#WOW The Work Programme, Flawed from the Outset #IDS? #DWProud #GE2015


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.

20 thoughts on “#WOW The Work Programme, Flawed from the Outset #IDS? #DWProud #GE2015

  1. During my 2 years on the Work Programme (which included 10 consecutive months when I heard nothing at all from them) the only “helping me back to work” exercise I took part in occurred in the first couple of months.

    Myself and several others were sat in a room and given questionaires, which were answered by ticking pre-decided answers (no “none of the above” option, of course).

    Then we added up our scores and the total decided which kind of animal we were.

    Yes, what kind of animal.

    I think the questionaire had originally been designed for (and possibly by) 10 year olds.

    Each type of animal, it transpired, was good at certain types of work, and I think the idea was this should be our new career path.

    For the record, I was a Tiger. But only because I gave up before I started and just ticked boxes randomly, without reading the questions…

    And that was the full extent of my WP provider (Ingeus) “helping me back to work”. The only other thing they did was try to sanction me, but they weren’t even very good at that.


  2. I am familiar with the concept, but not the exercise. Was it valid in you case to assess your transferable skills in this way, if at all?

    If appropriate, I would have worked through a couple of examples with you and then left you to reflect on how they would apply to your past experience and knowledge. I hope, before going down that road that I would have asked you what you were already doing as you might well have undertaken the exercise already yourself.

    The idea that people on the WP could teach the facilitators a lesson or two in how to find work does not appear on their radar.


    • “I am familiar with the concept, but not the exercise. Was it valid in you case to assess your transferable skills in this way, if at all?”

      There were no explanations about what it was supposed to achieve, or indeed any explanations at all. We were just sat in a room and left to get on with it.

      It just seemed as though someone was having a laugh at our expense, to be honest. Perhaps they were.


  3. An analogy that best explains the work programme to me is that of a private bus company devising a bus route that makes them the most money, gets from point A to B, but takes the longest to complete and is full of traffic – all in the name of maximising profits.


    • HTFB

      More like accepting the public subsidy that comes with the route, buying the cheapest clapped-out minibus they can find, and not caring whether they can sell any tickets or carry any passengers at all. It may not maximise profits but it’s almost free money.


    • What are the make up of the contracts? As unlikely as I feel this will be, were the contacts for a fixed length of time? Outside of the payment they are contacted to receive from the Work Programme, what other companies and businesses do they provide for?

      I don’t know enough about them to make a judgement on that.


      • As ever, the devil is in the detail and the detail,is hidden in that black box. However:

        At the bottom of the price range is an 18 to 24 year old earning the provider an up front back to work support payment from DWP of £400; a job outcome payment of £1,200 from DWP if 18 to 24 year old in work for between 3 months and 6 months and a possible £2,200 worth of sustainment payments from DWP if 18 to 24 year old still in work over a period between a year and two years, making a grand total of £3,800 all told, if all contract conditions met.

        Some of the amounts and elements may have changed since this leaflet was published, but the concept has remained the same.


  4. I seem to ask you this everytime you write a blog, as the DWP seem to undergo a process of obfuscate concerning its definitions of employment. But were a lot of these providers putting these job seekers onto zero hour contacts as a way of being paid (as zero hour contacts are classed as employment in the offical figures).

    Also, could the work programme be a reason why the majority of jobs whose vacancies have been filled could be part time? I say that as unless I miss it, there appears to be n difference in pay to a provider based on whether the job is full or part time. I would hazard a guess that part time jobs would possibly be easier to find than full time work, due to the job cuts that have occured?


  5. If they are putting people into either form of employment (if for this discussion we may count zero hours contracts as employment?) then I would expect their job outcomes and payments to be considerably higher than they actually are. I think the payments are for employment of 16 hours or over that would remove someone from the JSA claimant count.

    There seem to be many more part time jobs in the labour market than previously and a good proportion of people going into them do want to work full time. However, some people obviously do prefer part time work. One might, for example leave JSA, start a part time job and go to college part time. I hazard a guess that in doing so you would be no worse off than if you stayed on JSA, particularly if you were a single person.

    Whether it is easier to move someone from the WP into part time work rather than full time is an interesting question. Perhaps one though of marginal effect, given that the barriers preventing entry to employment remain the same whether the job being sought is full or part time?


  6. jray

    After working for 33 years straight I found myself unemployed 3 1/2 years ago,I finally bit the bullet and signed on,sofa surfing and broke I really appreciated the JSA,it was enough to barely live on but compared to nothing? At first the JCP were all for retraining,a course was arranged (Nebosh) and I managed to find a placement with a Company,3 days before the start I had a Mandatory interview with Amazon,a temp position was offered,Training was cancelled,3 Months later laid off,the JCP had a different attitude,it was all about the WP,Training would be a top priority,Tailored Support was available..Well actually NO! At first the excuse was “We are getting our supply chain sorted” 4 Months in when asked if I could have an overview of available Training or Courses I was met by some hostility,I kept asking and the reply was “We cannot discuss this subject due to it being Commercially Sensitive” ???? I persisted and followed the Complaints procedure,I finally pissed off the Programme Manager and his E-mail response was “Their is NO Training…Fullstop! You need to get a Job” Fair enough,but what is the purpose of the WP or your JOB?….And The Black Box? It should be named The get out of giving an Honest answer Box!


  7. HTFB

    I spent about eighteen months volunteering in a community library. We hosted volunteers on WP placements from all three WP providers in the East London area.

    It was very clear that none of the three were able to provide support for participants during the placement, or any supervision at all of what we did with and for them. They could not even check timesheets or keep us informed if somebody’s circumstances had changed so they would no longer be coming in. There was certainly no practical support for, or contact with, the supervising library volunteers. The staff I dealt with (just about always by telephone) seemed at best to be disaffected former Jobcentre workers, and there was a high turnover among them.

    As far as I could tell the providers’ business models were all to lowball the system, expecting not to earn any of the performance-related rewards and aiming to spend no more on each participant than their minimum capitation fee.

    I do not think that any possible level of success fee would have enabled these providers to switch their model towards intensive support for participants and a dedicated attempt to recoup as many success fees as possible by helping all participants as much as possible. They simply do not have access to enough trained staff, nor the timescale and certainty of funding needed to start training them. An all-or-nothing payment scheme, set with completely speculative thresholds for success, provides a perfect disincentive for investment.


  8. Lucy

    Don’t forget that most of the primes are part of multinational corporations. A quick glance at their accounts might indicate that they are getting money fed to their WP activities from the main corporation to bolster the survival of the WP provider arm. This buys them time whilst they work out just how to claim job outcomes, when there haven’t been many (or any)

    This is why so many of the current providers still keep going. Their outlay and investment in the people they are contracted to help is absolutely minimal, the pay for advisers is low (low level of entry qualification or experience is the recruitment mantra in WP staff) and there is no investment in technology, training or facilities for the scheme participants

    This has been going on (and on) since the very first YOP schemes in the 80s. Many providers went down in the 80s and 90s because they were very small, independent organisations who had no access to parent corporation funding to keep them going when output related funding was hard to come by. Sadly, many of the small providers were the ones who gave the best support, especially to those with disabilities and specialist support needs. These little providers went down, precisely because they concentrated on providing real help. The message is that specialised help costs.

    The difference is that now, the auditing of schemes is minimal. The Black Box approach allows the providers to interpret guidelines however they wish, blame and punish participants and in many, many cases, drive individuals to total despair. I don’t use that word lightly, either

    Real jobs are needed. Real jobs that pay a living wage.


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