Thought Leadership: Way to Work – why ‘half a million get jobs in under six months’ is either woefully poor, meaningless or plain wrong… a story in six charts!

Original twitter thread by Tony Wilson, Director, IES here in response to government’s press release ‘Half a million benefit claimants get jobs in under 6 months’. See also Elizabeth Taylor’s response in January Way to Work: “Any job now” is no solution to UK labour crisis. 

‘Way to Work’ – why ‘half a million get jobs in under six months’ is either woefully poor, meaningless or plain wrong… a story in six charts!

Lessons include: flows are huge, especially now; and we need more transparent data/ better targets

  • First, this shows why 500k finding work every six months really isn’t special. Here’s *known* exits to work from Jobseeker’s Allowance (which Universal Credit replaced), over rolling six month periods 1998-2015. Barely ever below 500k, and always a lot higher after recessions.
  • Importantly though, above graph under-estimates flows into work, as loads of people weren’t followed up and so were ‘failed to sign’ or ‘not known’ (left below). Including these would give implausibly large figures (right below), so the truth will be somewhere in between. Luckily…

  • DWP did research in 2011 to understand these discrepancies and estimated that 68% of off-flows went into work. And if you apply that percentage to total off-flows, you get this – i.e. never below 500k, and often substantially above.
  • The above charts all stop at 2015 because: 1. UC had started to roll out and 2. JSA volumes were falling fast And the numbers overall really matter, as 500k is a volume target. 500k when there’s lots on UC/ JSA is far less ambitious than 500k when there aren’t. To illustrate…

  • This shows the *proportion* of JSA claimants known to have moved into work every month. Typically 8-10% and often higher (and this will be an under-estimate). ‘Way to Work’, by comparison, assumed just 5% of ‘Searching for Work’ group would find work each month (i.e. 83k of 1.6m)
  • So lots of graphs but what are the lessons? 1. Flows are probably higher than people realise, and especially high now 2. 500k wasn’t really explained at the time, and very unambitious as a ‘flows’ target 3. We need better data on flows, incl the data behind the press release 4. And we need to be honest that the *additional* impact of employment support is far smaller than big headlines like this. So we need to communicate better, evaluate programmes properly, celebrate those small differences and try to improve them. Final point is that…
  • t’s well possible that DWP’s 500k estimate is wrong! H/T @Stephen_EvansUK, who shows that off-flows from ‘Searching for Work were well over 2 MILLION – so either 500k to work is implausibly low, or off-flows to other destinations are implausibly high.