DWP slammed for keeping revived training scheme outcomes a secret

SWAPs have had 330,000 participants since it was re-launched in 2020

SWAPs have had 330,000 participants since it was re-launched in 2020

19 Apr 2024, 10:35

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The government is refusing to publish evidence that a revived training scheme for unemployed people is succeeding in getting them into work, despite pouring tens of millions into it since the pandemic.

Although the concept of the Department for Work and Pensions programme – known as sector-based work academy programmes (SWAPs) – is viewed positively by training providers and sector bodies, officials have been criticised by MPs for a lack of transparency over its results.

SWAPs aim to give unemployed people the skills they need to work in a specific sector, such as construction or care, through a short-term combination of training, work placement and a guaranteed job interview.

The DWP recently celebrated “smashing” its 80,000 target for the number of jobseekers that start SWAPs each year since the pandemic, with about 330,000 participating since it was renewed as part of the government’s Plan for Jobs in mid-2020.

But despite spending an estimated £35 million, with a further £25 million due to be spent this year, there is limited evidence of the scheme’s success since Plan for Jobs was launched.

A lack of transparency

The DWP is understood to collect data on SWAPs that includes how many participants complete SWAPs and whether they remain in sustained employment for at least 13 weeks.

But the department refused to tell FE Week what data it collects when asked through a freedom of information request, claiming that most statistics are held “clerically at a local level”.

Last year, an inquiry into Plan for Jobs and other employment programmes by MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee said the DWP “lacks transparency” around the performance of work schemes including SWAPs, making evaluation of their success “unfeasible”.

The inquiry published a report in July added that the department fails to consistently “set clear targets” for its programmes and makes “unsubstantiated” claims about their success.

The government published basic figures showing the age, region and sector of SWAP starts for the first time in February this year.

While preparing a reply to FE Week‘s questions, the DWP also announced that it will begin publishing data showing how many people are starting SWAPs on a quarterly basis.

However, the department’s spokesperson did not respond when asked whether they could prove SWAPs are a success or when an evaluation of Plan for Jobs, understood to have been carried out in 2022-23, will be published.

Work and Pensions Committee chair Stephen Timms told FE Week that the DWP is failing to follow its own protocol – introduced under David Cameron – that government should publish research it has commissioned.

He added: “[Outcomes of SWAPs] strikes me as exactly the kind of information that the government should be publishing – but unfortunately it isn’t on this programme or many others.

“But actually, if they are open about it and there’s public debate, then that is a powerful lever to improve the programme and would be helpful for the department to do a better job.

“David Cameron used to say sunlight is the best disinfectant and under him we saw a genuine openness that unfortunately has been lost – I very much hope it improves.”

Does the scheme work?

Training providers and sector bodies told FE Week they believe the SWAPs are “effective” at getting people into sustained employment.

The DWP also pointed towards two studies, carried out in the mid-2010s, that suggested SWAPs increased the time young unemployed people spend in employment, but failed to provide older participants with work experience or a job interview.

Deputy director at Learning and Work Institute, Sam Avanzo-Windett, said helping people who are economically inactive into employment through work experience in a sector “feels like a good thing”.

But she added: “Without data, it’s quite hard to know how many of those people are getting into jobs.

“It’d be important to know if there are sanctions that sit alongside the SWAPs programme as well as any information on those job outcomes.”

The Association of Learning Providers (AELP), which represents hundreds of training providers, is supportive of the scheme as a “quick and intensive” way of getting people work-ready.

Simon Ashworth, AELP’s director of policy told FE Week: “We have seen them used particularly effectively in sectors with big skills shortages such as hospitality and retail.”

Ashworth added that the “short, sharp, high impact intervention” of SWAPs complements skills bootcamps, which are longer and higher-skilled training programmes lasting up to 12 weeks.

How did SWAPs start?

SWAPs were first launched under a different name in 2011 as part of David Cameron’s ‘Get Britain Working’ initiative, with 330,000 people starting the scheme in the next seven years.

But Jobcentre Plus’ failure to tell participants they faced benefits sanctions if they refused to work resulted in a successful legal challenge known as the ‘Poundland case’.

SWAPs were revived alongside other work training schemes in mid-2020.

Participation is voluntary, but benefit claimants still face financial sanctions for dropping out before completing the course or refusing a job offer for good reason.

In the 2021 spring budget the government set aside £10 million per year for SWAPs, which has jumped to £25 million this financial year.

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One comment

  1. Julie A

    Good questions. You also need to ask the same about skills bootcamps, which are a great money-spinner, but are they getting people into work?