Figures from the Office for National Statistics today show that the number of people out of work for two years has more than doubled since the coalition came to power, rising from 44,300 in May 2010 to 99,700 two months ago.
This is just the latest addition to a growing pile of evidence that shows the Work Programme as counter-productive and damaging. Recent House of Commons research shows that over the last year, the off-flow rate of former benefit claimants dropped from 11% to 6%.
As the National Audit Office argued in January, it looks increasingly likely that the Work Programme will miss its target of getting 36% of the long-term unemployed into sustainable jobs:
“The Work Programme’s feasibility is underpinned by assumptions about likely performance, but there is a significant risk that they are over-optimistic.
The department expects that 36 per cent of people referred to providers will be placed into jobs for which providers will be paid. Our analysis of likely performance of the largest group of participants in the Work Programme (and one of the easiest to help into work) is that 26 per cent will get such jobs compared to the department’s estimate of 40 per cent for that group.”
If anything, that estimate now looks over-optimistic as well. Channel 4 News recently revealed that A4e – one of the Work Programme’s flagship providers – had found long-term employment for just 3.5% of its clients: the lamentable failures of the Work Programme’s maze of contractors and subcontractors have been documented by Left Foot Forward on many occasions.
Today’s figures, indicating a worsening crisis in long-term unemployment, aren’t actually that surprising. After all, the government’s own estimates for Work Programme referrals contained in their invitation to tender – 2.41m over five years – were significantly revised upwards to 3.27m in January this year: a 35% increase.
• Fired! Government gives disgraced A4e the boot 15 May 2012
• Charity survey shows up shambolic work programme 1 May 2012
Liam Byrne MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said:
“This government is utterly failing to get to grips with long-term unemployment.
The number of people out of work for more than two years – the very people the Work Programme should be helping – has more than doubled since the general election. And the rate that those out of work for more than a year are coming off benefits has halved in the last twelve months.
Ministers have got to stop hiding and come clean. They should release all performance data for the Work Programme, admit that their scheme is failing and urgently make clear how they plan to fix this mess.”