Holyrood hears evidence on the nature of the Work Programme – along with calls for a humane new approach.
The Work Programme is a total failure and must be replaced with a system that works for people.
That was the view of John Downie from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), who told the Scottish Parliament’s welfare reform committee that the Westminster imposed benefit sanctions regime has been a disaster, both in its impact on claimants and its efficacy in getting people into employment.
Instead he pointed to the positive example of Community Jobs Scotland, which has helped nearly 6,000 young unemployed people by getting them jobs in charities and third sector organisations across Scotland.
Downie contrasted its 66% success rate with the Work Programme’s woeful 24%.
Holyrood’s welfare reform committee is taking evidence ahead of the devolution of new social security powers as part of the post-referendum Smith settlement.
Far from getting people into jobs, the Work Programme punishes and exploits people
Downie said: “The crucial thing to remember in all of this is that whatever changes we make to welfare and employability in Scotland they have to work for people. Really putting people at the heart of employability support means that we need to take a radical new approach. Tweaking around the edges of failing approaches just won’t do – let’s be ambitious.
"The Work Programme is a prime example. All the evidence tells us that it’s a total failure. Far from getting people into jobs, it punishes and exploits people, and leaves them feeling like they’ve been abandoned on the jobs scrapheap with little or no hope for the future.
“Solely focusing on getting people into jobs would be a mistake. We need to value all the different ways people can contribute to their communities – by being parents, carers, volunteers, learners or activists. All these roles are vitally important. A competitive economy can also be a fair one that acknowledges everyone’s contribution. If we build our economy around people, growth will follow.
“We need a new radical approach that builds on people’s strengths and provides incentives not sanctions.”
Also giving evidence to the committee was Nicholas Young, whose firm Working Links has a £167 million contract to implement the Work Programme on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.
He said that while he as “not unmoved” by the plight of claimants facing sanctions, the system is working and has had a “really positive impact over a number of years”, adding that the threat and implementation of sanctions “actively encourages participation” in people looking for work.