Nobody seems to be asking at the moment whether the Work Programme is financially viable for the providers. The Work and Pensions Committee has taken evidence from "users" and there is a focus on the voluntary sector and small organisations which have found that the programme is not working for them or for anyone else. Charities which help the homeless are particularly concerned about the specific problems of their clients being ignored; WP providers not even asking whether someone is homeless. Yet the charity Crisis says that it got two people into work separately from the WP but was contacted by a provider asking for details so that it could claim the outcomes. Meanwhile the media are focussing on other groups such as the disabled. I missed the Panorama programme, but I gather that A4e was just one of the providers that didn't come out of it very well. The response of A4e, as usual, is to point to a success story. Next Sunday morning at 11.00 Radio 5 Live is looking at self-employment and the WP.
But, as I said, nobody is asking whether the whole thing could founder on the fact that the providers can't afford to run it. The government insisted from the outset that only the largest and most financially secure companies could be prime providers, and that drove some companies, such as Ingeus, to partner with companies which could guarantee their financial security. A4e didn't do that. Nonetheless, the DWP was surprised that some potential primes put in bids that even the government didn't think were viable. It now appears that the attachment fee income was sufficient to keep the companies ticking over. Maximus, for instance, said that it had broken even on the first year. But A4e's accounts to March 2012 showed them in deep trouble, and apparently without the expectation that things would improve much.
So what would happen if a prime decided that it just couldn't afford to go on? Would the business be transferred to another company - assuming anybody wanted it? Would they have to pay a penalty for breach of contract? Is the government busy renegotiating terms in order to save the skins of these companies? If that happens, I suspect it will be slipped through without publicity.
Someone put a petition on the government's e-petition website asking for the abolition of "work for your benefit/workfare schemes in the UK". The rest of it was eminently sensible, but unfortunately the DWP was able to seize on the description and deny that there was any such thing as workfare in this country (it's American) and equally no such thing as "work for your benefit" - it's all about support. How lucky that they changed the title of Labour's pilot scheme from "Work for your Benefit" to "Mandatory Work Activity".