Do 50% of work experience participants find work as a direct result of that experience?

Yesterday Iain Duncan Smith was interviewed on LBC radio by my new hero James O’Brien. The interview is quite novel in that O’Brien actually interrogates IDS like a proper journalist should, (you will never see this on the Andrew Marr show for example) and calls him out on some of his claims. One claim that wasn’t questioned though is one I’ve seen IDS make repeatedly – namely that 50% of those who have participated in one particular work experience scheme (the one that is notionally voluntary), found work as a direct result of that experience.

IDS doesn’t do nuance very well. His grasp of facts and figures is questionable to say the least. So what does the data actually tell us about the success of this work experience?

The 50% IDS mentions, I think refers to the findings of this DWP “ad hoc analysis” (I discussed my issues with these “analyses” here). Published in November 2011, and based on 1,300 early participants (there have been 100,000 participants to date), it found that 51% of participants had come off benefits after 13 weeks. Is this the same as saying 50% found work as a direct result of the work experience?

For starters, as the excellent Fullfact points out, from this figure alone we don’t know how many would have found work anyway, or even how many actually found work at all – many may have just stopped claiming benefits. DWP’s analysis was followed by a more formal analysis carried out by NIESR on behalf of DWP. It found that 21 weeks after starting work experience, 46% of participants had come off benefits. At the same time though, 40% of claimants who did not do work experience also came off benefits. So NIESR found a small, but positive impact of work experience on the numbers of people coming of benefits.

This is a world away from IDS’ claim that 50% of people found work as a direct result of the programme. In reality, because not everyone coming off benefits will have found work, the true figure is likely to be less than 5%. Hilariously, the DWP press release accompanying the NIESR study was titled “New research reveals the true benefits of work experience”. It looks like IDS doesn’t read his own department’s press releases!

Now, you might well say, regardless of IDS’ nonsense, the research shows that the work experience programme does return positive results. You’d be right, but only versus the counter-factual of doing nothing. That is a false choice though. Against an actual job creation scheme, the results of work experience would no doubt look a lot less favourable.