After a decade of battling depression, 45-year-old Richard from Grantham is off sickness benefits and back in work thanks to the Work Programme. He credits the Programme for giving him the confidence and support he needed to turn his life around and set up his own IT business. He says he can now hold his head up high and be the dad that his children deserve.
It is stories like this which show that the Work Programme is changing people's lives for the better. And figures published last month showed that the scheme is helping large numbers of people into a job.
The figures show that, by the end of March 2013, 132,000 people escaped long term unemployment and got into lasting work – normally at least six months – thanks to the programme.
But this is only part of the story – far more people have started work but not reached the six month point yet. Figures from the industry showed 321,000 people had now started a job. These are people who could otherwise have been consigned to the work scrapheap.
The Work Programme is delivered by public, private, and voluntary and community sector providers, who are given the freedom to tailor the support they offer. This is good for jobseekers, who get the individualised help they need over a two year period to help them into work.
What's more it is good news for the taxpayer, because the Work Programme is unlike previous schemes: providers get most of their money when they get jobseekers into work, rather than getting vast sums up front regardless of success.
And it is worth remembering that many Work Programme participants are amongst the very hardest to help into employment: some people have been out of work on sickness benefits for more than 10 or 15 years. Others may have very limited skills and experience, while some may never have had a job. To tackle the lack of skills, it is important that Work Programme providers, FE colleges and other training organisations work together to improve the employment chances of those out of work due to low or no skills.
Both myself and the Minister for Skills recognise the importance of Work Programme participants getting access to the training they need to get and keep in work. That's why we are working to see how we can improve the skills provision we offer through the Work Programme. Already, in England, fully funded training is available for Work Programme participants who are judged to have a significant skills need.
For those young people with the right skills and qualifications, lack of experience can be a real barrier to work. Young people are often enthusiastic about getting their first job, but can quickly become disillusioned if they don't have any success. That's why we made it possible for young people to join the Work Programme earlier than some other groups, so they can get the tailored help they need to avoid becoming long term unemployed.
Through things like work experience placements we are enabling young people to increase their experience and showcase their talents to potential employers. And because we know times are tough for businesses we are offering wage incentives to employers if they take on a young person through the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus if they have been on benefits for six months or more.
I am not complacent. There's always room for improvement, and I am determined that we do absolutely everything we can to help those who aspire to look after themselves and their family. But the Work Programme is already changing people's lives for the better.
Mark Hoban, Employment Minister