The Government's multi-billion pound programme to get the long-term unemployed into work has been condemned as "extremely poor" by MPs.
In a damning assessment, the influential Public Accounts Committee (Pac) expressed concern that during the first 14 months of the Work Programme, only 3.6 per cent of claimants found employment and came off benefits.
This was less than a third of the 11.9 per cent the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had expected to achieve, and well below the 9.2 per cent that officials had estimated would find work on their own without any intervention, the MPs said.
Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said the programme had so far failed young and vulnerable people. "It is shocking that of the 9,500 former incapacity benefit claimants referred to providers, only 20 people have been placed in a job that has lasted three months, while the poorest-performing provider did not manage to place a single person in the under-25 category into a job lasting six months," she said.
She also criticised the DWP for publishing unvalidated data from a trade body representing Work Programme providers, saying: "This is just not on."
The programme was introduced in June 2011, at an estimated cost of between £3bn-£5bn over five years, but the PAC said the performance in the first year fell "well short" of expectations. Not one of the 18 providers has met its contractual targets and their performance "varies wildly".
The committee said there were growing concerns that providers are concentrating on people who were more likely to find work and generate a fee, and sidelining jobless clients with the greatest needs – a process known as "creaming and parking".
A spokesman for the DWP defended the Work Programme and criticised the report for presenting a "skewed picture". He said: "More than 200,000 people have moved off benefits and into a job thanks to the Work Programme."