For all the Government’s talk of a ‘jobs miracle’ the truth is that growth has been uneven. Too many people are languishing on low paid or insecure jobs. Unemployment, particularly amongst certain hard to reach groups, remains high.
The Government should accept its share of the blame. The dysfunctional Work Programme is failing those who need help most. Of the 950,000 people who had completed the work programme by last September, 825,000 (77%) had returned to benefits. For ESA claimants, 90% had not moved into work – a stunning indictment of the scheme’s failure.
The verdict of the Public Accounts Committee was “those in greatest need are not getting the help they need… and are instead being parked by providers because their case is deemed just too hard.”
Together with Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark, we have developed a model that is geared up to support the people who have fallen through the cracks of the Work Programme. The early indications are that it is working.
“Better Placed” deliberately focuses on four “hardest to help” groups; those aged 18-24, aged 50+, single parents and people with low level mental health needs.
Our intensive support service brings together the Job Centre Plus and providers to provide focused help for people with complex needs. Each client is paired with a dedicated caseworker. Their remit is not just to shift people off benefits , but to bring in other agencies to tackle any barriers that might be preventing these people from finding stable employment.
50 year old Rachel had been out of work for several years when she was referred to the project. She had caring responsibilities for a relative and had accumulated significant debts. Her caseworker referred her to a debt agency who helped her structure a realistic re-payment plan. She was then supported to prepare a CV, and, with careful support, found a permanent job as an Admin Support Officer at a care agency. She has now come off benefits, is successfully managing her finances and enjoying her first job in years.
We have already enrolled 350 people onto the scheme. Of those we set an ambitious target of moving 114 into work and after only a few months, 50 people have already found a job.
The wider lessons are clear. It is not surprising that a locally designed system better fits local needs. Instead of ‘parking’ those who need help most, the Government should loosen their grip. A decentralised system, with the local authorities as the prime provider of employment support for those with complex needs makes clear sense.
As the devolution debate continues, the Government need to match word with actions. They owe it to people like Rachel to get on with it.