The new Secretary of State at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has a lot on his to-do list. There are 31.7 million people in work; 9.4 million of them are aged 50-74—that’s a record at almost 4 million more than 20 years ago. The Secretary of State will also want to get acquainted with his new team, and to make sure the Work and Health Programme is shaped and runs successfully. But we have something else to add to his list, something that will help him do his job better.

Core to The Rt Hon Damian Green MP’s new responsibilities is working out which services and interventions work: which of them can get people of all ages who have struggled to find work into rewarding and well-paid jobs. Here is where data can play a key role.

Data helps us make choices, and can enable any provider of services to know what works and what doesn’t. This is why we at NPC have pushed for the development of a DWP Data Lab: an analytical service that allows providers of employment interventions to say whether their work has been successful or not.

The Data Lab model works by allowing organisations to compare those receiving their intervention to a statistically similar control group created from government administrative data. A DWP Data Lab would be particularly beneficial to the work of charities and voluntary organisations, which have played a key role in promoting employment and delivering services like the Work Programme. Many of these organisations do not have the expertise or resources to carry out this type of analysis themselves. The structure of the Data Lab means charities and the DWP can get a better sense of what works, while that the data involved in the comparison remains annonymised and secure.

A DWP Data Lab would allow simple, cost-effective analysis, allowing organisations throughout the sector to learn from each other and improve service delivery. We know this works, and that it maintains data security and confidentially, because we have supported the Ministry of Justice with their award-winning Justice Data Lab (JDL). The JDL looks at reducing reoffending rates, and runs on a similar model of opening up government administrative data to understand whether interventions work.

We made all of the above arguments in a letter we sent recently to the Secretary of State that was co-signed with ERSA—the representative body for the employment support sector. Over 70% of ERSA’s members are not-for-profit, although it also has all the major prime contractors of DWP-commissioned programmes in membership.

We believe those in the employment support sector, including many charities, have much to gain from Damian Green putting opening up government administrative data towards the top of his to-do list.

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