‘Job-ready’ claimants get priority in work programme, say academics

York University professor Roy Sainsbury says firms, paid to hire claimants, are slow to give jobs to long-term unemployed

The government’s flagship welfare-to-work programme is giving priority to “job-ready” claimants ahead of those who have been unemployed for long periods because of sickness, an official assessment has found.

In the first official evaluation of the £3bn work programme, the report, by York university’s social policy research unit, says private firms, which are paid for getting an unemployed person into a long-term job, are “openly seeing their most job-ready participants more frequently than those with more severe barriers to work”.

The academic authors warn: “It is not yet possible … to draw firm conclusions about the existence or extent of creaming and parking”.

But Roy Sainsbury, professor at the social policy research unit, said there existed an issue for the work programme. “The philosophy of the government’s plan was that you would give huge amounts of money to get someone into work if they had had, for example, an alcohol problem. [It appears] there’s no evidence that firms are responding to those incentives.”

Under the work programme firms can get between £4,000 and £14,000 for every long-term job gained by an unemployed person participating in the scheme.

The analysis also found that there was friction between the state’s job centres and the firms. It describes “deficiencies in communication and information flow (in both directions) between Jobcentre Plus and work programme providers”.

Sainsbury said that this was “in essence a fight over territory”. He added: “There’s also a real fear in job centre staff’s minds about their jobs. They say their jobs are in danger so why should they co-operate?”

The academic gave evidence to MPs last month in a select committee, in which he said he highlighted a problem with the way claimants were encountering the new system.

“A lot of clients were just being sent along to the work programme provider with little information about what to expect, without knowing what was compulsory and what was not.

“That creates a problem for the provider staff on day one, because they get someone in front of them who, at best, is ignorant, because they do not know what is going to happen, and, at worst, worried. Even worse, they are hostile, because they have been given no information, perhaps not full information or sometimes wrong information.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The work programme has already got more than 207,000 of the ‘hardest to help’ unemployed people into a job, and we’re working hard to make sure even more people can move off benefits and into work.

“We pay organisations more money for getting those with more complex needs into work and give them two years to work with job seekers – so there’s a clear incentive for them to help every participant.”

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