There is "a tremendous lack of evidence" about the voluntary sector’s involvement and success in delivering welfare-to-work programmes, a new Third Sector Research Centre report claims today.
The paper, The Third Sector Delivering Employment Services: an evidence review, was written by Chris Damm, a researcher at the centre.
He reviewed the policy and practices of successive governments since 1997 in welfare-to-work contracting and the voluntary sector and concluded there was a "tremendous lack of evidence about the third sector in this area". He called for further research.
Damm said in a statement that anecdotal evidence suggested the voluntary sector’s potential to deliver welfare-to-work services was "at best being underutilised, and at worst being completely dismantled by the current policy".
"If the government is serious about wanting the third sector to be fully involved, we need a greater understanding of the impact on organisations involved in the Work Programme and the risks they face," he said.
The report calls for more research into the voluntary sector's involvement in providing welfare-to-work schemes.
"The Public Administration Select Committee found in 2008 that much of the discussion surrounding the benefits of the third sector was hypothetical or anecdotal, and this is as true within employment services as it is elsewhere," it says.
"Firstly, it is necessary to look in detail at how, and why, third sector provision might be beneficial. In particular, the sector’s relationship with the hardest-to-help individuals requires further attention, backed up by independent evidence and research.
"If the third sector does have a genuinely distinctive and important role to play in helping benefit claimants into work, then more thought needs to be applied to how best this is harnessed by policymakers."
Asked to respond to the findings, the Department for Work and Pensions said in a statement: "The department has selected two voluntary organisations as Work Programme prime providers and many more are already involved in delivery as subcontractors, proving that such organisations can make a valuable contribution to tackling long-term unemployment at all levels.
"The department has introduced the Merlin standard to build excellence into supply chain design and relationships. All providers will undergo rigorous assessment against the standard, which they must achieve in order to keep their contracts."