The Labour party has attacked the Coalition’s flagship welfare-to-work programme, calling it “an almighty mess”. The accusation came after it emerged that over a million fewer people will be eligible to take part than had been previously thought – that’s almost half.

The mis-calculation means that fewer job-seekers will be able to benefit from the hugely expensive scheme, and employees at the private companies tasked with finding roles for these job-seekers may themselves be put out of work. Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said:

“Chaos is engulfing the government’s flagship back-to-work scheme. Unemployment is at a 16-year high and yet welfare to work now appears to be in the hands of the Keystone Cops.

“The work programme is now so badly managed that we face the prospect of welfare-to-work staff being laid off in the middle of an unemployment emergency, as providers are forced to shed the staff they took on when they thought the government had the slightest idea what it was doing.

“Ministers have got into one almighty mess over their back-to-work programme and the result is there for all to see: a generation out of work and a government department totally unable to cope.”

Chris Grayling, the employment minister, insisted last week that the work programme was working. He said figures showed that of 28,600 people on the scheme in June 2011, 7,000 had had “a continuous 13-week break” in benefit claims nine months later. This works out at 24%. Of the mis-calculated figures, a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said:

“It is simply misleading to compare these figures from December 2011 and May 2012 as hundreds of thousands of employment support allowance claimants are not included in the more recent projections. Our data shows the work programme has had a promising start, with nearly a quarter of the early starters spending at least three months off benefits.”

Graduate Fog is following this with interest. Although this website specialises in graduate unemployment in particular and the work programme involves job-seekers of all ages and circumstances, we have been dismayed to see unpaid work form such a large part of the work programme. As we have already seen with the spread of privately-arranged unpaid internships, divorcing work from pay is a very dangerous game. If you’re going to do it, it must be extremely carefully managed.

Yet is it clear that this government is embarrassingly uninformed about the delicate situation they are dealing with. As anybody under 25 will tell you, unpaid work is not the solution to youth unemployment – it is already a big part of the problem. The fact that the people making decisions about this vital programme appear not to understand this is certainly cause for concern.


How confident are you that our politicians have a proper plan, are taking good advice – and actually know what they’re doing? Do you share our concerns about unpaid work forming such a large part of the programme – or do you believe that these unpaid placements will turn into paid work for job-seekers?

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