Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Muddying the ends whilst praising the means

So, the Department of Work and Pensions is going to 'get tough' on the long-term unemployed is it? That's what James Purnell has said in a speech to the Social Market Foundation anyway. They've added an F to the New Deal and called it the Flexible New Deal instead. Anyone who has been on their backside too long will be made to do four weeks work or lose their benefits, sounds so tough huh? However just like the New Deal you can guarantee the tough rhetoric will not really be matched up by real action or progress on the headline figure for the long-term unemployed.

Why you may ask. Well the answer is quite simple. By forcing those identified into work for just four weeks it will create rolling statistics so that Purnell, Brown or any Labour MP for that matter can throw out the soundbite of 'the Flexible New Deal has got X number of people back into work'. What they won't say is how many of those people have remained in work after the four weeks is up, and you can be sure that people will be double, triple and quadruple counted too. That's what happened with the New Deal so why should it be any different? You only ever hear about many people the New Deal has got 'into' work. What you don't hear is how many of those people stayed in the New Deal placement when the taxpayer-subsidised employment ended and employers had to start carrying the full cost of the staff.

It's a little bit like the con we have on University figures. We're told each year how the Government is getting more and more of our super-clever young kids into University to do Madonna Studies. The figure they don't like to actively promote is how many of those under-graduates actually complete their course. That is because the dropout rate at Universities has been static at 22 percent for five years. All those extra people getting into University and yet the failure to complete the degree continues at the same rate, suggesting that quite a lot of those people the Government is driving into University should not be going in the first place. The target to get half of 18 year olds into University becomes almost meaningless if the numbers failing to finish does not even fall.

As with almost all the social policy tinkering by the Government, it is the figures at the end rather than the target measuring the means that really matter. Dropout rates, just like employment retention rates are the genuine indicator of the Government's policy failures. The problem of course is that in a world driven by rolling Government announcement and artificial news generation you have situations like Purnell's speech. Where tough rhetoric about means gloss over the structure, analysis and reality of the end. Purnell got the headline he needed to triangulate those people that want to be tough on the 'scroungers' whilst actually outlining an old policy with a new name which has not achieved anything close to what it claims. Spin is dead under Brown. Long live spin!

7 comments: said...

What are you complaining about Dizzy, there's only been £800m spent in the last five years trying to stop kids from dropping out of uni with no affect whatever on the dropout rate.

The Today programme cited one example of how the £800m was spent as "teaching basic maths to people who want to study things like engineering"... er.... are we sure these people are entirely suited to academic life? No matter, it's not a problem that burning money won't solve... maybe.

Anonymous said...


The broadcast news is equating 22% to "nearly a quarter". Mathematically and statistically (sic) it's nearer to a fifth (2/9 to be precise!), but hey, that's not as good a headline is it!

Anonymous said...

Actually, James Purnell hasn't made his speech yet - it's happening at 12:30pm today. You must have got an advance copy!

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember there is a stage of New Deal called "Follow Through". Says it all really, doesn't it?

anthonynorth said...

The only way to get a large percentage back into work is through a rolling benefits system where it continues when in work, but declines pound for pound as you are actually paid.
This process must also be applied to housing/council tax benefits. When someone is struggling on benefits, and going to work will result in immediate loss of benefit, and maybe six weeks to a pay cheque, they are not going to do it.

Dave said...

It's an inconvenient truth but maybe only the very best should go to university? of course, now that the system is so corrupted there's no way of telling the talented from the also rans. Perhaps the fact that so many people drop out of uni despite the effort and cash spent keeping them there proves this.
Call it evolution in action

Anonymous said...

How do you determine who the best are?

You seem to be assuming that the majority of drop outs are those who struggle academically to get into Uni in the first place.

You may well have figures which prove different but when I worked in the HE sector no correlation could be found between A'Level grades and those who drop out.

Instead of taking the elitist stance can i suggest we take a deep breath and show some ambition by aiming to provide decent Primary, Secondary and College education to all.