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NCVO: Next Work Programme must involve charities in design to succeed

The poor performance of the Work Programme in getting harder-to-help jobseekers into work demonstrates there is a need for the government to work more closely with charities and service users when designing contracts, says a new report by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

The report is based on feedback from charities taking part in current contracts, as well as the latest figures from the National Audit Office (NAO), which show lower than expected performance levels after the first two years of the scheme. The findings also show that contractors are failing to help people furthest from the labour market to find work.

A lack of consultation with service providers, including specialist charities and voluntary organisations, led to design flaws that have hampered the programme from the start, the report argues.

Not only was there no consultation with the voluntary sector during the design of the programme, a factor that the NAO has been critical of, but the speed of its launch also limited the opportunity for creative or collaborative approaches. Successful bidders for Work Programme contracts were announced in April 2011 just four months after the initial invitation to tender was published in December 2010, giving potential prime providers little or no time to discuss with potential subcontractors.

Currently, people with multiple or complex barriers to work are not receiving the help that they need as contractors focus on people who are easier to help. Just 2.3% of Employability Support Allowance (ESA) claimants expected to be fit for work by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) within twelve months of being referred to the Work Programme have been successful in finding a job. Moreover, prime contractors have reduced their budget for harder to help claimants by 54% since the start of the programme. For many voluntary organisations carrying out services, a lack of referrals to the programme has put pressure on existing budgets and forced some charities to spend their reserves in order to provide services.

NCVO recommends that DWP works more closely with charities when designing contracts to bring maximum benefit to service users in future welfare to work programmes. Listening to charities' front-line experience and local knowledge would mean that the needs of claimants, especially those who are harder to help, are taken into account.

Karl Wilding, director of public policy at NCVO, says:

'The recommendations set out by this report seek to address the failings of the Work Programme and the lack of input sought by the government from specialist charity and voluntary organisations. Front-line charities are in an excellent position to help people furthest away from the job market to gain skills, experience and confidence to help them towards and into employment. The government can benefit from taking their expertise into account at the earliest stages. In the future, we would like to see voluntary organisations involved in the design process from the very beginning, to prevent the waste and inefficiencies that have blighted the Work Programme so far.'

The final referrals for the current Work Programme will take place in March 2016. NCVO recommends that charities and umbrella groups should be brought in to the planning process for the next welfare to work scheme as soon as possible.

NCVO has welcomed the announcement that ESA claimants will receive more intensive support under the Glasgow and the Clyde Valley City Deal. Whilst no details about the structure of the scheme have been made available, NCVO hopes that the voluntary sector will play a crucial role in this pilot.


Notes to editors

1. 'Stepping Stones: The role of the voluntary sector in future welfare to work schemes' (PDF, 360KB) is published today

2. For more information please contact Helen Raftery, external relations, NCVO

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