All is not well with the Work Programme, the government'​s flagship back-to-work scheme.

Last week Channel 4 news released the first piece of real evidence we'​ve seen on how the scheme is going. It doesn'​t make for happy reading. Out of 115,000 jobseekers referred to provider A4E in the first year of the scheme, just 4,000 of them –​ 3.5% –​ have found sustained jobs.

Since last year'​s launch of the Work Programme, hailed by ministers as a revolution in back-to-work support, the omens haven'​t been good. But the Department for Work and Pensions'​ baffling strategy to ban any public sharing of the scheme'​s performance data has made it impossible to properly assess how it'​s going –​ until now.

A4E'​s 3.5% rate is lower than the rock-bottom minimum of 5.5% expected by the DWP. In the context of recent, unflattering media coverage surrounding the provider, people will no doubt want to kick A4e for these atrocious figures. It may be that the organisation isn'​t making a good fist of the new programme. But A4e'​s past performance suggests that the problem isn'​t unique to it. It'​s likely that lots of Work Programme chiefs are staring at a similarly dire set of figures. The problems run deeper.

The uncomfortable truth is that the Work Programme design is flawed. DWP'​s minimum performance targets are based on its best guess of how many people would have got a job without any help. These, in turn, are based on the Office for Budget Responsib​ility'​s projections for growth from November 2010, when it predicted the economy would grow by 2.1% last year and 2.6% this year. But the economy has flatlined since then, and employment prospects have been similarly poor.

Full story in the Guardian


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