Just one in five people on benefits finds employment through Coalition’s work programme

By Rowena Mason, Political Correspondent

Last Updated: 12:37PM BST 22/05/2012

Just one in five people on benefits is getting a job through the Coalition’s Work Programme even though private companies are paid £1 billion a year to help them, new figures show.

A new survey has found 22 per cent of the first 300,000 people on the scheme are employed after spending nine months to a year on the programme. It is too early to tell whether these posts will be permanent.

The Government is hoping that 36 per cent of those on the scheme will get jobs, as companies and charities are paid up to £6,000 for every person they place in work.

But officials predict that around 28 per cent of unemployed people put through the Work Programme would have got long-term jobs without any help from the Government.

The new figures come from an unofficial survey of the Work Programme contractors by the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA).

Many private companies paid to carry out the programme have been overwhelmed by too many jobseekers at a time when the recession means there are not enough jobs to go round.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the ERSA, said the Work Programme was doing well but had been hit by a “double whammy”.

“These still relatively early Work Programme performance figures show that the welfare to work industry is pulling out all the stops to help jobseekers into employment,” she said. “However, the economic backdrop is very worrying as a lack of confidence by employers will delay recruitment decisions.”

The Government has so far refused to release its own official figures on how the Work Programme is performing. Last night, it said the first “statistically robust” report will be published in the autumn – more than 15 months after the scheme started.

Chris Grayling, the employment minister, said he believes the Work Programme has “started to transform welfare-to-work in this country”.

“The overall Work Programme plan assumes providers will have got 36 per cent of the long-term benefit claimants they work with into sustained work after two years,” he said. “These early numbers show that in a difficult labour market they have made a good start towards that objective. It’s hardly surprising they are cautious, given the eurozone crisis.”

A report from the National Audit Office recently found that potentially more than £1 billion is being spent on helping people who did not need the programme.

It has also warned that some private companies may be taking their fees for jobless people who are easy to help, while ignoring the more difficult cases.

The companies get paid at least £400 just to assess each candidate, when many would have found jobs of their own accord.

Robert Devereux, the top civil servant at the Department for Work and Pensions, will today give evidence to MPs on the potential for fraud in the Work Programme.

One of the scheme’s contractors, A4e, is at the heart of a police investigation into allegations of fraud in a previous welfare-to-work scheme, which has led to eight arrests.

Paul Champion

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