By Andrew Holt

New research into the Work Programme, released today by the Third Sector Research Centre, casts further doubt on the quality of services being delivered, particularly to those furthest from the labour market.

The research, which involved interviews with Primes and providers, highlights that tier 2, ‘specialist’ providers, appear to be receiving no or very few referrals.

This raises concerns about what is happening to those in need of specialist provision.

The study notes that ‘gaming’ – including creaming off those who are closest to the labour market, and ‘parking’ those who are hardest to help – is endemic within the programme.

The research points to the overall lack of resource in the Programme and its structure and payment mechanisms, as the main reasons for this.

Many providers in the study saw parking hard to help clients as a ‘rational response to payment by results’.

The government has attempted to control creaming and parking in the Programme by introducing higher payments for harder to help clients.

But the research found no evidence as yet that these differential payments had incentivised providers to work with harder to help customers - in part because the categories did not correspond to the groups they perceived to be hardest to help.

The study, which looked at the experience of providers from the private, third and public sector, notes that third sector organisations have experienced some particular problems with the Programme, including risks around mission and reputation.

The structure of the Programme also disadvantages those who are not generic providers – affecting many third sector organisations that provide specialist support.

But sector was not the most important factor in an organisations experience of the Work Programme. Instead, their position in the supply chain was key.

Specialist, or tier 2, providers from all sectors have not fared well, and have experienced little involvement in delivery in practice.

James Rees, part of the TSRC team that conducted the research, said: "Despite positive government attempts to introduce payment incentives for harder to help groups, it appears that those who are furthest from the labour market or require specialist provision are not being catered for by the Work Programme in practice.

"It seems that reduced funding, coupled with a more competitive and commercial environment, may be undermining the success of the Programme. Interventions for many clients may be costly – but they may pay off in the long run."

James Allen, head of Public Services and Partnerships at NCVO, added: "This research echoes our experience that position in the supply chain is a very important factor in how a provider experiences the work programme. Smaller organisations are frequently exposed to disproportionate levels of risk.

"Charities can find this either challenging or simply a complete barrier to involvement.

"We share the researchers’ concerns that specialist providers are receiving a low number of referrals, and that harder-to-help service users are being ‘parked’.

"While we have seen examples of good practice by both prime and sub-contractors, there are still question marks over the quality of service that many people on the work programme actually get."

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Other stories you may find of interest:

Crisis welcomes committee conclusion on Work Programme
Crisis has welcomed the report of the Work and Pensions Select Committee and its conclusion that the Work Programme is failing to move homeless people closer to work. The Work and Pensions Select Committee report, released today, states that the Work Programme is ‘not reaching the most disadvantaged’, singling out homeless people as one of the groups not receiving the help they need. Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: “The Work Programme has been a huge disappointment for too many homeless people. It has taken them no closer to what they really want: a better life through work.

Sector fears over Work Programme 'failures'
Sector organisations have criticised the government's Work Programme, questioning its chances of success and whether it actually puts more risk on Third Sector organisations. Only 8% of third sector subcontractors are confident that the Work Programme will hit its targets, a new survey by ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) has found. And the Work Programme is at risk of ‘systemic failure’ unless some significant issues are addressed, a group of over 100 charity sub-contractors has also warned today, while London Voluntary Service Council revealed low confidence levels among VCS subcontractors that the Work Programme will succeed in meeting its minimum performance levels.

National Audit Office raises questions over Work Programme
The Department for Work and Pensions has introduced the Work Programme quickly, in just over a year, and this has had benefits, but the speed with which it was launched has also increased risks, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report. Sector organisations welcomed the report. The Department and providers have made assumptions about how many people the Programme will get back into work but there is a significant risk that they are over-optimistic.

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