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Press release - 25 January 2012

The government has claimed it wants the third sector to be key players in delivering employment services, but there is little evidence that this has been achieved. 

An extensive review of the evidence by the Third Sector Research Centre suggests there is a lack of solid evidence about the Third Sector Organisations (TSO’s) involved in the Work Programme, and questions whether the Programme’s framework will allow them to fulfil their potential in this area.

Chris Damm, author of the review said “There is a tremendous lack of evidence about the third sector in this area. The anecdotal picture is that at best the sector’s potential is being underutilised, and at worst it is being completely dismantled by the current policy. If the government is serious about wanting the third sector to be fully involved we need a greater understanding of the impact on organisations involved in the work programme and the risks they face.”

While the third sector has a long history in this area, the debate is still wide open on whether their potentially unique contribution can be properly utilised within the current framework.

The third sector has been almost entirely excluded from holding direct contracts with government. Due to severe financial hurdles, only two TSOs received prime contracts, both with private sector backing.

Some third sector organisations involved at the subcontracting level also complain they have received inequitable terms. A close look at subcontracting also reveals large variation in the extent to which third sector partners are used, with particularly low levels in Scotland and Wales.

Tough targets, limited financial resources, and the payment by results model create the risk that there will be insufficient funds to help the most disadvantaged.

Evidence from previous schemes suggests that when the financial viability of providers is strained they adapt by neglecting the individuals who require the most support, or place jobseekers into unsuitable jobs with low pay and prospects.

The third sector has often focussed on improving people’s chance of employment, their skills and integration within the community. But these wider goals are extremely difficult to capture within a payment by results framework.

Notes to editors

The working paper ‘The third sector delivering employment services: an evidence review’ by Christopher Damm, can be found here.

The review is part of a wider study entitled ‘The Role of Third Sector in Commissioned Employment Services’ by James Rees, Rebecca Taylor and Chris Damm. An introduction to the project is also available here.

For more information contact:
Naomi Landau, Knowledge Exchange Team: n.landau@tsrc.ac.uk / 020 7520 2421

Chris Damm: CWD136@bham.ac.uk