Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:59 pm on 1st May 2014.
As hon. Members have said, evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee on the Work programme highlighted that it is clearly underperforming in Wales. The first figures show that just one in nine or 10.8% of those going on to the programme obtain sustainable employment. In their response, the Government said that the figures were from June 2013 and that it was too early to judge the newer entrants—those who had been on the programme for between three and six months.
However, the latest figures show that, six months on, Wales is still bottom according to the Library and data derived from the Department for Work and Pensions. In December 2013, the UK average was 18.7% and Wales was still behind at 16.7%—the lowest for any area of the country. We know there are particular challenges in Wales, but it would be good to hear from the Minister today what we can do to help with the challenges.
Among other things, the report expressed concern about the two prime providers in Wales. My hon. Friend Nick Smith said that, as of December 2013, Working Links Wales was in the middle of the performance table, and Rehab JobFit was second from the bottom compared with other providers throughout the country. The former Minister, Mr Hoban, said in evidence to the Committee that he would “badger them to improve”, and it would be helpful to know how that is going.
As David T. C. Davies said, our report also highlighted that the programme’s success in helping those with the most severe barriers to employment was yet to be proven. The ambition is worthy, but how successful is the Work programme in that respect and for those who come off it? Will the Minister explain what more is being done with that group, and how the Help to Work scheme will work now that it has been implemented in Wales? I hope that it will help people and not penalise them with an excessive sanction regime if they cannot find work. In particular, it would be helpful to hear what more we can do about lone parents, particularly women. Again, Wales is underperforming on that.
On a positive note, some subcontractors out there are doing particularly well. Labour-controlled Newport city council is the subcontractor to Working Links Wales in my area and has one of the best performances in Wales. I have seen its work first hand, as has the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb; in fact, we both took part in a session with Work programme participants.
It would be worth the Department’s while to look at the fact that a Labour-controlled council is, thankfully, bucking the performance trend. When compared with Wales-wide figures, its performance outcomes are much higher. For example, for jobseeker’s allowance claimants aged 25 and over, the outcome rate for Rehab JobFit and Working Links Wales in year 2 was 16% and 15.5% respectively, but Newport city council’s was 28.3%. For JSA claimants aged between 18 and 24, the rate for Rehab JobFit and Working Links Wales was 26.6% and 24.5% respectively, but Newport city council outperformed that by quite a margin, with 51% of referrals ending with a job outcome. For all payment groups, the council’s outcome rate was 33%, with the Wales-wide figure at around 17%.
I could go on, but I think the message is clear. Newport city council is the best performing Working Links Wales subcontractor in Wales, and it shows that despite all the challenges and the Work programme, jobseekers can be helped back to work by people who know the community, care about it and the people who live within it, and have the determination to deliver for them.
It is also worth looking at Jobs Growth Wales. According to the Welsh Government, its success rate so far is 40% in employment and 20% in apprenticeships after completing the programme. In Newport, 620 job opportunities have been created and 546 of them were filled. That is a success rate of about 88%.
We all want to help people back to work. The Work programme in Wales has not had the best start and the Committee’s report reflects that. It would be helpful to have from the Minister an update on where we are and how we can help to make it work as it is being rolled out.