Help to Work is the joker in the policy deck

Help to Work, the Conservative’s new strategy to remedy long term unemployment unveiled by the Chancellor, George Osborne, at the Conservative Party Conference will serve only to appease his party’s base rather than to alleviate the numbers of people out of work for over two years.



Photo: The Mirror

Current figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show long term unemployment at its highest than at any time since 1997 and 960,000 young people out of work. Those aged 16-24 constitute the key age demographic each party will want to keep away from the job centre for a sustained period of time.

The scale of the problem of long term unemployment therefore requires a bold and encompassing solution, not of the draconian and small scale that George Osborne has outlined. The policy, requiring the unemployed to perform such tasks as picking up litter to retain social security payments, is more likely to result in even more people made homelessness than increased employment.

When the Department for Work & Pensions commissioned research into the experiences in other countries that enacted help to work, commonly known as workfare, it found ‘little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work’. More worryingly, the research conclusively stated that ‘it can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available to job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers’. This, taken alongside figures from the Department for Work & Pensions showing Help to Work will only affect 5% of Job Seeker’s Allowance claimants firmly discredits the new plans as ineffective.

Labour’s contrasting policy on this issue reinforces the daylight between the two parties. The Labour Party’s Jobs Guarantee Scheme would see the government intervene to find a young person who had been unemployed for over two years a job paying the minimum wage. This solution appears far more adequate to take on the problem, unlike that unveiled today by the Conservative’s that is marketed as giving tax payers more value for money, but will be of little value to the long term unemployed.

Commenting on the Conservative’s new policy, Labour argues that this policy is a renewed approach that confirms the failure of previous schemes to return people to work. The failure of previous schemes over this Parliament is evident. The first year of Welfare to Work was branded ‘worse than doing nothing’. This was followed by two more years in which minimum targets were not met. Department for Work & Pensions figures also suggest that another scheme, the Work Programme, found long term jobs for only one in ten. Although while the previous schemes focused on those out of work for 12 months, Help to Work will seek to aid those unemployed for double that period.

A reason for the failure of the Work Programme goes unaddressed in the Conservative’s new policy. The problem is that the United Kingdom asks a lot of the unemployed, and yet fails to adequately aid efforts to get off the dole queue. Unlike other European countries, the United Kingdom only spends 0.38% of its national income on ‘welfare to work’ schemes. It is unsurprising therefore that for every 100 people unemployed, only just over one are enrolled on schemes such as the Work Programme. If you sow insufficient resources, you will reap poor fruits and so far Help to Work does not appear to recognise the imperative to invest.

By appropriating this policy announcement from Iain Duncan Smith, the Minister for Work & Pensions, George Osborne reveals that this policy is regarded as an Ace up their sleeve to convince voters they are on the side of hard-working people. Far from an ace, Help to Work is the joker in the policy deck. A multitude of solutions whereby welfare to work schemes are adequately pursued to reap the rewards and improving the falling standard of apprenticeship advice and start up figures for young people would have an impact. Yet, Osborne has chosen to play an ideological card that is fit for the conference hall, but not for purpose.


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January 2022
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