The handover of unemployed people from JobCentres to Work Programme providers is a flawed process, several charities told a cross-party group of MPs today.
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee met this morning to take evidence from Crisis, Drugscope, Mind, Scope and Single Parent Action Network about their service users' experieinces of the Work Programme.
The unanimous view from the charities was that the handover of clients from JobCentre Plus to the Work Programme is not working as well as it should. The feeling in the room was summarised by an exchange between Glenda Jackson MP and Paul Anders, senior policy officer at Drugscope where Jackson asked: “Are you saying that unemployed people are not receiving the tailored service from the Work Programme that the government has promised?”
Anders replied: “No, they are not.”
Other problems identified included the lack of time available to JobCentre Plus and Work Programme employees to spend with their clients; their skills and training, and communication between departments and the two bodies.
Not a positive experience
Sophie Corlett, Mind’s head of external relations, said that some of its members find their route back to work to be a “bullying” situation, where sanctions are the first thing on the agenda – an atmosphere within which those low on confidence were unlikely to flourish.
“The public’s expectation is that the Work Programme will help you find work,” she said. “The reality is that it doesn’t make our service users feel more positive and hopeful in their search for employment.”
Crisis’ director of policy and external affairs Duncan Shrubsole said that in his experience, Work Programme practitioners actually give quite a standardised, generic service and do not understand the particular needs and issues of – in the case of his charity – homeless people.
“There is a lack of training on the ground at JobCentre Plus, and poor communication between them and their Work Programme colleagues,” he said. “Not enough time is taken to assess an individual’s needs.”
Shrubsole added that sometimes service users were unaware that they had even been moved on to the Work Programme, and that referrals were often lower than promised.
Voluntary sector bolstering the programme
He also speculated that voluntary organisations are partly funding the Work Programme, by still running their own back-to-work initiatives to make up for the inefficiency of the Programme – and not getting paid any extra for doing so.
Meanwhile, Anders revealed that he had heard anecdotal accounts of JobCentre Plus staff not actively promoting the Work Programme.
However, Laura Dewar, senior policy & parliamentary officer at Single Parent Action Network, did have some encouraging words to mix into the general negativity. She pointed to examples of three single parents she knew who were given an “imaginative” service by the Work Programme from staff who did “amazing things”.
Acevo launched a review of the Work Programme last November, after the scheme was heavily criticised for failing to get people back into long-term work.
Figures had been released revealing that only 3.5 per cent of the 878,000 people who took part in the Programme until July 2012 had found work lasting more than six months. This fell short of the government’s 5.5 per cent target.