The government’s flagship employment scheme is working, ministers have claimed, after data was released showing about one in four jobless people who had joined the work programme had stayed off benefits for 13 weeks.
Chris Grayling, the employment minister, presented an analysis of 28,600 people on the programme in June 2011. Nine months later, he said, 7,000 of them – roughly 24% – had “a continuous 13-week break in claim [sic]“. He also said a “significant” proportion, 14%, had not claimed benefits for 26 weeks.
However, Grayling said he was unable to say how many people had come off benefits because they had found a job. Accepting some had left because of “chaotic lives”, he said it was difficult to see how “you could keep yourself without money for long”.
“Job outcomes is a lagging indicator and by the time the contractors have processed the claim [we would] wait another three months for the data,” said Grayling.
Rebutting claims that the figures showed private sector providers had “creamed off” the easiest group to get back to work, the minister said this cohort was not exceptional: “We are not saying that they all got jobs. But we think that the full picture is much higher than 24% and probably closer to 30% [for those off benefits for 13 weeks].”
The scheme, a five-year contract worth up to £5bn, involves 15 private companies, two charities and one public sector contractor aiming to get the unemployed back to work for two years. Grayling said the work programme was a “giant employment dating service”, pointing out that one provider recruited the entire staff of a new restaurant in Edinburgh.
The providers’ trade body, ERSA, released data in May showing that between 18% and 26% of work programme participants have started a job. However, the National Audit Office (NAO) expressed doubts, saying the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) target of getting 36% of people into sustained, long-term work over the course of the programme was “overly optimistic”.
“Our analysis of likely performance of the largest group of participants in the work programme (and one of the easiest to help into work) is that 26% will get such jobs compared to the department’s estimate of 40% for that group,” said the NAO.
Grayling said there was no basis for the NAO’s claims, and that he would not comment on claims made by Channel 4 News that one provider, A4e, found jobs for just 3.5% of its jobseekers under the work programme, far below the 5.5% minimum target.