Skip to main content

Work Programme

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

The Department for Work and Pensions completed the launch of the Work programme by the end of June and it is now operational in all parts of the country. I have now visited a number of the providers and their centres and I am pleased to see the progress they are making.

I welcome the Government’s measures to help unemployed people in my Lincoln constituency, but what assurances can my right hon. Friend give me that the Work programme will provide my constituents with sustainable, meaningful and long-term employment?

There are two things about the Work programme that will help my hon. Friend and his constituents. First, the providers are free to deliver whatever solution works for the individuals—a crucial difference to past programmes—and, secondly, they are rewarded not simply for getting people into work but for sustaining them in work for periods that can be as long as two years and three months. I hope that will deal with the challenges in the labour market in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

On Friday, we welcomed the Minister to the Stafford jobs fair and the Shaw Trust in the Stafford constituency. How extensive is the role he foresees for the voluntary sector in providing the Work programme?

The voluntary sector has a crucial role to play in two ways. First, we have a wide range of voluntary sector organisations contractually involved in the Work programme, delivering support to the long-term unemployed. I also believe that a local community activity such as the excellent jobs fair that my hon. Friend organised in his constituency, together with Stafford Works, is an ideal example of how Work programme providers and the local community can work together to deliver real back-to-work support for the unemployed.

Early indications would suggest that the numbers being referred to the Work programme are much higher than many of the providers expected under the contracts they signed. What guarantee does the Minister have that people will not sit on the Work programme without any intervention for some time until the providers gear up to have the staff to deal with the numbers they face?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is a marked contrast to the start of the flexible new deal under the previous Government when providers went for weeks and weeks without people being referred. I am very encouraged by the start of the Work programme and by the response of providers, which are contractually obliged to provide minimum levels of support to people who are referred. As far as I can see, that is precisely what is happening: support is starting and is working well. There are courses, support and learning taking place up and down the country.

Should we hold out much hope for the Government’s Work programme if the Government are not successful in meeting their immigration target?

The right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of migrant labour on many occasions. It is a challenge for Work programme providers to make sure they can deliver a work-ready work force to potential employers in areas such as his constituency to take advantage of the excellent opportunities that exist in companies such as the Contact Company, for example, which I visited recently. I strongly believe that if providers get local workers ready for the work force, they will be taken up eagerly by local employers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of getting people back into work is through apprenticeships? Will he ensure that the Work programme is linked carefully into the Government’s apprenticeships scheme?

I absolutely agree. One of the most important steps the Government have taken has been significantly to increase the number of apprenticeships available, particularly for young people. It is absolutely clear under the Work programme agreement that a successful placement in an apprenticeship counts as a job outcome under the Work programme. I hope that will mean there is a clear link between the two.

Steve Kerr of the London Voluntary Service Council has questioned whether the Work programme

“will succeed…or simply make matters worse through sidelining the voluntary sector.”

What action is the Minister taking so that the voluntary sector does not continue to feel sidelined through the Work programme?

The hon. Lady is absolutely wrong. The voluntary sector is not being sidelined. On Friday in Stafford I visited the Shaw Trust—a major voluntary sector organisation that is already delivering support to people under the Work programme. There are many other organisations such as Groundwork delivering support right across the spectrum and there is specialist help available from some of the specialist groups. The Work programme has been designed to attract best practice, of which there is much in the voluntary sector. That is why it is such an important part of the Work programme.