The number of charities taking part in the Work Programme increased slightly in the first six months of the year, according to the latest government figures.
Statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions reveal that 20 new voluntary and community sector organisations joined the programme, which targets people at risk of long-term unemployment or who are already long-term unemployed, between January and July. Fifteen left the scheme during that period.
DWP data also shows that only nine per cent of the 878,000 people referred to the Work Programme between June 2011 and July 2012 were Employment and Support Allowance claimants. Yet providers were expecting 30 per cent of referrals to be ESA claimants when they bid for contracts, according to the the Employment Related Services Association, the trade association for the welfare-to-work sector.
Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the ERSA, said the figures continued to show a "far lower level" of referrals of people on ESA than the government originally predicted.
"The Work Programme operates on a very tight financial model and any variation in the mix and volume of jobseekers referred to the programme can have serious implications for provider finances," she said. "In addition, the lower level of referrals of jobseekers on ESA has a disproportionate impact on voluntary sector providers who tend to offer the expertise these jobseekers require."
The latest figures reveal 368 voluntary sector organisations were taking part in the programme in July, compared with 363 in January. They make up the largest proportion – 47 per cent – of all subcontractors.
The overall number of providers fell by nearly 3 per cent between January and July from 809 to 785. The number of public sector providers dropped from 138 to 125 over that period, while the number of private subcontractors decreased from 308 to 292.
Mark Hoban, the employment minister, said voluntary sector organisations had the specialist skills and expertise in helping those people who are hardest to reach. "They are crucial partners in helping those at risk of long-term unemployment find sustainable jobs, and I applaud them for their work so far," he said.