The failure of the Work Programme

Just 3.5 per cent of the 878,000 jobseekers referred to the programme have found work for six months or more.

Yesterday, Rafael revealed a letter from employment minister Mark Hoban to coalition MPs preparing them for bad news on the Work Programme, the government’s flagship welfare-to-work scheme that pays private and voluntary sector organisations to place people in work. This morning, we found out what the bad news is.

The first official statistics on the scheme's success rate show that just 3.5 per cent (31,000) of the 878,000 people referred to the programme between June 2011 and July 2012 found a job for six months or more (defined as "sustainable work"). This is significantly below the 5.5 per cent minimum performance target set by the government, which means that fewer people are finding work than if the Work Programme had never existed. The figure is even worse if one looks at the first 12 months of the scheme, the time frame that the government's target was based on, rather than the first 14 months (June 2011 to July 2012). Over that period, only 2.3 per cent (18,270) of the 785,360 people referred found sustainable work.

As expected, Hoban is insisting that it's too early to judge the scheme. He said:

Clearly these figures only give a snapshot picture as we're one year in, and the Work Programme offers support to claimants for two years, but these results are encouraging and something providers can look to build on

But by any measure (including the government's), this is a bad start for what David Cameron hailed as "the biggest back-to-work programme since the 1930s".

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith arrives for a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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