Funding to shrink by 75% from March when work programme is replaced by much smaller work and health programme.
Thousands of experienced employment coaches are expected to lose their jobs over the next few weeks as ministers trigger the first stage of a massive shakeout of the government-funded welfare to work sector that will see it shrink by 75%.
The employment services industry is preparing for what one insider called “a bloodbath” as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) moves to replace the work programme with the much smaller work and health programme.
Background (from here).
In the November 2015 spending review the government announced that the current work programme, due to end in March 2017, will be replaced by a ‘work and health’ programme.
Currently central government, through the Department for Work & Pensions, delivers the current work programme, which is a universal programme for the long-term unemployed. That has run for nearly five years and it will continue to run now until 31 March 2017.
The aim of the new Work and Health programme is to shift the focus from what might be termed “orthodox unemployment” to people with physical and psychological barriers to employment. The work and health programme therefore will focus on the very long-term unemployed – two years-plus of unemployment – as one element of the client group and then another element, the health element, will be those citizens that have health barriers.
Localism, integration and devolution are significant factors in the development of the new Work & Health Programme. The government is specifically talking about co-design and co-commissioning with certain authorities: Manchester, London, Sheffield, Tees Valley, the North East, Liverpool and the West Midlands, relating to devolution deals.
DWP have today published more details about its commissioning model for its new Umbrella Agreement for the provision of Employment & Health Related Services (UAEHRS), the framework through which it will appoint providers for the new Work & Health Programme, as well as other potential DWP contracts.
The UAEHRS will account for £1.77 billion of DWP spend on contracted provision over 4 years, although it is not clear how much of this will be allocated to the Work & Health Programme. The UAEHRS will be divided into 7 Lot areas, based on Jobcentre Plus operational boundaries, namely: Central England, North East England, North West England, Southern England, Home Counties England, Wales, and a national England & Wales Lot. It is not clear from this whether or not the two co-commissioned Work & Health Programme areas, London and Manchester, are included under the UAERS arrangement. It is equally unclear whether or not the proposed Lot areas will also be applied as the final Contract Package Areas for the Work & Health Programme.
Only 5 providers will be accepted onto each regional UAEHRS Lot, although this may be extended if there is a tie-break for fifth place. Providers securing a place on two or more Lots will automatically be included within the national England & Wales Lot. The competition to select providers onto the UAEHRS will test providers against a number of criteria, including economic and financial standing, previous contract performance, supply chain management, service integration, implementation, delivery challenges, and stakeholder engagement. At the time of writing, the UAEHRS competition documents have not yet been released. This is, however, expected imminently, with a response deadline of the 9th November. Full details can be accessed at dwp.bravosolution.co.uk.
Documents seen by the Guardian reveal that seven of the 15 work programme prime contractors, including big private sector names such as Serco and Maximus, have not made it on to the initial shortlist for the new scheme.
The work and health programme shortlist, which is to be officially announced next week, begins a process in which the remaining eight work programme firms will compete with three new entrants for just six new regional contracts.
The final outcome, expected when contracts are awarded in late spring, could result in some firms being forced to abandon the market, or diversify into other contracted out public service areas, such as criminal justice or apprenticeships.
“This decimates the welfare to work industry. It represents the unravelling of nearly 20 years of unemployment support experience,” one industry insider told the Guardian.
Work coaches provide long-term unemployed clients with help to acquire a range of employment and life skills designed to increase their chances of finding work, such as CV writing, IT skills and literacy, as well as liaising with potential employers.
Thousands of work coach jobs are expected to be lost. “This means large job losses among really experienced frontline advisers, the majority of which are in charities,” said Kirsty McHugh, the chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association.
The work and health programme is expected to start in the autumn and aims to provide specialist support for long-term unemployed people, especially those with health conditions or a disability.
Funding will be about £100m a year over four years. This is about a quarter of the current annual spending on the work programme, which closes at the end of March, and work choice, which will continue for a few months longer.
This is the bit which we’re particularly interested in.
The work programme – which was launched in 2011 by the then secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith – achieved mixed results and was fiercely criticised for the low numbers of disabled and chronically ill people it succeeded in supporting into work.
It was also dogged by controversy over alleged misconduct by work coaches, and the high salaries earned by top executives. Emma Harrison, the founder of A4E, was criticised for paying herself dividends of £8.6m in 2011, on top of a £365,000 annual salary.
Harrison, who had a brief spell as former prime minister David Cameron’s “families tsar” sold her personal stake in A4E to Staffline group in 2015 for a reported £20m. The relaunched company, PeoplePlus, is shortlisted in all six work and health programme areas.
Industry insiders expressed surprise that Maximus – which has gained notoriety as the provider of the DWP’s controversial “fit for work” tests – failed to make the shortlist as it had been seen as one of the best performing work programme providers in terms of getting long-term jobless people into sustainable jobs.
Much as we may weep at the fate of coachies and ‘providers’ we note an absence of information on what this latest scheme will mean for people who’ll be obliged to be on it.
Will there still be obligatory ‘volunteering’, work ‘placements’ (free labour for employers and the ‘voluntary sector’) and the rest of the rigmarole?
Will the usual ‘courses’ be on?
We have no idea whatsoever.