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.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.