Jobs and Social Security

Part of Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:35 pm on 28th November 2012.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 6:35 pm, 28th November 2012

Whenever any Government Minister, from the Prime Minister down, is asked what they are doing to tackle unemployment, they always answer by setting out a litany of schemes, starting with the Work programme. The problem is that the Work programme does not create any jobs. Jobs are created by other aspects of the economy. In the past financial year, the number of affordable homes in Scotland has halved compared with the previous two years, so we can see where the problem lies. An awful lot of building jobs are not being done, because houses are not being started, because the funding is not in place. Since the start of the Work programme, one of our issues has been that it does not create jobs, and if the jobs are not there in the right areas for the right people, no amount of money put into the programme will resolve that. Perhaps the Government have just convinced themselves of their own propaganda. They have spent so long saying that the employment problem facing Britain is that people either will not or cannot work and that benefits are too generous that they have swallowed their own propaganda.

Another question about the Work programme is whether it is actually effective in doing what it sets out to do, namely training people, giving them confidence and skills, and helping them to meet employers to get jobs. We were told a lot about the black-box approach, the trouble with which is that we do not know and are not allowed to know what is happening.

Guto Bebb spoke about visiting one of his Work programme providers, which I have also done. I heard a whole load of stuff—this was near the beginning of the programme—about how it would give people personalised programmes, have medical people on hand and give people counselling. It sounded wonderful, but the anecdotal evidence from my constituents—yes, it is anecdotal; we are not told much about what is happening because of the black box—is that all that is lacking.

I met one constituent last weekend whose view was that he could have done what his Work programme provider got him to do equally well at home. He went there once a fortnight—it was not an intensive programme—to do a job search on a computer, but he already knew how to do that and had been doing it himself. It was what he did with the jobcentre before he ever went on the Work programme. There did not seem to be a huge amount of value in what was happening.

The problem lies partly with the Government’s pride in cheapness. If we pay peanuts, we do not get very much. Gingerbread, an organisation that represents single parents, has told me of single parents on the Work programme who, because their provider does not provide child-care costs—it is not funded to do so—cannot necessarily take up any available training opportunities. Perhaps we are not investing enough in the programme to get the job outcomes. It may be cheap, but it is not producing the outcomes.

I have also visited in the past couple of weeks a social enterprise in my constituency that does employability services work, mainly with people with mental health problems. It gets some of its funding and a substantial number of referrals through Edinburgh’s health services, which is probably just as well, because that at least gives it some steady income. It is also a Work programme subcontractor. It carries out an intensive programme with people with mental health difficulties and understands the lack of confidence that they often have. The constituent I mentioned who had had the bad experience could have done with that, because he had suffered a nervous breakdown previously. The enterprise does 95% of its work with people who are got into work, and it is successful and involves less than half the contract price. Might it not be more efficient to contract directly with such organisations, which have been a proven success? That could be done locally through Jobcentre Plus or local councils. I offer that as a possible solution to the problems with the Work programme. I am not just criticising it but suggesting how to make it better.