UK welfare-to-work scheme misses target on sustained employment

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The UK government has defended its welfare-to-work scheme after new figures showed that its key target on getting people into long-term jobs has been missed.

Of the 878,000 people who joined the programme between June 2011 and July 2012, only 31,000 had remained in a job for at least six months (or three months for some harder-to-help claimants).

The Work Programme involves private and voluntary sector organisations that are commissioned to help the long-term unemployed back into work. These organisations are paid according to their success in getting people into work, with extra incentives to support those who are hardest to help.

Data published by the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) shows that more than 200,000 participants had been found some work by September 2012. However, only 3.53% of people were in a job for six months or more, falling well short of the 5.5% target.

According to the Guardian, none of the 18 contractors in the Work Programme succeeded in getting 5.5% of clients a job for at least six months. Performance has varied, but the Department for Work and Pensions has suggested that it could remove contracts from those providers who are least successful.

John Walker, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), commented today that the single most effective way for the government to help the long-term unemployed back into work is to support small firms by cutting the burden of red tape for those employing new people and giving employers incentives to take on staff, for example by extending the regional National Insurance Contributions holiday to all micro firms.

Since it was launched in June 2011 the government has spent £435m on the Work Programme.

Employment Minister Mark Hoban said that the scheme is succeeding in getting people off benefits and into work, and thousands of lives are being transformed. The programme offers real value for money for taxpayers because it only pays providers for delivering results, he added.

Alan Downey, UK and Europe head of public sector at professional services firm KPMG, also backed the Work Programme and said that it needs time to create a greater impact.

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