Future Jobs Fund: the evidence starts to come in
Blink and you’ll miss it: the government hasn’t exactly gone overboard to publicise the Department for Work and Pensions’ new report on qualitative research into the experience of people taking part in the Future Jobs Fund. We know the sort of report the government would have liked to get: back in June last year, when they cancelled the FJF, they called it “ineffective” and Ministers trash it at every opportunity.
This means that Customer Experience of the Future Jobs Fund by Janet Allaker and Sarah Cavill is actually quite a brave report. I’m always rather impressed when academics, writing research for the government, who presumably want further contracts, follow the evidence even when it leads in a direction Ministers won’t like. This study, based on interviews with people who took part in the programme, found that the quality of jobs on the FJF was often high, that Jobcentre Plus (which the government thinks is not up to running the Work Programme) generally managed it well and that the programme had been a huge help in getting jobs. Altogether, Allaker and Cavill’s conclusion will not be one that Ministers want to hear:
This study suggests that FJF has been successful in preparing customers for work and, for many participants their reported experiences had been to such a high standard, that they could not think of any improvements to the scheme. The significant boost to CVs from six months of work experience and the improvements to customers’ skills sets are likely to remain long-term, however there is a risk that some of the softer gains of FJF could dissipate without a swift transition into a non-subsidised job.
Ever since last year’s announcement, I’ve been surprised that the government has repeatedly announced the failure of the Future Jobs Fund, before any evidence was available. As I’ve said, I’m a big supporter of the FJF, but I won’t announce that it was a success until this evidence is available. Even now, qualitative evidence like this is part of the story, but we’ll need to see the quantitative research as well before we make that sort of judgement.
What we can say is that the official statistics rather suggest that the people who took part in the programme are right to rate it so highly. Iain Duncan Smith makes great play of the fact that, eight months after starting on FJF (that is, two months after the subsidy for their job came to an end) just under half are back on benefit. But the same statistics show that a third of those who leave for ordinary unsubsidised employment are in the same position. You’d expect a job that was created by a public subsidy to end once the subsidy runs out – so FJF has really helped unemployed people to take their participation in the programme and turn it into increased ability to get an open job. Fifty per cent in employment after the programme ends is pretty good in comparison with, for instance, the low quality work experience programmes we’re used to.
One of the problems with low quality employment programmes is that participants don’t value them, employers don’t value them and that disregard translates into ineffectiveness. The new research suggests that the Future Jobs Fund broke that cycle of disillusion and disappointment.