Workfare – what does the evidence show?


10:30 am - February 23rd 2012

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contribution by Chris Goulden

Workfare has recently come under close scrutiny, and criticism aimed at some high-profile employers has culminated in a terse response from the Government.

Detractors condemn workfare as barely better than slave labour, while defenders claim it’s a valuable addition to other forms of help for unemployed people.

But what does the evidence say about whether workfare leads to better outcomes and less poverty?

The DWP commissioned a research review back in 2008 to look at the evidence from the USA, Canada and Australia on their workfare schemes.

The conclusions are pretty stark:

There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.

Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes. Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high.

Paul Gregg examined the role of workfare when he was commissioned by the last UK Government to look at conditionality and the JSA regime.

He concluded that policy makers should consider “…how to deliver work experience programmes, particularly for those further from the labour market. These need to build in help with job search and wider support rather than be delivered as a pure Workfare type scheme”.

Work placements coupled with the additional support and assistance required to help individuals move into mainstream employment would better tackle the barriers faced by the most disadvantaged individuals.

So, the evidence suggests that providing people with a full package of support and the right kind of work experience – ideally with additional pay and the hope of a job at the end of it – is crucial.

Workfare alone is not enough, and discussion so far has largely ignored the wider problem of the quality of jobs in the UK labour market. We know that low-paid, insecure work isn’t the solution. Getting on the ladder is vital but we need better and wider routes upwards.


Chris Goulden manages several of Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s programmes on poverty in the Policy and Research Department

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Reader comments


If I’d known, when I was a kid, what I was letting myself in for, I’d never have eaten fruit pastilles, tooty fruities or jelly tots……..

With the best will in the world, and with the least motivated densest trainee, none of this work requires six months training. Training takes hours, not months.

Wait a minute, workfare is not designed to actually ‘work’ in the sense of getting unemployed people back into productive employment. It is supposed to punish the victims of an economic downturn, as well as giving Party donators some free labour.

Look at the type of backward scum that actually wholeheartedly support this move. These are the most despicable excuses for human beings that we come across and they use the most despicable language possible to describe these people.

Of course, it goes without saying this is supported by Cameron, IDS and the other millionaires in the Tory Party. These people simply do not have a clue about real life and are forced to pluck ideas from the greedy, corrupt the sociopath and the downright fucking halfwitted. This policy is about appeasing the vermin, not helping people.

“Look at the type of backward scum that actually wholeheartedly support this move. ”

You mean like US President Bill Clinton and British Labour party of 1990’s, who introduced the idea?

I’m not from either country (US nor UK), but here up north I have the experience that we had a workfare trainee coming in with no pay to a major multinational corporation. She just got something from the unemployment fund. I, as a hiring manager, found she did good work. I managed to convince powers-that-be to open a position so we could employ her part-time fixed-term. A year or two later, I managed to hire her full-time and permanent, as permanent as any job is these days. 10 years later, she’s still in that employment (though I’m not).

Of course, not everyone wants or needs a job, so then the workfare arrangement can be a nuisance in someone’s mind.

Ptj @ 44

You mean like US President Bill Clinton and British Labour party of 1990?s, who introduced the idea?

What I mean is the backward scum on this board, the newspapers and the awful woman from the apprentice on the Ten o’clock show and (Radio 5 at the week end) who wholeheartedly support the idea. You are right of course that Clinton and New Labour found it necessary to appease the same cunts here and in America.

The American political system is broken beyond redemption and our system is crumbling too, so obviously we are forced to design policies around some of the most socially backward cunts in society.

Ptj @ 44

You mean like US President Bill Clinton and British Labour party of 1990?s, who introduced the idea?

What I mean is the backward scum on this board, the newspapers and the awful woman from the apprentice on the Ten o’clock show and (Radio 5 at the week end) who wholeheartedly support the idea. You are right of course that Clinton and New Labour found it necessary to appease the same cunts here and in America.

The American political system is broken beyond redemption and our system is crumbling too, so obviously we are forced to design policies around some of the most socially backward cunts in society.

You mean like US President Bill Clinton and British Labour party of 1990?s, who introduced the idea?

If the shoe fits…

@Jim

You’re hilarious. Do you have a Twitter account that I can follow?

@4

1. The fact the idea originates with Clinton (although I doubt he thought of it himself) is irrelevant – the fact is there is no evidence the scheme works, and in fact actually harms people.

2. Annecodetal evidence from over a decade ago (for a different scheme – the new deal). Irrelevant to a discussion on workfare.

Learn about evidence, why annecdoate is not the same as a thorough evaluation, and why the origin of policies is largely irrelevant to whether they are good policies or not.

At least Pagar’s irrelevant comment was amusing.

Some political insights are needed IMO.

The DWP is run by IDS who, as The Economist uncharitably reminded us in 2001 on his elevation to leadership of the Conservative Party, had retired from his career choice in the army as a Major. He was stylised at the time of his elevation as having been a senior executive of some unspecified kind in GEC, although it emerged that had evidently escaped the notice of Lord Weinstock, who ran GEC at the time.

Shortly after the general election in May 2010, Philippa Stroud, a failed Conservative candidate in a local constituency, was appointed to the DWP as a Special Adviser (SPAD).

Shortly before the general election, Pink News published this:

PinkNews.co.uk has been told by solicitors representing Philippa Stroud that a number of media organisations have been contacted warning them of their duties not to publish “false” allegations about a parliamentary candidate in the run-up to tomorrow’s general election.

Mrs Stroud, the Conservative candidate for Sutton and Cheam, was accused in The Observer of having founded two churches that helped people who believed their homosexuality was caused by demonic possession and that it could be overcome through prayer.
http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2010/05/05/exclusive-philippa-strouds-lawyers-warn-media-over-gay-cure-claims/

It is surely but a short step from notions of demonic possession to believing that the high levels of unemployment currently besetting Britain and EZ countries are due to a plague or infestation of laziness.

I suspect the terms of workfare have to be generous to employers or they would not offer work placements to the long-term unemployed. Not much has changed in Conservative principles since Norman Tebbit said in 1981: “I grew up in the ’30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking ’til he found it.”

Bob B,

It is surely but a short step from notions of demonic possession to believing that the high levels of unemployment currently besetting Britain and EZ countries are due to a plague or infestation of laziness.

Well I suppose so, but as Philipa Stroud was never shown to personally believe homosexuality was caused by demons, or that homosexuality caused laziness, and as there was never any indication Iain Duncan-Smith had any association with those churches or any religious nutters, it is a bit of a large leap to assume it has anything to do with the current policy.

I’m more likely to accept the ‘grinding the faces of the poor’ argument of Jim, for all that that is a clear fantasy on his part. In general, people can believe in different solutions to problems from you without having to believe in demons or being evil you know.

Watchman: “I’m more likely to accept the ‘grinding the faces of the poor’ argument of Jim, for all that that is a clear fantasy on his part. In general, people can believe in different solutions to problems from you without having to believe in demons or being evil you know.”

Belief in the pervasive potency of demonic possession is not as altogether eccentric as your post suggests. IDS is an avowed Catholic and we have this report in the public domain about the Vatican’s chief exorcist:

“Renowned Italian priest and exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth has released a new book claiming that satanic sects have infiltrated the Vatican and their influence reaches even the College of Cardinals. . . ”
http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/288581

But not to worry, according to a report on the BBC website, official counter measures have already commenced:

“A Vatican-backed college is launching a new course for exorcists – Roman Catholic priests who cast out evil spirits from the possessed. Lessons at the prestigious Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum will include the history of Satanism and its context in the Bible. . . ” [February 2005]

The paradox of workfare is that it is most ‘needed’ when there is high unemployment to ‘help’ people back into work. Unfortunately, the reason we have the workfare scheme is, er, that there aren’t any jobs for those people to be helped back into. Everything else is superficial bollocks.

I also presume anyone doing these shitty workfare jobs is not included in the unemployment figures?

@13 Ted Maul: “Unfortunately, the reason we have the workfare scheme is, er, that there aren’t any jobs for those people to be helped back into. Everything else is superficial bollocks.”

I appreciate that can seem a thoroughly plausible explanation in these times but we need to inquire as to why there is this lack of jobs. Should any here regard the suggestion made above of pervasive Satanic influences as lacking credibility, they need only reflect on the insights of Rick Santorum in America who has just won primaries in Minnesota, Colorado or Missouri for the Republican nomination in the US Presidential election in November.

“Satan has his sights on the United States of America,” Santorum told a Catholic university audience in 2008.

“Satan is attacking the great institutions of America — using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that (have) so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”
http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/Time+exorcism+Santorum+Satan+speech+comes+back+haunt/6192787/story.html

If Santorum is elected US President, he, IDS, Philippa Stroud and Father Amorth will obviously have have much to talk about. If Santorum isn’t elected President, that will only go to prove the potency of Satanic powers.

I’m really not making this stuff up.

The above quote from the DWP is garbage from start to finish.
They claim “There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work.” Oh yes? There are two Swiss studies which showed that workfare jobs (particularly in the private sector) improved the subsequent employment chances of those concerned.

http://ideas.repec.org/p/iza/izadps/dp154.html
http://ideas.repec.org/p/iza/izadps/dp606.html

The DWP then claim that workfare “can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search”. The answer to that is that the unemployed spend an average of about three hours a week looking for work. The DWP might as well argue that workfare makes it difficult to spend one hour a day having lunch and tea brakes.

Next, the DWP claim that workfare fails to “provide the skills and experience valued by employers.” That is in direct conflict with the above Swiss evidence. Moreover, there are loads of mundane REGULAR jobs which do not provide employees with any amazing degree of skill or marketable qualifications.

Next, the DWP claim that “Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes.” Well on “work for benefit programmes” benefit IS THE WAGE. Doh! Of course there is an argument to be had as to exactly what the wage should be, but the implication made by the DWP that workfare people do not get a wage is nonsense.

Re Chris Goulden’s claim that the unemployed need help with acquiring skills rather than just being provided with relatively unskilled workfare jobs, the evidence does not support that, far as I can see. These two studies from Scandinavia show that “learning by doing” (i.e. straightforward subsidised work) produces better results than formal training.

http://www.ifau.se/upload/pdf/se/2002/wp02-04.pdf
http://ftp.iza.org/dp736.pdf


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  29. Jessica Southgate

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  30. leftlinks

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  31. K Carington Smith

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  37. Liza Harding

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  38. Nila Patel

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  39. Chris Baker

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  40. sunny hundal

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  41. Rev. Paul Farnhill

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  42. Catherine Brunton

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  43. Owen Blacker

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