The Work Programme needs jobs and better links with local services

The Centre for Public Service Partnerships newest report is Personalisation, Innovation and Economic Growth – the essentials for tackling long term unemployment (pdf).  It was commissioned as part of a partnership with Tomorrows People, a Charity which has helped more than 440,000 long-term unemployed people back into work since 1984.

Our research considered the opportunities and risks of the new Government funded Work Programme, launched this month, to be delivered by private sector contractors who will be funded by results – by their success in reducing the benefits bill as the long term unemployed move into sustained work. They will bear the initial costs and choose how to sub-contract, but there is wide disappointment at how few local and voluntary organisations are involved.

The report makes eight key recommendations to Government, local government and the Work Programme providers. While welcoming the focus on helping people into lasting work, Tomorrow’s People fears that some of the most socially-deprived people in Britain’s areas of highest unemployment could be ignored.  The risk is that private contractors will simply avoid tackling hard to help claimants in areas where there are no jobs for them.

Lack of jobs is the greatest risk to the success of the Work Programme. Jobseekers need to believe there are jobs so that they can see themselves making a realistic transition from benefits to work.

Tomorrow’s People Chief Executive, Baroness Steadman-Scott said  “Given enough time, money and effort, you can transform the lives of long-term benefits claimants – but if employers don’t have jobs to offer, you won’t get paid at the end of it.  Commercial organisations can’t afford to take that risk – which means that the Government’s good intentions could suffer unless it does something to address that problem.”

This week she told the Guardian that the Work Programme was a wasted opportunity and she was angry that so few charities are involved as sub-contractors.

Our research found clear evidence of a jobs deficit and massive regional disparity in labour markets, concentrations of unemployment and incapacity benefit. It is unrealistic to expect a large and sustained shift in the numbers of long-term unemployed people gaining and sustaining work, given many have low skills and other barriers to overcome. Areas of the country with the highest levels of unemployment would need hundreds of thousands of new jobs even to reach the current national average level of unemployment.

Nationally, at least five people chase each vacancy, with up to 35 seeking each vacancy for low-skilled basic-level jobs in depressed labour markets such as the West Midlands. There is a skills and geographic mis-match and previous economic recoveries never replenished lost low skill jobs but delivered skilled service jobs, with more located around London, and less in areas of structural unemployment.

Yet, the Government has set the minimum bar for success at the highest level the New Deal programme ever achieved through 12 years of economic growth.

That is a huge challenge in the current economic situation.

We argue that many of the challenges experienced by long-term unemployed people require holistic solutions involving a range of local services such as family support, education, training, health, housing and counselling. This is why local authorities have worked in partnership with the wider public sector, businesses and the third sector to co-ordinate local options to meet local needs.

We make a case for local innovative projects to complement the Work Programme, funded either by Government directly or prime contractors. These could work in partnerships with local authorities and third sector bodies and draw on national and local experience and integrate with Community Budgets. When I spoke to a recent Children and Family network, they reported worklessness was a key challenge to many families they supported, yet there was poor local joining up with support to help parents into work. This flies in the face of what we have learnt from previous successful (and unsuccessful) initiatives and Total Place and Graham Allen MP’s independent report on Early Intervention.

Sarah Phillips is Deputy Director of the Centre for Public Service partnerships @LGiU.

She leads on both research and advisory projects. She has worked in local government managing resources and regeneration partnerships; as an inspector for the Audit Commission, on secondment to central government and the Lyons Inquiry; and most recently as a consultant across the public and third sectors.