Will this really make a difference?

From: Dr David Drew

Address supplied

Emma Harrison of A4e has launched a campaign to tackle long term unemployment. It’s a bad plan.

Why is public money being spent on profit-making companies running projects for the long-term unemployed? Who benefits?

The last government undertook some very expensive and serious research to compare public sector provision for the unemployed by Job Centre Plus and private provision. This was in a number of geographical areas called Employment Zones with 50,000 long term unemployed people. A national pilot and evaluation (2005) found that there was little difference between the public and private sector in terms of outcomes (getting people into jobs). Despite these fairly neutral findings the new Coalition went full steam ahead to give contracts to private sector companies, at a time when thousands of Job Centre Plus staff were losing their posts. There was no need for these changes. The decision was purely a political one.

Not only are these changes unnecessary, they are detrimental. A4e has grown rapidly, and has received over £700m for UK Welfare to Work Programmes. At the same time A4e has attracted widespread criticism for the training it provides, for missing performance targets (see the Financial Times) and for losing the personal data of 24,000 individuals (for which it was fined by the Information Commissioner).

This latest initiative is to have individuals ‘adopt’ families with a history of unemployment, to provide advice and direction. There are, she says, 100,000 of these ‘troubled families’ who ‘don’t have a clue’ about finding work and have been through ‘30 years of professional intervention that did not make a blind bit of difference’. This statement has the extraordinary effect of blaming both the unemployed and all those trying to run employment programmes for the last 30 years. Could it be that, with 2.9m people unemployed, the problem is not about learning how to find work but about accepting the fact that jobs aren’t there? Shifting the blame to the unemployed makes no sense.

The real point to make amongst this trivia is that employment programmes need to be serious in their intent and they need proper piloting and evaluation. Government has to do this and yet the pilots and evaluation are barely in place for this innovation. It will be remarkable if the scheme makes any substantive difference.