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The Work Programme on trial

Mark Smulian
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Whether the initiative has helped as many as it could have, and been value for money, are debateable points

Prime minister David Cameron has described the government’s welfare reform programme as having a moral purpose – helping people into work and off state support – rather than being solely about the vulgar business of saving money.

While the idea of ‘crackdowns’ on ‘scroungers’ has proved politically popular, this popularity has been gained mostly among those who are neither claimants nor involved with them.

Among those implementing, or affected by, universal credit, the spare room subsidy or ‘bedroom tax’, the benefits cap or the Work Programme, views are rather less favourable.

The Work Programme has clearly helped some people into work and has shown some improvement from a very slow start.

Whether it has helped as many as it could have, and been value for money, are debateable points.

Like any central government operation, the initiative has spawned a large national bureaucracy to measure inputs and outputs and keep tabs on providers.

The LGA, London Councils, the Core Cities Group and the County Councils Network have all argued that at least parts of the Work Programme cry out to be taken over by local authorities.

Experience gained by councils in running local employment initiatives equips them to run more effective, locally tailored and better value operations than the Department for Work & Pensions can run, they have argued.

This surely demands at least a pilot, or the option for councils to become providers.

But devolution would mean handing to councils something that would very likely make them popular and give them, rather than ministers, the credit for increased employment.

Is anyone in Whitehall that brave?

 

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