by Bill Davies
The latest figures from the work programme show it is doing, on aggregate, better than it was. Now the programme has been running for 22 months, we are in a better position to consider whether it is achieving its main objective, to reduce unemployment and increase employment amongst all eligible claimant groups.
It is doing better than last time, particularly when you look at newer cohorts to the programme, but little better than the programme it replaced. At this stage of the flexible new deal, 13 week job outcomes as a percentage of eligible starts were 18%, and 26 week outcomes were 12%. The coalition’s work programme, introduced to dismantle the ‘fundamentally flawed’ Flexible New Deal, is at this stage achieving outcomes of 13%. Better than last time, but not brilliant. The statistical release of the department for work & pensions shows that 22 out of the 40 contracts have not met their targets for moving the largest group of job seekers allowance claimants (over 25 year olds) off benefits and into work. The target for this group was 27.5% of starters to move into work, but at this stage, the target has been narrowly missed, at 27.3%.
The most staggering figure is that employment & support allowance, the group for people moving from incapacity benefits gradually back into the labour market had a target of 16.5% of starts to job outcomes, but the actual outcome rate was 5.3%, only a third of the target.
Is the work programme assisting those regions that have the most difficult labour markets? On the basis of current performance, it is still largely reflecting them.
The North East, Yorkshire and Humber, the South West and Scotland performed below the national average, while equally predictably, the South East, and East of England were above average. Better than expected results were posted in the North West, and West Midlands, the latter region in particular has performed badly under previous employment programmes. Still, these are tight margins, and future results may show widening, or narrowing performance gaps.
What the latest round of results show quite strongly is that active labour market programmes are not a silver bullet to unemployment. Politicians need to show modesty initially about their potential, before having to explain why their programmes did not meet their targets.
Bill Davies is a researcher at IPPR North