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Slave auction: One of the posters created to protest against the work programme when A4e was still involved.

The number of people being referred to the government’s flagship work programme has dropped dramatically, according to official figures – but I wouldn’t start celebrating yet, if I were you.

Figures for the year to the end of July 2012 show 878,000 referrals, but total monthly referrals in July were fewer than 49,000 – less than half of the 100,000 who were put on the controversial scheme in July 2011.

The number of long-term Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants has risen by 188,000 during the same period.

Since January, 15 charities or voluntary groups have quit the work programme, possibly due to the bad publicity the surrounds it. But 20 more signed up.

According to The Guardian, “The programme is supposed to link job centres to the companies that help unemployed people find work. The firms are paid for every jobless person who is found work.

“Under the contract, companies, and the charities that work for them, can collect £13,550 for finding such claimants long-term work; double the money paid for getting an unemployed person a job.”

This certainly agrees with the information sent in by Vox Political commenters, like this one: “The WTW [Welfare-to-Work] provider gets a £600 attachment fee. They also get paid fees for ‘providing support’ i.e. bullying her into doing what they want. Later they get an ‘outcome fee’ for making her stay in the minimum wage job of their choice. If she finds something with no help from them, they still pocket the dosh. If she finds training other than their useless ‘courses’ she gets rewarded with a sanction (benefits withheld indefinitely) to ensure compliance.”

That comment was made by a person who was placed with A4e [Action for Employment], a training company whose government contracts have been terminated after allegations of fraud were made against it. A Channel 4 investigation revealed in September that A4e had only found 4,020 jobs that lasted more than three months, in the 10 months up to May 2012, for its 115,000 compulsory attendees, at a cost to the taxpayer of £45 million.

Only a few days ago I wrote about one such “training” company – it might have been A4e – that took £400 per claimant, then passed each person on to Job Centre Plus, to go on a £300 work scheme. The cash taken by the company – for doing nothing – was excused as an “administration” cost.

These are all incidental to the main criticism of the work programme, which is that it keeps unemployment high by offering private companies people who must work for no pay – in other words, state-sponsored slavery. When the work placement ends, the private company throws away that person and brings in another. My belief is that it is not the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay the wages of people employed by a private company; if a firm wants people to stack its shelves, it should hire them at a living wage, rather than ask the government to provide workers and pay them only in state benefits.

I do not think it is a coincidence that the work programme has slumped, apparently because Job Centre Plus staff are moving claimants straight into jobs. And look at some of the other figures! Unemployment – down. GDP growth – up.

I have always believed that the work programme was an attempt to funnel taxpayers’ money into the hands of ministers’ friends, and these figures suggest I am right. The nation is better off without the work programme.

But that means these friends of the ministers would go without, and we can’t have that, can we? So what will the government do?

Let’s all remember that one of Chris Grayling’s last decisions at the Department for Work and Pensions was to roll out the work programme in 16 London boroughs – all notable sites of the summer riots in 2011 – starting in September. So youngsters who probably weren’t involved in those riots will end up doing 390 hours’ community service, while Grayling’s fat-cat business buddies continue to get their government backhander.

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