I am writing firstly to thank those colleagues who have been so vociferous and helpful in the debate we have had over the past few days over the work experience scheme. I also wanted to give you a bit more information about where we have got to with the scheme.
One of the great ironies of the campaign against the scheme was that, whilst we are undoubtedly doing some difficult and controversial things in welfare reform, the work experience scheme is not one of them. It is a voluntary scheme that is extremely popular with those who take part, around half of whom come off benefits afterwards. We know that a substantial proportion are staying with the employers with whom they do the placement.
Over the last week we have worked hard to demonstrate that the campaign against the scheme is being orchestrated by anti-capitalist demonstrators, with not a little help from some trades unions. We have also won the overwhelming support of commentators in the media.
When I met employers yesterday, they were very clear that they will absolutely refute any suggestion that unpaid work experience is a bad thing, and that they believe strongly in what we are doing. They did, though, want us to ease the conditionality regime for the scheme if they were to continue to take part.
In reality we make very little use of sanctions on the scheme – fewer than 1% of participants have faced penalties, normally for serious offences such as theft, racist language in the workplace and abusive behaviour. Since the scheme is oversubscribed, getting people to take part has not been a problem.
However we have agreed to allow people who sit down with their employer at any stage of the placement and say that they want to leave to do so without penalty. A JobCentre Plus adviser will then clearly sit down with that person and see if they require any additional intervention to help them with their job search. I should stress that the sanctions regime remains in place and those who commit serious breaches in their workplace will face penalties.
We are now working to build up the scheme. We have already added three major new firms to the scheme this week – Airbus, Hewlett Packard and Center Parcs. Around 200 smaller firms have also come forward to express interest in supporting the scheme in the past two weeks.
This is something that all colleagues can help with. JobCentre Plus staff are working around the country trying to find employers who will offer placements. They would welcome your help in encouraging local firms to participate. So if you have ideas, or contacts who are willing to take part, please do get in touch with your local JobCentre Plus manager, or email me so that I can put you in touch directly.
We know that this approach makes a real difference to unemployed young people, and every extra opportunity can help – particularly for those from the most deprived backgrounds who don’t have the necessary contacts to find their first piece of experience in the job market.
Thank you again for your support.
With best wishes