The chief executives body Acevo is putting together a group of charity leaders to review the Work Programme after official figures showed that only a small proportion of people on the scheme had found work.
Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions yesterday showed that 31,000 – or 3.53 per cent – of the 878,000 people that took part in the scheme in its first 13 months to July 2012 managed to find work for six months or more. The target set by the government for the scheme was 5.5 per cent.
Acevo is putting together a group of charity leaders that will oversee the review, with the aim of publishing a report in the spring. It will look at the longer-term questions that could affect the programme, such as the introduction of universal credit, which will replace six of the most-claimed benefits from next year.
The review will also consider more practical questions such as what charities can do if they are struggling to get referrals under the programme.
Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, said: "It is no good the government playing smoke and mirrors by telling Work Programme providers to 'get their act together', or focusing on how many benefit claimants aren't 'playing by the rules'.
"The truth is that the Work Programme is the government's big answer to long-term unemployment, and if we are to make it work there are serious questions to answer."
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, called for changes to the programme to enable more charities to take part.
"Of particular concern is the plight of the most vulnerable, who require specialist support in order to return to the job market," he said. "Often it is charities that are best placed to provide this specialist support, and we are urging the government to make a number of changes that would enable charities to play a fuller role.
These would, Etherington said, include the development of a more sophisticated assessment and payment model for placing people with complex needs into employment and more up-front help for charities from prime providers.
"I am not saying this because charities are being badly treated," he wrote. "I am saying this because the Work Programme is letting down unemployed people who deserve better."