The Work Programme destroyed a job for every £4600 it spent

Not a paragon of efficiency.

The government is now trying to spin the Work Programme figures, as expected, by focusing on the initiative's "cost effectiveness". The BBC's Nick Robinson, for instance, writes:

Ministers claim that they are meeting their "off benefit targets" and that they are saving money too. The cost of every job secured under their Work Programme is, they say, just over £2,000 compared with a cost of almost £7,500 under Labour's [Flexible] New Deal because the contractors are only paid 60% of their fee once someone is in a sustainable job: ie for six months.

It's certainly the case that Labour's programmes were more expensive than the coalition's replacements. But what this spin demonstrates is a serious failure to control for background noise. The Work Programme is, so far, worse than nothing at ensuring "job outcomes" – that is, people in unsubsidised work six months after they leave the programme. In the first fourteen months, 3.5 per cent of participants achieved job outcomes, but for people not on the programme, 5 per cent were expected to get jobs, according to Labour's shadow minister Liam Byrne.

(The news shouldn't be hugely surprising – one very effective way to get a job is to spend all day every day applying for jobs. Any training programme has to overcome that hurdle.)

Some quick back of the envelope maths, here. The full data is simply not available, but if ministers are saying that the Work Programme cost £2000 per job, and we know that there have been 32,310 job outcomes, then presumably they are claiming a budget to date of £65m.

Given that 5 per cent background rate, we can expect that if the Work Programme had never been instituted, there would have been 46,000 jobs in the normal process: 14,000 more.

In other words, the Work Programme did not cost £2000 per job. Instead, for every £4,600 it spent, it destroyed one participant's chance of employment.

Updated: The effect of the work programme was on the 14,000 job difference, and so the effect is one job destroyed for every £4,600, not for every £1,400. 3.5 per cent is the result for the first fourteen months, not the first year. Clarified the source of the 5 per cent figure.

Men at work. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Commons Confidential: Gaffe-tastic Johnson, a missing Osborne, and a bit of May-hem

Plus rumours that Sir Keir “Call Me Mr” Starmer will throw his flat cap into the next Labour Party leadership contest.

Unlike Theresa May, the gaffe-tastic Boris Johnson is sackable. The blond bumbler did himself no favours by upsetting British Sikhs with his gurdwara “clinky” booze talk in a mock Indian accent, or foreshadowing the social care switch before his Downing Street line manager executed the humiliating manifesto manoeuvre.

May-hem’s position is assured as Prime Minister should the Tories win the election, but not so Johnson’s as Foreign Secretary. I hear that Johnson, too often the cause of chaos in the Conservative Party coalition, has made a dangerous enemy in Team May. Nick Timothy, May’s joint chief of staff, is said to be agitating for BoJo to be reshuffled ahead of the Brexit negotiations. Tick-tock.

Unless he has slipped into the building under cover of night, George Osborne hasn’t been seen at BlackRock’s London HQ since signing a £650,000 contract earlier this year, whispers my snout. Perhaps the former Tory chancellor is too busy, work on the London Evening Standard free sheet leaving an editor training on the job looking distinctly jaded. With BlackRock’s speculators nervous about divulging secrets to a budding journalist, the rapacious New York-based capitalist citadel would be forgiven if it wondered whether Boy George is value for money.

He is the son of a toolmaker and a nurse and is named after the Labour socialist Keir Hardie, and his energetic election campaign is fuelling speculation that Sir Keir “Call Me Mr” Starmer will throw his flat cap into the next party leadership contest. A Unite trade union fan of Starmer (yes, they exist) insisted that Camden doesn’t carry the negative Islington baggage of the incumbent. (Starmer represents Holborn and St Pancras, a leaflet’s throw from Corbyn’s constituency.) It may also help that Starmer has fallen out with Peter Mandelson, mastermind of the Blairite counter-revolution. The Prince of Darkness angrily judges the shadow Brexit secretary to be insufficiently Euroenthusiastic. If only the electorate felt the same.

Labour’s deputy and Unite old boy, Tom Watson, has joined the GMB trade union. Sounds like a smart insurance policy when he’s fallen out badly with Len McCluskey. Everybody needs employment protection.

No gushing One Show party political broadcasts for Labour. Jeremy Corbyn and his wife, Laura Alvarez, are declining to follow Theresa and Philip May in discussing boy and girl jobs on BBC1. Corbyn is fiercely protective of his family’s privacy. The other reason, I’m told, is a fear that the Mexican Alvarez’s slight Spanish lilt might reinforce suspicions among some of Labour’s more old-school supporters that he’s a member of the London metropolitan elite.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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