feet and opt for the best local provider. In fact, once allocated to a provider it is almost impossible to switch to another. And, if you move to an area outside of the one you were living in when allocated to the WP, that provider is expected to continue supporting you, albeit at a distance by telephone.
DWP has cleverly side-stepped the whole issue of monitoring quality through complaints by insisting that WP participants pursue complaints with their provider. A common practice that, once one has exhausted the provider process and got nowhere would allow for a complaint to be addressed to the provision funder. Genuine complaints would then feed into provider quality monitoring. In the case of the WP, complaints leaving a WP provider progress direct to the Independent Case Examiner, DWP’s external Ombudsman.
I will not go into the ridiculous support being offered to those participating in the WP. Beyond the Barriers in devastating detail demolishes any credibility that the black box approach ever had. However, alongside not using their specialist sub contractors (and forcing some of them out of business thereby), WP providers have been, it is alleged, sneaking participants on to back to work provision being funded and provided by other organisations.
Such covert activity maximises the financial outcome for the WP provider, if someone enters work, whilst compromising the projects delivered by others. Other organisations that may be subsequently taken to task by their funders for not having sufficiently robust audit procedures in place. The EU, in particular does not countenance double funding (or substitution) and the WP is part funded by the EU, whatever Guto Bebb, the Conservative MP for Conway (see 12:27) thinks. DWP, as a Co-Financing Organisation has matched WP funding at source to obtain that status. Consequently, no one on WP should be referred to EU funded provision, unless the project may explicitly accept such referrals.
In addition, those organisations suspecting that they have received covert referrals from the WP have, of course not had a share in any subsequent work related payments received by the WP provider. They, therefore, receive no recompense for WP participants unintentionally elbowing aside those voluntarily seeking help and for who the funding for these projects’ was originally sought. A further waste of (often public) money to add on to the money directly wasted by DWP spending on the WP.
The coup de grâce for the WP is that a black box approach assumes a bespoke package of support for each and every individual. Why, therefore, do WP providers, who freely entered into contracts to deliver a black box, need to refer to any other organisation, except perhaps their sub contractors and certain specialist providers on a one off basis? Trying to refer to provision not funded through WP is a tacit admission by providers that the black box does not work and/or the upfront participation and subsequent payments are insufficient to provide effective support.