Fairy Jobmother and the challenges of the Work Programme

As the Work Programme goes ‘live’, the challenge of worklessness and the policy changes designed to tackle it have been highlighted on recent TV  – Panorama  (BBC 1 June 6th) and The Fairy Jobmother (C4 June 7th).

The programmes reinforced CLES’ thoughts on the agenda, which have been outlined in our research, including Making it Work – Analysing different ways of tackling worklessness and A new deal, but is it a fair deal.

The programmes highlighted the challenges facing Work Programme providers but also frustrations with the current levels of worklessness on all sides. Claimants feeling they can’t get a job, members of the public expressing anger about people living off the state and wasting taxpayers money (‘benefits cost £87 billion a year’, Hayley – the Fairy Jobmother – tells her assorted group of jobseekers on at least two occasions) and employers suggesting they can’t recruit locally despite 50% of residents being workless in South Rhyl and employment support being available locally.

Both programmes outlined the challenges facing Work Programme providers by highlighting how engrained worklessness is within some areas and its impact upon the lives of individuals. All of the claimants featured stated they wanted to work but it was clear they faced a range of barriers. These included a history of drug and alcohol dependency, possessing a criminal record, a lack of work experience and employability and personal skills.

Personal attitudes were also a barrier to tackling worklessness with one claimants suggesting they would only work ‘if it’s a job I like’, an attitude the government are seeking to tackle through increased sanctions and the threat of mandatory work activity.

The challenges for Work Programme providers are diverse and not simply related to matching people to job vacancies. Personal and lifestyle barriers need to be overcome, with the Fairy Jobmother having to support people to overcome a chronic lack of self confidence; helping them to recognise their skills; and to re-build basic skills, like eye contact and smiling, which have been lost or forgotten from being out of work so long or never having had a job.

Both programmes therefore resonate with CLES’ thoughts that an individualised, hand holding approach is needed to support many claimants through the process of finding, and maintaining, work. Hayley also recognises the need for individualised approaches: ‘You can’t say an unemployed person’s like this or like that, nothing’s generic.’

The other challenge for Work Programme providers is the cost of providing such support within a ‘payment by results’ system, whereby the main financial rewards are provided when claimants have been in work for a significant period of time (e.g. 26 weeks for a JSA claimant).

This point was really brought home by the Fairy Jobmother, who after providing two weeks intensive support to four people, secured three jobs, only two of which were taken up. Four months later only one of those people remains in their original job, highlighting the challenge of not only finding people work, but supporting them to sustain employment.

Questions also remain as to whether the system provides enough financial reward to encourage providers to take the ‘risk’ of supporting individuals with the most complex needs, particularly within a tight labour market.

However, the programmes also highlighted positive aspects of tackling worklessness. Other featured claimants were more pro-active, undertaking unpaid work experience in the hope it would lead to paid work. The transformational power that securing employment brings was also highlighted such as providing confidence, improving personal skills and outlook on life.

  • By Gareth Brown and Victoria Bradford, consultants at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES)
  • CLES will continue to follow the worklessness agenda and the Work Programme with interest. We are particularly interested in undertaking longitudinal research with both prime and subcontractors to understand how they are responding to the challenges and opportunities of the Work Programme. If you have would like to take part, or have any thoughts on the opportunities or challenges presented within this research, please contact CLES on 0161 236 7036.


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13 years ago

More from the Fairy Jobmother on the need for individualised and tailored approaches to supporting people back into work last night. Confidence, interpersonal skills and attitude are key. Worth a watch definitely, and more success than last week. All bar one member of the job club was still in employment 13 weeks later.

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