Can the Work Programme do the whole job?

Allegations of major fraud and exploitation in welfare to work schemes have hit the headlines in recent months with businesses such as A4E and Working Links being investigated. Now there has been adverse publicity about stewards’ work placements at the Jubilee river pageant. Various media reports claim that some unpaid security staff had to work in appalling conditions. 

These apparent problems are set against even bigger issues about the overarching Work Programme and welfare to work schemes.

The Work Programme’s model is one of payment by results. Organisations working with unemployed people are only paid after their clients have completed a specified period in a job.  Many experienced charities and community organisations with proven track records of moving people into work are squeezed out of the process as they can’t deal with the cash-flow problems and risk. Ironically the charity Groundwork South West took the gamble of taking on a Work Programme contract but ended up making 130 of its own staff redundant (according to the Guardian, Saturday 9 June).

Worsening economic conditions in some parts of the country since the Work Programme was established mean that there aren’t enough vacancies to fill. Those with the fewest skills are competing with people who have been made redundant in ever more unstable economic circumstances.  With fewer secure jobs, the organisations contracted to support people in their progress from welfare to work have dwindling chances of being paid for their own work. Unemployed people, in turn, are more likely to be exploited and disillusioned by any work placements that don’t lead to real jobs. 

Where does this leave people who can’t find work? We have to count the human cost of poverty, depression and hopelessness and recognise the inter-generational impact as more parents are jobless. The social and economic effects will ripple further into the future if we don’t have adaptable people ready to work when the economy recovers and there are jobs to be created and filled. Meanwhile, the state will have to bear the cost of benefits and the associated strains on public spending arising from worklessness.

Decent employment is the best anti-poverty strategy and it’s time to be more imaginative about progressive education and training for unemployed people so that we can get through the recession and prepare for better economic conditions. Community learning has a role to play where people are likely to remain jobless for sustained periods. Investing in learning communities who can generate ideas and enthusiasm will improve our capacity for recovery and help us to avoid the tragic and dangerous legacy of inactivity and lost potential.

We need to focus on developing people’s motivation, resilience, adaptability, general competence and attitudes and to recognise that a narrow range of task-related skills can become obsolete as a result of rapidly changing technology. Education in functional skills, where needed, and in creative, research and analytical skills encourage people to think for themselves and to respond constructively to change. People with these attributes and an ability to work effectively with others are more likely to be flexible and able to cope with new workplace demands.

Wherever possible, we should be supporting unemployed people into current job vacancies and creating more opportunities but we could be storing up major problems unless we use complementary approaches to work ethically with people who remain jobless. Individual stories from the recent Adult Learners’ Week showed how some people who were far from employability bridged the gap through education.

Formerly unemployed Sarah Cornwall who started her own business after learning with the WEA

A recent positive Ofsted survey of the WEA’s contribution to employability confirmed that our distinctive and complementary approaches and partnerships offer different ways of working decently with unemployed people. We showed that students gain employment – or even create their own – following short, part-time courses ranging from Helping in Schools, Community Interpreting, Health and Wellbeing, Confidence and Assertiveness and even Family History – although these courses were not promoted as being work-related.  

The survey gave us food for thought as we refine our strategy as part of our wider educational programme and in line with our charitable aims. Working with people who might be left behind in the competition for jobs is a moral responsibility and an economic and social imperative.

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About Ann Walker
Director for Education, Workers' Educational Association - UK's largest voluntary sector adult education charity.

6 Responses to Can the Work Programme do the whole job?

  1. gogwit says:

    Reblogged this on Gogwit's Blog and commented:
    “Decent employment is the best anti-poverty strategy and it’s time to be more imaginative about progressive education and training for unemployed people so that we can get through the recession and prepare for better economic conditions…Working with people who might be left behind (is) an economic and social imperative.”

    This is common sense, surely?

    • jmiskin says:

      Common sense indeed though there is little of that emerging from the Coalition Government! I would add after decent, well paid employment. Time to resurrect the notion of a citizen’s income – not a minimum income just to keep ones head marginally above the water – but an adequate income to enable a good life. We couldn’t afford it ‘they’ will say, to which we should respond we have to afford it if we want a tolerable society. And anyway we could afford it if there is the political will. Another resurrection is required, that of a redistributive taxation system and it’s high time a progressive Government – one day it will surely come – legislated for a maximum wage. The ‘Spirit Level’ authors have shown that happiness does not keep increasing with greater wealth and that more equal societies are happier and more cohesive ones. All this directly connects to the WEA’s social justice agenda. Education with a social purpose was never more important.
      Jol Miskin WEA Yorkshire and Humber Region

  2. Philip Lyons WEA Course Programme Worker (West of Engalnd) says:

    Before being made redundant and finding a job with the WEA, I worked for seven years for a local charity that supported people into work, education and training. A number of my clients complained about the way they were treated by organisations like Tomorrow’s People, A4E and Seetec, but these were the government’s preferred partners for helping into employment and the payment by results culture has resulted in considerable corruption, which is only now coming to light. In order to survive, our charity was subcontracted to deliver part of the advice and guidance service for one of these larger organisations, but were unable to meet our targets for moving people into paid work, not least because we wanted to help clients find sustainable employment, but also because our clients lived in one of the most disadvantaged areas of the city and often needed help with overcoming other barriers to work, such as low level of literacy, drug or alcohol problems, and housing issues. In the end we had to close down, in spite of a continuing high level demand for our service and excellent feedback from our clients for the support we gave them. More creative ways of enabling people to get back to work are certainly needed and the WEA can make a contribution through its partnerships and commitment to adult learning, but there is a deeper social malaise; the exploitation of vulnerable people on welfare to work schemes is just one example and I’m not convinced that short, part-time courses, worthwhile as they are in themselves, are the long-term solution. It’s the policy makers who need educating as much as the unemployed.

  3. dina reilly says:

    i am a bit confused wea is a sub prime contractor or were you not aware of that fact

  4. Ann Walker says:

    Thanks to Gogwit, Jol, Philip and Dina for your comments.

    For clarification, the WEA is involved in the Work Programme as a ‘Tier 1′ and ‘Tier 2′ voluntary sector provider in a limited number of locations where careful risk assessments have taken place. Most of this activity is concentrated in Scotland.

    We aren’t one of the main Prime Providers.

  5. Foizul Islam (Trustee) says:

    The Welfare to Work Programme has failed to understand the value of community education and the skills participants develop which not only lead to sustainable jobs but also improves the quality of life for indivuals through reducing poverty and crime, improving social inclusion, stregthening communtiies and the local economy.

    100% payment by result funding models are not healthy or sustainable for participants or providers. It reduces quality of service and does not lead to economic or quality of life sustainability.

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