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The government’s flagship work programme stood revealed as an abject failure today, when the Department for Work and Pensions admitted only around three per cent of jobseekers have found “sustainable” work.

Of the 878,000 people who joined the programme, only 31,000 found a job for six months or more.

The figures mean as many unemployed people are finding sustainable jobs on their own – and are staying in employment six months after joining the work programme – than if the scheme had never existed.

There was “no direct evidence of movement into sustained employment”.

Ministers have, of course, refused to accept that the scheme is a failure – despite it reaching only three-fifths of its 5.5 per cent target (3.53 per cent) – and are claiming it is taking longer than expected to succeed. The next set of figures will be better, they claim. They said it was “early days”.

We should bear in mind that three top officials on the work programme resigned recently, before the results were released. Oh, and the figures aren’t for a year but for 14 months, from June 2011 to July 2012. Cooking the books?

Under the scheme – replacing the New Deal, Employment Zones and Pathways to Work – approved providers in England, Scotland and Wales – mostly private companies – try to find work for claimants on a payment-by-results basis. In practice they get paid per referral, with more cash coming to them for providing ‘work-related activities’.

According to Vox readers, the contract is outsourced to our good friend SERCO, which is then supposed to pass money on to six different agencies. There is a question mark hanging over whether that has actually happened.

Providers can earn between £3,700 and £13,700 per person helped into work, depending how hard it is to give support to an individual, with an initial payment of between £400 and £600.

Again, Vox readers have helped with the details: “The few hours spent on ‘work related activities’ cost the taxpayer another £200 per person.

“What did we do on this ‘course’? We drew graphs with our barriers to employment. No one was allowed to mention lack of jobs and no training. We also played silly games: the one in which everyone had to say three things about themselves and everyone had to guess the lie. We all drew a pig. If it’s facing forward you are a straightforward person. The ‘ teacher ‘ told us that this all came from some American psychologist. It looked more like one of those quizzes in Cosmopolitan.”

So we can see that, with hundreds of thousands of people being put on the work programme but only 31,000 actually finding sustainable work, the big winners are, as this site suggested previously, the private companies contracted to provide the service at up to £600 per referral plus £200 for the ‘activities’ themselves. And if the rumours are correct, even these firms are losing out because SERCO hasn’t released the cash.

It may interest you to know that 878,000 (the number of people referred to the scheme) multiplied by £600 (the minimum amount we can say was given to private companies for them) is a whopping £526,800,000!

This site reported previously that the number of people being referred to the work programme has dropped dramatically, with total monthly referrals in July 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 had risen by 188,000 during the same period.

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