The letter below is from the Employment Minister to Polly Toybnee in response to her wholly unjustified attack on the Work Programme. I am delighted to be welcoming Chris into my constituency next week for a packed schedule visiting Jobcentre Plus and their providers, including the excellent Jobcentre Plus facilities in Truro.
I read your article last night supporting the militant campaigners who are trying to destroy the Work Experience scheme and I thought would write to explain to you what you are actually opposing and supporting protest against.
The Work Experience scheme works like this.
After a young person has been unemployed for typically twelve weeks, the Job Centre Plus adviser will sit down and talk through different job options and possible sectors where they might be interested in working and where there might be jobs available.
Say they express an interest in care, for example, Job Centre Plus will then offer them a possible short term work experience placement of between 2 and 8 weeks with an organisation in the care sector. If they are interested, and we have an appropriate placement available, then we will send them to meet the employer. If they get on, and the young person wants to do the placement, they will start with that organisation. If things don’t work out, they have an automatic right to leave the placement within the first week. If they pull out after that, in order to protect the employer and the time they have committed to the placement, then we will investigate what has gone wrong, and if they have no good reason for leaving then they can face the same sanction as someone who does not turn up for their fortnightly signing on interview. We only sanction a tiny proportion of people, since this is a voluntary scheme and the situation almost never arises.
In the case of the retail sector, someone who is placed with one of the big retailers, like Tesco, will be there because they have expressed an interest in working in the retail sector but have little or no experience of it.
So far our experience has been that a significant number of placements turn into jobs, with the employer getting to like the young person and keeping them on. We have had cases of jobs being offered within days.
Where there is no job available, we have often seen people get a job with a similar employer very quickly. So for example, I was in the north-west recently and talked to a Job Centre Plus adviser who had managed to place a number of young people who had done work experience with one retailer, with another who had vacancies.
As you will have seen, so far around half those doing placements have come off benefits very quickly afterwards.
This is the scheme the protestors, who you are supporting, are trying to destroy.
It’s proving to be one of the best and quickest ways to help young unemployed people into jobs in the face of a frequent reluctance by employers to hire someone with little or no experience.
I appreciate that you are strongly opposed to many of the reforms that we are pushing through, and that we will generally disagree. But writing an article backing the destruction of one of the most effective schemes we have for helping young people get into work at a time when we have a real problem with youth unemployment defies my comprehension. Particularly when you have so often called for action to tackle youth unemployment.