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Work Programme

Volume 555: debated on Monday 10 December 2012

6. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Work programme in reducing long-term youth unemployment in (a) Leicester and (b) the UK. (132032)

Nationally, more than 57,000 young people on the Work programme have found work and just under 10,000 have been in work for six months. Of those, about 80 are in Leicester.

Unemployment and youth unemployment are higher in Leicester South than they were at the general election. The latest statistics show that about 3% of people have found work as a result of the Work programme. Many employers who took advantage of the future jobs fund tell me that they are shunning the Youth Contract or that they are sceptical about the Work programme. Given that the Minister’s own Department has said that the future jobs fund was of benefit to society, employers and those on it, does he now regret abolishing it?

The evidence from the future jobs fund demonstrated that the taxpayer was never going to recover the money that was spent on it and that it was 20 times more expensive than the work experience scheme, which is similar to it and from which we are getting good outcomes. Taking into account Labour’s fiddled figures, youth unemployment is lower today than it was in May 2010.

In the invitation to tender for the Work programme, the Minister’s Department said that if there was no programme at all 5% of people would secure job outcomes within 12 months. We now know that, under the programme, the figure was 2%. For people on employment and support allowance, it was 1%. Of the 9,500 people on employment and support allowance who used to be on incapacity benefit and who were referred to the Work programme in its first 14 months, only 30 secured job outcomes. The Minister told The Daily Telegraph that Work programme providers needed to “get their act together”. Why does he think that they are to blame?

The Work programme providers are responsible, and they are paid to get people into work. This is a much better value programme than its predecessors, but we need to get providers to raise their game. The figures released at the end of last month showed that job outcomes were rising and that the longer the programme had been functioning, the more people were getting into work. This is a good start, and it is a much more effective programme than the schemes introduced by the previous Labour Government.

7. How many people have come off benefits after joining the Work programme in (a) Kettering constituency, (b) Northamptonshire and (c) England to date. (132033)

Last month, we published data showing that 57% of claimants who joined the Work programme in June 2011 had spent some time off benefits. The figures showed that the programme was moving people off benefits and that, as claimants spent longer on the programme, more of them came off benefits.

I recently visited A4e, which is helping to provide the Work programme in Kettering, and I was impressed by its commitment to getting unemployed people back into work. Is the Minister aware, however, that the two biggest barriers to finding permanent employment in my constituency are travel costs and child care difficulties? What can Her Majesty’s Government do to solve those two problems?

There is a range of ways of helping people with their travel costs in order to get them back into work. Jobcentre Plus can provide money through the flexible support funds, and Work programme providers can provide support to help people to reduce the cost of their travel. There is also funding available to help people who want to work to get free child care.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that figures just released by the Employment Related Services Association show that the Work programme has been even more successful in taking people off benefits than the figures released by his own Department suggest?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The figures produced by the ERSA last month show that more than 200,000 people have found work through the Work programme. They also show that the programme is effective at moving people into work and that job entries are rising from month to month. They clearly show improvements in performance as the programme matures.

The DWP’s own evaluation has shown that the Work programme is proving less successful at getting women than men into work, that it is particularly poor at getting lone parents into work, and that the black box approach is failing to deliver substantive personalised support. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that the Work programme genuinely meets the needs of those furthest from the labour market?

The Work programme has been designed to allow providers to use a range of ways to help people back into work. We give them that flexibility. In return, they are paid only when they are successful. That contrasts with the schemes introduced by the previous Government, in which most of the money went in up front and providers were not paid by results. I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that, under this Government, there are more women in work than ever before.

16. I listened carefully to the Minister’s response a moment ago about the success of the Work programme. Does he acknowledge, however, that of the almost 9,500 people who were in receipt of employment and support allowance who used to receive incapacity benefit and who were referred to the Work programme in its first 14 months, only 30 received job outcomes? What are the Minister’s plans for making the Work programme work? (132042)

As I have already made clear in answer to a similar question, the Work programme is improving its performance, and the longer the scheme is in operation the more people are getting into work. That will lead to more job outcome payments in future. We are in the early stages of the scheme, but there is solid evidence to demonstrate that it is getting people off benefits and into work.

We have taken a range of actions to improve the performance of Work programme providers. We are working with them to establish best practice, particularly in areas such as helping people on employment and support allowance into work. The Department has also written to a number of providers advising them that we want to see a step change in their performance and asking them to produce performance improvement plans, which we will monitor carefully. Programme providers know that they could lose their contract if their performance does not improve.

For the last year, the Secretary of State and all his Ministers have said they could not give us any information about what was happening with the Work programme because the data was unverified. Now we are getting a stream of unverified data, but does that mean we can now see inside the black box? May we have clear information about what services are given to people when they are referred?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the minimum service standards for each provider are published. Last month, we saw data produced on off-benefit flows and on the number of people getting six months’ work. The trade association ERSA—Employment Related Services Association—produced details on the number of job starts. I think that a huge amount of data has been published, and I am surprised that the hon. Lady is complaining about it.