Back-to-work scheme ‘failing homeless’


Nina Lakhani
Monday 26 November 2012 01:01

Homeless people are being failed by the government’s flagship back-to-work programme despite large amounts of public money being given to private firms to cut chronic employment, a new report warns.

One in five homeless people have had benefits cut or stopped in the first year of the Work Programme amid serious concerns about a dramatic rise of punitive sanctions against the most vulnerable, according to three charities.

Fewer than 10 per cent of homeless people are in paid employment, and they face a range of significant obstacles such as addictions, mental health problems, illiteracy, criminal records, stigma, no fixed address and lack of access to a computer.

Yet Crisis, Homeless Link and St Mungo’s found three fifths of homeless people surveyed had not even been asked about the barriers they currently faced, and two thirds did not feel any more optimistic about finding a job after seeing their work programme advisor.

The Programme’s Not Working report calls for urgent reform of the Work Programme amid claims that the private companies are being paid for work that many homeless charities continue to do for free.

Rick Henderson, Homeless Link Chief Executive, says: “Charities should not be subsidising the Work Programme. There must be a different approach for those who want to work but face the most severe barriers to finding and staying in employment. Things need to change.”

The Department of Work and Pensions introduced the new-fangled Work Programme to address long-term unemployment in June 2011 in order to address the shortcoming of previous welfare to work schemes.

In essence, private companies are paid to get people back to work, using any system they find effective, with more money paid for the most vulnerable and ‘difficult to employ’ individuals.

Homelessness is identified as a significant disadvantage to employment.

The financial crises has led to a substantial rise in homeless numbers with outreach teams in London counting 5,678 rough sleepers in the year to March 2012 – a 43 per cent increase in 12months.

Yet the report says that Jobcentre plus staff regularly fail to identify people as homeless which mean they do not get the additional support they need.

Smaller, specialist organisations should be sub-contracted to work with the most vulnerable people, yet St Mungo’s for example, left the work programme after not receiving a single referral in the first nine months.

In addition, 58 per cent of people reported that they were not treated with dignity or respect by their work advisor, compounding deep seated feelings of poor self-worth. And only 22 per cent of people with drug or alcohol problems said they received any useful support or advice about their addiction from the work programme provider.

The report recognises that there are examples of very good, supportive advisors but insists that few homeless people have so far benefited from the new scheme.

Leslie Morphy, Crisis Chief Executive, said: “We know that work is an effective route out of homelessness and that homeless people want to work. Our biggest concern is that the Work Programme is not reaching people who are furthest from the job market. We urge the Government to find ways to make sure thousands of people devastated by homelessness are not written off for good.”

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