A botched DWP experiment flushed millions of pounds down the toilet

A piggy bank and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed that a pilot scheme for some benefit claimants was an unmitigated failure. The costfor this botched experiment? £5.3m.

The DWP: more money, more problems

On Friday 21 September, the DWP and the Department for Education (DfE) released the analysis of its “18 to 21 work skills” pilot scheme. It was a trial to see whether giving online English and maths lessons to young people on Jobseeker’s Allowance improved their skills and chances of getting work. The DWP and DfE rolled it out to 1,211 claimants between November 2014 and February 2016. It was aimed at people who did not have GCSE A*-C qualifications in English or maths.

The trial split the claimants into two groups. One was the ‘treatment’ group, where the DWP sent claimants for two different types of online training. The other group was “business as usual”, where the DWP gave claimants standard support. The DWP contracted out the online training to further education colleges and private providers. Claimants had six months on the trial to see if it helped.

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But the analysis of the trial shows it was chaotic from start to finish. Moreover, as it summarised, the scheme was effectively made somewhat redundant.

Polite criticism 

The 76-page report heaped various polite yet pointed criticisms on the trial. These included:

  • Between 40-60% of claimants didn’t attend the initial assessment that decided on suitability for the trial. This was often down to travel problems.
  • The randomised control measures that were supposed to make the trial groups similar didn’t work.
  • It took up to six weeks or more for a claimant to start training.
  • There were “substantial differences” in the training each provider rolled out.
  • The trial didn’t make any difference to the length of time a claimant was on benefits.

The trial was ultimately cut short. This was due to the youth unemployment rate falling, and the DWP rolling out Universal Credit. Both these meant that without changes, the trial was essentially invalid.

More evidence against sanctions?

Ultimately, the trial did find that the claimants who had the additional training were more likely to continue in training and education, or get a job. But what is also of note is the analysis of sanctions under the trial.

It said that sanctions rates were the same across the trial groups; meaning that the trial made no difference. But crucially, it also said that claimants reported that they did not need the threat of sanctions to complete the trial. And the report also noted this was in line with “claimants of all ages”. But it could not draw definite conclusions on the effect of sanctions.

Stating the obvious

The analysis summed up by saying:

The Pilot was a valiant attempt to test the means to improve the skills of young, low skilled unemployed people in order to increase their future resilience in the labour market, improve their social and economic outcomes

But ultimately, it was a £5.3m waste of time. Young people got into work anyway; the trial was stopped before anything could be properly measured, and it also proved what to many may be obvious: that giving young people training, some hope, and ultimately some interest, improves their chances in life. It shouldn’t have cost £5.3m to do this.

The Canary asked the DWP for comment, but it had not responded at the time of publication.

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Featured image via Jacob Edward – Flickr and UK government – Wikimedia 

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Steve Topple