Is the work programme working for charities?

By Matilda Macduff 22 May 2012

Last week’s news that homelessness charity St Mungo’s has withdrawn from the Work Programme after failing to receive a single referral is the latest in a long line of less-than-positive stories surrounding the much-maligned government scheme.

Like many charities, St Mungo’s was subcontracted by another organisation to take part in the scheme. The charity’s role was to help long-term unemployed people back into work. But St Mungo’s decided to pull out as it hadn’t been referred a single client. Back in March the Single Homeless Project also pulled out, citing small payments as its reason. The charity said it could not sustain its service on the money being offered through the programme, so would have to withdraw.

Are all charities facing these problems? Or does it depend on a charity’s size, or where it sits in the supply chain?

So how typical are these experiences? We’ve certainly heard a lot of anecdotes about charities having problems with the programme—whether it’s because they are too small to bid for contracts, cannot afford to provide their services on the payments offered, or aren’t being referred clients. But are these just an unlucky few, or is this a problem endemic to the scheme across the country? And how typical is this of other situations where charities help to deliver public services? Are all charities facing these problems? Or does it all depend on a charity’s size, or where it sits in the supply chain—is it only the bottom-tier subcontractors who experience the problem that St Mungo’s had?

There are all kinds of questions about how charities are faring in delivering government services in the new commissioning environment. But it is difficult to extrapolate UK-wide trends from individual charities’ experiences. Earlier this year, NPC, supported by Zurich, carried out a survey of 750 UK charities who receive some government income to try to build up a bigger picture of how charities are getting on since the changes to public services commissioning. The results are in, and we’re preparing to publish our report next week. We hope that what we have to add to the debate around commissioning will lead to some constructive and useful discussions between charities, commissioners and funders—and we look forward to sharing our findings with you soon.