Phillip Blond, a key thinker around the Big Society agenda, has launched a scathing critique of the government’s Work Programme, saying “there is little doubt that the goodwill and resources of charities are being exploited”.
Blond who is the director of centre-right think tank ResPublica aired his views in the Independent today, following the revelation that long-term unemployed people, working as unpaid stewards during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, were left to sleep under London Bridge before working on the river pageant.
Blond argues there is value in unpaid work experience and volunteering for the unemployed as an opportunity to develop character and determination.
However, the Rise of the Red Tories author says the "saga of the Jubilee jobseekers", which involved charity Tomorrow’s People referring its unemployed clients to private firm Close Protection UK to volunteer at the Jubilee, brings up the issue of linking profit motive to charities and their work.
"Both payment-by-results and the pre-tender capital requirements of the Work Programme effectively excluded smaller charities and local social enterprise providers,” writes Blond.
“Prime contractors are meant to work with local charities, but there is little doubt that both the goodwill and the resources of the charities are being exploited.
“Plus the type of approach required to get people who have been out of the labour market for a long time into decent jobs requires trust and a wider remit than the longevity of paid work.”
In this respect, Blond says that big contractors are not “fit for purpose”. He also criticises using payment-by-results contracts on the Programme as it is not conducive to augmenting people’s skills. “The current incentive is to put people into low-wage jobs that lack prospects,” he says.
Charities should be main contractors
Charities and social enterprises should be the main contractors for the Work Programme, he argues. “No one can doubt their motives and they should be given a chance to prove their efficacy.”
This is one of a long line of criticisms of the government’s beleaguered flagship welfare-to-work programme.
Two charities have exited the Work Programme since the start of the year.
And in March, Bernadette Benn, chief executive of east London employment charity Barnabas Workshops, revealed that some Work Programme prime contractors are referring clients to voluntary sector agencies without telling the agencies, and then claiming payment for helping the client find a job.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge has called on the Department for Work and Pensions to suspend all of A4e’s Work Programme contracts following the arrest of four of its former employees.