Saturday, 21 January 2012

Charity slams David Cameron's Work Programme for unemployed | Politics | The Observer

Charity slams David Cameron's Work Programme for unemployed

Firms hired to help unemployed get jobs accused of 'profiteering and cherry picking' cases

WCA not a crackdown on scroungers
Employment minister Chris Grayling said that the government expects the voluntary sector to be working with 100,000 unemployed people by April. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

David Cameron's Work Programme, the training scheme the prime minister claims will tackle the country's unemployment problems, is facing a crisis after charities involved warned ministers they may pull out over concerns of "profiteering" by private firms.

Serco, A4E and security firm G4S, among others, are being paid between £4,000 and £13,700 for every unemployed person they get into long-term work. When the firms were bidding for the contracts, potentially worth £5bn, they said they would co-operate and pass money down to charities and voluntary organisations to give the unemployed training and work experience.

But the voluntary sector says money is not being paid quickly enough. It is also claimed that by "cherry-picking" unemployed people most likely to gain employment and passing on the least employable to them, private firms are starving the sector of funds. Groups say they cannot afford to help the most vulnerable people they are being sent.

These concerns were echoed in a report published this month by the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary sector, a watchdog.

The charities' concerns were spelled out in a crunch meeting between the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the employment minister Chris Grayling on Tuesday when the private firms were accused of using the charities as mere "bid-candy" to attract contracts. Joe Irvin, chief executive of the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action, said more needed to be done by ministers to ensure private firms were not simply making big profits from the programme.

He said: "We all support efforts to help unemployed people get back to work. But the public needs to be assured that some of the big private providers in the Work Programme are not either profiteering, or letting down unemployed people, by failing to make proper arrangements with the local voluntary organisations who want to help people back to work."

Ben Kernighan, NCVO deputy chief executive, said he feared cash-strapped charities "may have to withdraw completely" from the programme.

Gareth Thomas, shadow minister for charities, said: "Like so much about David Cameron's 'big society' rhetoric, government claims that winning contracts such as the Work Programme would be a solution to huge funding cuts have turned out to be a mirage."

Minister for employment Chris Grayling, said: "Inevitably in a big programme of this kind not every single organisation will succeed.

"But at the same time other organisations in the voluntary sector, like Crisis, are now joining the programme for the first time and by April we expect the voluntary sector to be working with over 100,000 unemployed people."