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Work Programme

Volume 565: debated on Monday 1 July 2013

Work programme performance has significantly improved; it is working. The numbers of people finding lasting work—at least six months for most people or three months for the hardest to help—has increased significantly from 9,000 in March 2012 to 132,000 in March 2013.

Recent data on the Work programme show that it has failed to meet its minimum performance level in every category, and that the proportion of employment and support allowance claimants achieving a sustained job was less than a third of the minimum. Every week, I hear from unemployed people in my constituency who are desperate to find a job, and they are being utterly let down by this programme. What is the Minister going to do about it?

I just point out that in the hon. Lady’s area, the Work programme is exceeding its targets for young people aged between 18 and 24. She should get to grip with the facts on what is happening with the Work programme. It is helping people into work, and particularly in her area. On the point about ESA claimants, she should not forget that when her party was in government, it wrote those people off. This is the first time we have had a major programme to get people who have been out of work through sickness or ill health back into employment. More work needs to be done, but what we are doing is a significant improvement on how the Labour Government abandoned those people in the past.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the improvements in performance of the Work programme providers that cover my constituency of Amber Valley? Notwithstanding that, there are clearly some areas of concern. Will the Department now use the market shift mechanism to make sure that those who are not succeeding will have more encouragement to improve in the future?

My hon. Friend is right. Although performance has improved significantly, more progress is needed. We aim to reward the best providers by shifting more referrals to them, and that will start happening on 1 August. At that time, at least 14 market share shifts will take place to encourage good performers and to send a message to those who are performing badly.

The Minister must be disappointed by the figures relating to employment and support allowance. The people concerned were not abandoned by the last Government; there was a programme called Pathways to Work, and the figures were far better then than they have been during the two years of the Work programme. Will the Minister please look into what is happening to this cohort with a sense of urgency? These people are being let down.

I disagree with the hon. Lady’s presumption that they are being let down. I have ensured that each provider has an action plan. We have also set up a “best practice group” to share information about what is working well, and to ensure that each provider gives the best possible service to this important group of people.

A couple of weeks ago I met George Gallop of A4e, who runs the Work programme in Southampton. He introduced me to two young people whose lives had been utterly transformed by the programme. It was truly inspirational. Does the Minister agree that we should be celebrating such successes, and spreading the techniques employed by Mr Gallop more widely around the country?

My hon. Friend is right. One important thing that we can all do is visit Work programme providers in order to understand what they are doing. I have been doing that since I took over this job in September. It is clear that lives are being transformed, and that people who might otherwise have been out of work for years are gaining employment as a consequence of the programme. We need to learn from what is successful, and spread best practice throughout the country.

What does the Minister plan to do with people who come out at the other end of the Work programme? According to a letter that I have received from my local branch of Jobcentre Plus, the programme’s intensive regime will reduce the number of people on benefits, but will not increase the number of those in work. Will the Minister assure us that the activities involved in following up people who have been left without work on the programme will not include bullying them off benefits, and will include getting them into work?

It was the hon. Lady’s party, when it was in government, that established targets for sanctions on jobseekers—targets that the present Government scrapped.

A range of measures exist to support those who are leaving the Work programme and bring them closer to employment. However, we are also asking people to go into the jobcentre every day in order to receive one-to-one support, and I think we shall find that that is very effective.

A4e tells me that 38% of its Work programme clients in the east midlands are aged between 18 and 24, and that one of the biggest challenges that they face is the provision of inadequate or irregular transport services in rural areas, and bad bus services in particular. Is the Minister aware of that problem, and what work can he do with the Department for Transport to deal with it?

My hon. Friend has raised an issue that applies to a number of areas. Work programme providers, Jobcentre Plus, employers and transport companies have worked together well to improve transport links, and to ensure that as many people as possible can travel to a job that enables them to look after themselves and their families.