Chris Grayling hails employment programme
The Government today defended its flagship employment scheme, saying early signs were that large numbers of long-term jobless people were leaving benefit and finding work.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling published new figures showing that around one in four of those who joined the Work Programme a year ago had stayed off benefits for at least three successive months.
The signs were that the figure could have risen to 30%, which means the multibillion-pound scheme was "on track" to deliver the help ministers had hoped for.
Mr Grayling said: "These figures are the first indication that the Work Programme has had a promising start in what's been a very difficult labour market.
"People I meet in the industry already say that performance is well ahead of where it was at the same stage with the Flexible New Deal from which it took over, and this data gives further encouragement."
Mr Grayling hit back at criticism from the Labour Party, which branded the Work Programme a "failure", saying that the number of people out of work for over two years has more than doubled since the general election.
The minister accused Gordon Brown's government of "hiding" the true level of long-term youth unemployment, insisting that the coalition was now publishing correct data.
Today's study, among 28,600 people who started the Work Programme last June, showed that half had signed off benefit at some stage, 7,000 had a continuous 13-week break in claims and a "significant" proportion, 14%, had not claimed benefits for 26 weeks.
Mr Grayling said he was "comfortable" with the progress of the programme, under which providers are paid to help the long-term unemployed find work.
The programme, estimated to cost between £3-£5 billion, is designed to run for five years, with 18 main providers involved.
Mr Grayling described it as a "giant employment dating service", with one provider recruiting an entire staff for a new restaurant in Edinburgh.
The minister also published new figures for the Youth Contract, under which employers receive a subsidy towards paying wages, showing that 17,100 people aged between 18 and 24 had started a job since the programme was launched in April.
Matthew Fell, the CBI's director for competitive markets, said: "The Work Programme seems to have made a promising start, with nearly half of participants coming off benefits at some point since joining, but it's still far too early to tell how the programme is performing overall.
"In a challenging economic environment we should take action to make sure the programme delivers on its promise, not write it off."
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