The Work Programme flounders

Iain Duncan Smith to set up review as £5bn scheme fails to help those most in need.

Iain Duncan Smith’s pledge to “make work pay” is a laudable aim that no-one would argue with. The reality, however, has been somewhat more difficult, and the Times (£) reports today that Duncan Smith is setting up a review into the Work Programme, after the £5bn programme failed to get enough long-term sick and disabled people into work.

Under the scheme, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) pays private companies to help get the long-term unemployed into sustainable jobs. Launched in June 2011, it replaced virtually all welfare-to-work programmes run by the department and was expected to help up to 3.3 million people back into work over five years. The contracts were “payment by results”, which transfers the financial risk away from government and onto providers.

The downside of this is that, according to the Times report, the numbers are not adding up for the 18 prime contractors involved in the scheme. Duncan Smith originally told the companies that around 30 per cent of referrals would be people claiming incapacity benefit or its replacement, employment support allowance. Companies stand to gain up to £13,800 for each person in this category who they place in a job. However, in the nine months since the programme launched, just seven per cent have actually been in this category, while the rest have been on jobseeker’s allowance. Finding employment for people on jobseeker’s allowance is worth only £3,800 to the companies. Some companies are losing hundreds of thousands of pounds because of this miscalculation.

So why isn’t it working? The Times piece cites poor IT systems, the failure of Jobcentres to refer people, and appeals against medical assessments. But these administrative issues are not the root cause; indeed, serious doubts were raised months ago about whether targets would be met. There is a very simple reason for this: if there aren’t enough vacancies to fill, the whole plan falls apart. The scheme was designed at a time when DWP expected the labour market to follow the Office for Budget Responsibility’s optimistic growth forecasts. (Needless to say, it didn’t).

The numbers simply don’t add up. As our economics editor David Blanchflower wrote in June 2011, as the scheme launched:

They promise that the programme will give 2.4 million unemployed people help to find jobs over the next five years, which seems unlikely, given that there are so few jobs available. At present, there are 2.43 million people who are unemployed and a further 2.4 million who are out of the labour force - those who are neither employed nor unemployed but want a job. The Office for National Statistics reported that, on average, there were only 469,000 vacancies available from February to April, which implies only one vacancy for every ten jobseekers. The number of jobseekers per vacancy is likely to be much higher in areas of high unemployment. There remains no evidence that the private sector will deliver the large numbers of jobs the coalition is hoping for.

The employment crisis has hardly receded since then. As more and more people face having their benefits stripped away, this highlights the fact that in this climate, there are frequently few other options.

Incidentally, the Labour government’s Pathway to Work plan was a pilot scheme which used the private sector to help incapacity benefit claimants back into work. Then, too, they failed to meet their performance targets, and were often worse than the Jobcentre. Clearly, the lessons were not learnt, as several organisations named as serious underperformers won contracts under the Work Programme.

It is no surprise that the programme is floundering; solutions, however, are harder to identify.
 

People protest against cuts to disability allowances, London, May 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear