The poor performance of the Work Programme shows that government must work more closely with charities in designing public services, according to a new report from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
The umbrella body today published its report Stepping Stones: the role of the voluntary sector in future welfare to work schemes, which is based on feedback from charities and new data on the Work Programme produced by the National Audit Office.
The report says that the programme has been hampered from the start by design flaws that came about because of a lack of consultation with service providers. It recommends that the Department for Work and Pensions works more closely with charities when designing contracts to bring maximum benefit to service users. It says that the programme was introduced too quickly to allow voluntary groups to best contribute.
The report says: "Many of the challenges faced by voluntary organisations in the Work Programme stem from the speed with which it was designed and introduced."
Other recommendations in the report include involving service users in programme design, the introduction of a more local dimension to the programme and for the programme to "include opportunities for genuine volunteering at an early stage in the journey towards work".
It also suggests that service commissioners "develop the capacity of specialist voluntary sector providers so they are better skilled to assess and manage the risk and opportunities offered in contracts and subcontracts", as has been done by the Ministry of Justice in procurement for its Transforming Rehabilitation scheme.
Karl Wilding, director of public policy at the NCVO, said: "The recommendations set out by this report seek to address the failings of the Work Programme and the lack of input sought by the government from specialist charity and voluntary organisations.
"In the future, we would like to see voluntary organisations involved in the design process from the very beginning, to prevent the waste and inefficiencies that have blighted the Work Programme so far."
The NCVO report has been welcomed by the welfare-to-work trade body the Employment Related Services Association, which represents private companies and charities including the umbrella body Locality, the disability charity the Papworth Trust and the homelessness charity St Mungo’s. A statement from the association said that many of the NCVO's recommendations matched its own position.
Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the ERSA, said: "We need to treat every jobseeker as an individual. Getting this right at the commissioning stage means making sure funding and outcomes reflect the distance each jobseeker has to travel in order to secure employment."