Great Britain - The Work Programme
Return-to-work support with providers incentivised to focus on the most vulnerable jobseekers
Who did it?
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) designed the scheme which was delivered by a range of private, public and voluntary sector organisations. Referrals were made by Jobcentre Plus who retained management of benefits.
Where are we drawing the evidence from?
Information sourced from:
- This 2018 report refers specifically to the experience of jobseekers in Scotland, Age, health and other factors associated with return to work for those engaging with a welfare-to-work initiative: a cohort study of administrative data from the UK’s Work Programme by Brown J, Katikireddi S V, Leyland A H, McQuaid R W, Frank J, Macdonald E B in BMJ Open, 8(10), e024938
- The Department for Work and Pensions 2012 information, The Work Programme
- The 2020 guidance from the Department of Work and Pensions, Work Programme National Statistics background information note. This was withdrawn in February 2023
What kind of support was it?
Return-to-work support. Whilst some information exists about the infrastructure of the scheme, there is little evidence regarding the actual interventions that were used, or their effectiveness.
Referred to as a ‘payment-for-results welfare-to-work programme’, providers received a greater financial incentive for helping those furthest from the labour market. The differential in payments aimed to ensure that providers focus on the most vulnerable jobseekers.
Where did it run?
England, Scotland and Wales.
When did it run?
2011 to 2017
Who did it serve?
Mostly people in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who had been 12 months unemployed, although under 25s could access the scheme earlier. However, in England people on Income Support or Incapacity Benefit were also eligible and from 2013 Universal Credit claimants were eligible.
The Work Programme was introduced with the deliberate intention to abandon schemes which focused on different groups (e.g., younger or older unemployed people, those with ill-health, lone parents). The rationale was that by having a single programme, providers could focus on the individual and their personal challenges, rather than being driven by which benefit they were receiving.
What were its key features?
- Jobcentre managers had more autonomy to shape services locally and employment advisers had greater flexibility to personalise support for each individual claimant and appropriate to the local labour market
- Providers formed partnerships with other organisations such as local authorities, health service providers and colleges to support jobseekers back into work
- The commitment was 2-years with the provider keeping in touch with participants after starting work. Ostensibly this allowed for a strong relationship to build and the ability to tailor support, but it was also necessary for the provider to be able to claim the financial incentive
- Service providers were paid almost entirely for results which were defined as a long-term employment outcome for the individual
- Providers were in direct competition with each other locally as the market share was shifted to the best-performing providers over the lifetime of the contracts. The aim of this was to reward strong performance and lower unemployment figures
What were its outcomes?
- 50+ workers had poor work outcomes through the Work Programme:
- Just one in five people age 50+ gained a job outcome from the Work Programme, compared to one in three 25-49s, and 40% of 18 to 24s
- The BMJ study of experience in Scotland (Brown et al., 2018) found that:
- There was a strong negative relationship between age and the predicted probability of having a job start during the 2-year engagement with the programme for both JSA and ESA clients
- after 2 years on the programme, 67% of people were still not in work, and were more likely to be male, older than 55 years, have health conditions, few qualifications and no recent work experience
- Beyond age itself, there were other factors which supported this negative relationship, e.g., length of unemployment and the number of health factors (and the challenge of tackling them alongside looking for work)
- Having a health condition or disability was shown to be an important factor; people with long-term health conditions and disabilities experience disproportionately lower employment rates