Governments worth their salt know that a single young person out of work is a tragedy,
but a million young people being on the dole is a political catastrophe.
This week’s unemployment figures fall just short of that symbolically important figure. But they also put the coalition’s solutions in sharp focus. Ed Miliband did well in PMQs this
week because he could see the panic in David Cameron’s eyes.
It isn’t that the government doesn’t have a solution. It has a solution for all the country’s ills: the riots, social dislocation, worklessness. It is called the Work Programme.
According to its champions it will deliver on every front.
This is a huge burden for DWP ministers Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and David Freud. This is a policy conceived in the good times that has not been stress tested in any real sense. Faith has
been placed in the so-called prime providers such as G4S, Serco and A4e, which won the contracts to run the scheme. At the same time, charities from the “Big Society” are expected to
deliver as subcontractors for the most difficult to reach.
The Guardian’s Patrick Butler has kept a close eye on the Work Programme since its inception. This week he wrote about a series of reports that raise a series concerns about the scheme. First
in his column. Then on his blog:
‘They all reach the same conclusions: that the corporate prime contractors are exploiting or excluding their voluntary sector and social enterprise subcontractors, putting many at risk
of going bust; and that the programme is failing to meet the needs of vulnerable job seekers – homeless people, ex-offenders, single mums and so on.’
Chris Grayling always said that if the big guys started to stuff the little guys then he would stuff the big guys. We will see.
As one of the little guys who runs a charity that delivers welfare to work, I am not neutral in this. But this is not a problem the government can afford to avoid. People working across the country
in small organisations helping ex-offenders, alcoholics, drug addicts and vulnerable young people back to work are desperately willing the new system to work.
For the government, the Work Programme must work. It has staked everything on it. For the millions on the dole there is no alternative. We are all in this together.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.