Understanding the Equalities Impact of the Work Programme

  • By Daniel Quirke

London Councils’ analysis of the Work Programme considered the equalities implications of the programme in London with a focus on the four protected characteristics of age, sex, ethnicity and disability.

With discussions taking place nationally about the successor to the Work Programme and the opportunity to serve the needs of the capital more effectively, this briefing outlines the key findings of the analysis and makes a case for a greatly strengthened and formalised role for local government in the design of any future employment support in London.


The Work Programme (WP) is now entering its fifth year of delivery with more than 1.7 million participants joining since its launch in June 2011. It is the single largest employment programme ever contracted and was branded as taking a more joined-up approach, based on the individual rather than their benefit.

An equalities analysis was conducted by London Councils to identify how well individuals are being served by the WP to date and considers the equalities implications of the programme in London with a focus on the four protected characteristics of age, sex, ethnicity and disability. London Councils has produced an extended briefing with a fuller analysis and the main headline findings are set out below.


Underperformance for some participants suggests that the WP is not adequately ‘providing each individual with what they need based on their personal circumstances.

Evidence of a strong disproportionate impact by age and disability, coupled with sustained underperformance in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimant cohort strengthens concern about the suitability of the WP for supporting claimants with complex needs.

Headlines by protected characteristic:


WP performance by age group for London is mixed; strongest performance is in the 18-24 age group where just over 30 per cent of referrals achieve a job outcome. This compares with poorer performance in the 55+ age groups where participants are significantly underperforming; just fewer than seven per cent of referrals aged 60 and above achieve a job outcome. 15.7 per cent of referrals in the over 50s have achieved a job outcome.


More males than females are referred to the WP, with London closing the national gap. 41 per cent of referrals to the programme in London are female compared to 35 per cent nationally. Males account for 69 per cent of referrals nationally, compared to 59 per cent in London.

In London, outcomes broadly mirror the composition of referrals; females account for 42 per cent of outcomes while males account for the remaining 58 per cent. Nationally, females underperform males with 34 per cent of outcomes achieved by females compared to 66 per cent by males.


By referral profile, London is the most ethnically diverse region across the geography of the WP. Just over 42 per cent of participants identify as White in London compared to 79 per cent across the programme as a whole. 28 per cent of WP participants in London identify as Black or Black British and 11 per cent as Asian or Asian British.

Outcome performance by ethnic group remains within two or three percentage points of one another. London performs better for participants identifying as Mixed, Asian or Asian British, Black or Black British and Chinese or Other Ethnic Group compared nationally, but underperforms for those identifying as White.

Performance figures show that two of London’s most ethnically diverse local authorities fall within the bottom quartile for WP job entry rates in the region; therefore it is clear that not all of London’s most diverse local authorities are benefitting equally from improving WP performance.


Participants recorded as having no disability on the WP achieve approximately twice as many outcomes as those who are disabled. The percentage of outcomes achieved by those recorded with a disability in London is 14 per cent, one percentage point below national performance. Despite this, London is broadly in line with performance nationally.

Although some variance exists in performance between primary health conditions, evidence does not suggest that the WP is supporting participants with some conditions significantly better than others. Performance is consistently poor by disability indicator and primary health condition.


The WP is having mixed impact on the performance of protected groups. It is clear that certain groups are benefitting more positively from the WP than others; and this reflects the deep and wide impact payment group characteristics are having on performance. For some it is working, for others it is not.

There is no clear evidence that the WP is impacting negatively on sex; for females, the analysis points to broader labour market disadvantage that appears structural in nature, reflected in the higher ratio of males to females in the referral profile. Economic inactivity and conditionality of inactive benefit claims reduce access to back to work support.

The over-50s have the worst performance on the WP with the 60+ category presenting a significant cause for concern. The WP is not impacting positively on the majority of this age group; this is despite much stronger performance in groups up to the age of 50.

All age groups experience their own unique challenges when finding suitable employment, however underperformance for older claimants suggests that the WP’s current model is not enabling providers to reach participants with particularly acute support needs fully. Tailored provision joined up with specialist support is more responsive to the challenges faced by those at the later stages of their working lives.

Impact by ethnicity is particularly complex. There is no evidence to suggest a strong disproportionate impact by ethnic group, although performance for those identifying as White in London is below national performance. Marginal variations in performance by ethnicity suggests that the WP is meeting the needs of some ethnic groups more than others, although is likely to be influenced by wider variables such as the delivery provider(s), geographical coverage and on/off flows.

It is also clear that not all of London’s most diverse areas such as Brent, Newham and Tower Hamlets are benefitting as positively from WP performance. Delivering tailored support demands a combination of local knowledge and experienced community partners; this is in balance with providers who have the capacity and experience to run a national payment by results contract.

Impact by disability indicator is more pronounced. The WP is performing poorly for participants with a recorded disability; in fact participants without a recorded disability achieve more than twice as many outcomes.

The highest volume of participants with a recorded primary health condition are in receipt of ESA; poor performance in this payment group is, in part, a result of the disproportionate impact WP performance is having on participants with a recorded disability.

Performance for participants with a recorded mental and behavioural disorder demands significant improvement.


People who are out of work need support that recognises their different needs.

The views of jobseekers in recent research conducted by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion suggest that the WP may not currently be offering this type of tailored support evenly.

Lessons from the WP suggest that funding, and a subsequent lack of capacity in contracted providers to join up with other services and provide the necessary support, have contributed to poor performance for those with complex needs.

It is those WP completers that do not get a job who look to their local authorities and local support services for help.

Through an innovative and proactive programme of commissioned employment projects across the capital, London local government continues to demonstrate its ability to address complex needs through tailored, local provision while mitigating against future service demand and making savings across the public sector.

However the pressure of reductions to local government spending is making it increasingly untenable for boroughs to fill the gaps in provision left by national employment programmes. The successor to the WP must better serve those who face the greatest challenges in finding employment.

Devolution and public service reform present an opportunity to design services that better serve communities at the local level. This means using local knowledge and expertise to tailor services around the needs and strengths of people and their places. It means giving everyone fair access to services that can meet their individual needs and provide equality of opportunity, regardless of disability, age, sex or ethnicity.

Across London, boroughs are using their unique position to work together to create new partnerships that can commission, design and deliver innovative employment and skills support at scale and comparably with centrally commissioned programmes.


  • West London Alliance has been awarded £1.2 million of Transformation Challenge Award (TCA) to trial a mental health and employment integration trailblazer. Announced as part of the London Growth Deal, the trailblazer will be used to inform future national and local support for people with mental health problems.
  • Central London Forward is pioneering a radical new £11 million pilot, Working Capital, also part of the London Growth Deal, which will transform the support available to WP leavers in receipt of ESA and experiencing a range of health-related conditions.
  • Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth have been awarded £1.1 million of TCA to deliver Pathways to Employment. This initiative will transform employment support across the three boroughs with a specialist support network for 18 to 24 year-olds, those experiencing mental health problems and the 50 plus age group.

These projects draw on key principles of best practice: multi-skilled case workers; integration with other local specialist support services across the public, private, voluntary and community sectors; and personalised contact, which is flexible, accessible and sensitive to the individual needs of every participant.

By integrating services, pooling budgets and addressing complex support needs holistically, London’s boroughs are demonstrating to central government that they are best placed to address the individual support needs of their communities while improving a range of outcomes and contributing significant savings to the public purse.

It is more critical than ever that London local government makes the case for a greatly strengthened and formalised role for local involvement in the way employment services are designed so that every Londoner gets a fair chance of getting the job they want, regardless of disability, age, sex or ethnicity.

Daniel Quirke