Making the Work Programme work for older jobseekers

It has been widely reported that that the Government’s flagship back-to-work scheme, the Work Programme, was failing to help the unemployed back into work and was accused by the Labour Party of being ‘worse than doing nothing’. While we don’t agree with this view, it’s clear the Programme has had some teething problems, particularly for the over 55s involved.

To quickly re-cap, the Work Programme is a major policy costing between £3 and £5 billion over five years, aimed primarily at the long-term unemployed. It uses private companies (‘contractors’) to help people return to work. And to clarify a common misunderstanding, it is not the same as the different but much talked about scheme where jobseekers do unpaid work experience at a business or other organisation!


Age UK has now had a detailed look at the results by age group to find out how successful it was for older jobseekers and  published a briefing.

While the Work Programme came in below expectations for everyone, it is even worse for the over 55s (see chart below. This shows the proportion of people sent on to the Work Programme who entered and remained in a job for at least three months).

The over-55s suffer a drop in successful job outcomes of nearly 30 per cent compared to the average for the under-55s (interestingly, the 50-54 age group have the same outcomes as 45-49s). The age profile of the job success rate is shown below.

This is a huge shortfall and represents a huge problem because the Work Programme appears to be failing to tackle the barriers faced by older jobseekers – it is simply not offering sufficient support.



For anyone who loses their job once over the age of 50, it can be very difficult to move back into work. So it would be expected that the Work Programme would be less successful for older jobseekers, right? Well yes, and no.

Because the Work Programme is a labour market tool designed to improve job outcomes, it’s possible to change how it operates. Doing so could correct the natural imbalances found within the labour market which almost always harm the prospects of disadvantaged groups, including older jobseekers.

Our briefingrecommends several ways of changing the Work Programme without hampering contractors’ freedom to operate as they choose.
This could be by paying contractors more to place over 55s into jobs or by moving people to the Work Programme after six months unemployment rather than 12 – giving the right support earlier can help, although ‘right’ is the key word here. Measures such as these could make all the difference.

But it seems clear that if nothing changes, older jobseekers will continue to find themselves cut out of the workforce, often permanently, while being expected to wait longer before being able to draw their state pension.

Read  the full Age UK briefing ‘The Work Programme and older jobseekers’

Find out more about Work and Learning on the Age UK website

10 thoughts on “Making the Work Programme work for older jobseekers”

  1. so successful for 1 % of over 60’s and this is a special scheme to help people as opposed to them just trying off their own bat which presumably would be considerably less successful. Now if the pension age is being increased then life is going to be very bleak for this age category. Are they supposed to exist on benefits, which are themselves being savagely cut, until this pension kicks in for any still around.

  2. Having just completed the two years of the Work Programme and having been informed loftily by an ‘Advisor’ (whom I finally found out was all of 26 years old) that age discrimation was “fictitious”, I really must agree with those who declare that the ironically named Work Programme really does come across as “worse than doing nothing”……………

  3. Having been on the search for work for the last six months due to company closure I have come to realize that being the grand old age of 62 is now classified by the recruitment industry as being “too senior” to be considered for employment. Tis about time the leaders and shakers of our ageist employers began to see that experience, work ethic and life skills are as important to industry as pure youth alone. When roles are available I undertake acting work and ironically always have to play down my age to around 50 as casting directors see 60+ men as being grey, stooped, unkempt and awaiting the arrival of the grim reaper! I’m sure Mick Jagger, Sting, etc. will be pleased with this perception!

    Over sixty is not the end of a working life and as we are all being told to work longer to fund our retirement it would be good to know where this work is coming from, Maybe the grim reaper has the answer?
    Anthony T

  4. I think Age UK are hypocrites on this matter.
    I worked for Age UK and they really are a terrible employer who do not care about their low paid staff let alone standing by their own principles and guidelines and just do what is best for them, they preach a great story!
    They favoured taking on younger staff as I found out first hand when working as a shop manager in the south east of england, one of candidates was for a shop assistant and would have been excellent although the candidate was 63 years old, the area managers words were “we will not get many years of service out of this one, take the younger girl on”, the younger girl as the area manager put it was 23 years old with no experience and had a shoplifting offence on her record. How can this be allowed to happen.
    Whilst working for this company I experienced total wastage of money, theft from other employees and volunteers in other shops (which I complained about and got nowhere apart from my area manager telling me “Why don’t you sort it as I am too busy”), this company should seriously investigate the way it treats its staff and I must admit most of them are fantastic but daily put up with inexperienced managers being paid too much to do so little and don’t even get me started on the bonus’s they receive, this is supposed to be a charity for older people but is just a front for a business run by greedy people who do not have a clue what they are doing. Sorry if I have ranted but I loved my job and was forced to leave because in the end I was bullied out of it by the area manager for speaking my mind and not letting me get on and get funds in to support this charity and unfortunately all the higher personnel managers reap most of the rewards.

    1. HI Louise.

      Thanks for your comments and we’re very sorry to hear that you haven’t had a pleasant experience with Age UK.

      As a charity we strive to ensure that our employees are treated equally and policies are in place to ensure that discrimination in the workplace doesn’t happen in Age UK retail.

      We’d like to investigate this matter further, so if you could send an email to with your details, someone will get back to you and try to help.

      Thank you

    2. The following comment is based on the assumption that Louise’s statements are true and factual.
      Why am I not in the least surprised by your experience Louise. The comment “we will not get many years service out of this one” What utter rot and spoken by someone in management with no valued experience in life or work, no doubt the phrase was heard by the area manager at sometime and thought it ‘big’ to pass the comment as their own insight & wisdom. In truth it just shows a lack of knowledge, experience, respect and displays the gross stupidity of a person in a position above the limited capabilities. With a bit of consideration & guts to challenging the common conception in the employment and recruitment industries “youth is good – Age is bad” (In this case, shame on you AGE UK) an employer would, in a high percentage of cases, get more out of the 63 year old (As B&Q have found) as they would have an inbuilt work ethic report in on time stay until the job is done and, if treated with respect give a good few years valuable service. the young 23 year old girl will have no or little empathy with customers have little life experience won’t even understand the subject of customer service and be and be off to the next job within a couple of months. Tis about time employers/recruiters realized that experience to guide the more youthful members of the incoming team is a valued asset to and business and that employing on terms of youth alone is a costly practice which results continual recruitment process for the next piece of youth to train, who will replace the youth that has just left after being trained who replaced the one before that and before that. No wonder the Area manager is so busy, always on the lookout for people under 25.

  5. Thank you for your reply it is appreciated but I would rather put this behind me now as I have moved on to a much better job again as a shop manager but for a charity who care about and listen to their staff.
    If I were Age UK’s head honcho’s though I would thoroughly investigate the area managers (especially the south east lady who I will not mention by name on here but took over the job fairly recently), they need serious training and monitoring on how to deal with staff and mentoring staff rather than constant bullying, sarcastic comments, unprofessionalism, inadequacies in doing the actual job and stealing (yes stealing) from the charity. Shop managers, staff and volunteers just want to get on with their jobs and work extremely hard for very poor pay. Motivation tactics used by head office are useless and no one ever listens. I think “undercover boss” would be a great idea to do for Age UK’s shops just to prove that I am not bitter or telling tales but feel so utterly upset at having to leave because of other peoples inexperience and deceit and write on behalf of the many staff and shop managers still putting up with this that really are the backbone of your organisation and need help now. You are only as good as your staff so start looking after them NOW.
    Lou x

    1. Hi Louise

      We’re glad to hear you’ve found another job and understand you don’t want to pursue this any further.

      As we said before, we do work hard to ensure all employees are treated fairly and that there’s no discrimination of any kind, and we believe that what you’ve experienced is an exceptional case.

      We shall look into this further, though, and, if you change your mind, would welcome any input from you.

      Thanks again for getting in touch

  6. Suggesting people get referred quicker will mean they get sanctioned quicker and end up at the food bank so thanks AgeUK . The Work Programme is just a sanction tool, the more appointments you have the more chances of you making a mistake or an illness not being recorded and a sanction doubt being lodged. Do not share your data with these private companies (often tax avoiders themselves) and their powers are limited to send off your details for workfare. Don’t tick the box and they also do not get paid when you find a job. If you find them sharing your personal data and you have not agreed report them to the Information Commissioner. OPT out either before after you signed. Also of note that many of these companies have premises that are not disabled friendly often upstairs and have older people and people on ESA that attend.

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