Work Programme failing homeless people

Fri, 28/06/2013 - 14:01 -- nick

The Work Programme is failing in its attempts to support homeless people into work.

That is the stark warning from Peter Watson, a former drug addict and homeless man interviewed in today's Guardian.

Having cleaned up after two decades, he was put on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), recognising that he had barriers to overcome before he would be ready for work.

Watson was sent on the Work Programme, but, with no work history and having been in prison regularly during his addiction in addition to his other problems, he was a prime example of a candidate likely to be 'parked', provided with minimal support because their provider did not believe they were likely to find work in the short term.

The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee identified this as a problem in May, calling the Work Programme "extremely poor" as a result.

Watson found his provider in Stockport unhelpful while admitting that his barriers were part of the problem and that there were some big holes in his knowledge:

"In my last Work Programme interview yesterday they got out a form which is supposed to help you fill out a CV. I said 'what's a CV?' I honestly never heard of it."

Providers aren't entirely to blame for the lack of support, however. The government subsidised ESA claimants on the scheme to the tune of an additional £600 a year ago, but that figure is now £300 and it will be scrapped altogether next year.

At the same time as the Work Programme is failing the hardest to help, homelessness is rising as a result of the wider economic malaise and the government's specific housing policy, including the benefits cap and bedroom tax.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: "The Work Programme has been a massive disappointment for homeless people and others who need greater support to return to work. It has failed to help far too many, leaving them parked without meaningful help, lives on hold. The Work Programme is just not working for those it was set up to serve – the most disadvantaged. The government must listen and reform the Work Programme without delay."

Kyle Kitchen, another ex-homeless man who found the scheme lacking, has had similarly poor experiences with the scheme:

"They can be really abrupt and rude dealing with me. I thought about complaining about their attitude towards me, but I was scared I would have my benefits sanctioned. Once I phoned to say I would be late for an appointment but my advisor was talking quite loudly in front of other people, like she was trying to show me up," said Kitchen, who thanks to his volunteering has got a job with St Mungo's, a homeless charity.

"I would never have got a job with the Work Programme. It was like they did not want to succeed."

Due to his own efforts and supportive hiring policies, Peter Watson eventually got a job with a homeless organisation.

Others without a roof over their heads are unlikely to find such a positive outcome.

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