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Jobs scheme 'had little effect'

A flagship £760 million programme to reduce the number of people on incapacity benefits had "limited effect", according to a report by the Commons' spending watchdog.

The Pathways to Work programme contracted work to private providers who "seriously underperformed" and had lower success rates than Jobcentre Plus, the Commons Public Accounts Committee found.

Between 2005 and 2009 the number of people on incapacity benefits fell by just 125,000. The committee said it could not be clear how many of these were due to the Pathways project.

The programme, launched nationally between 2005 and 2008, was aimed at cutting the number of claimants, which has remained stubbornly high at more than 2.5 million for over a decade.

In 2008-9 the bill for the 2.6 million people on incapacity benefits was £12.6 billion.

The Public Accounts Committee's Labour chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: "The Department for Work and Pensions deserves credit for attempting to tackle the intractable problem of moving people from incapacity benefits into work.

"But its key programme for doing so, Pathways to Work, was not well implemented and has had limited effect.

"For over a decade the number of incapacity benefit claimants has remained at over 2.5 million; and nearly 1.5 million have been receiving benefits for more than five years.

"But, between 2005 and 2009, the number of claimants went down by just 125,000. No one knows by how much Pathways, which has so far cost over £750 million, contributed to this reduction."

The Pathways project, which used contractors in 60% of the country with Jobcentre Plus covering the rest, provided targeted support and earlier medical assessment for people claiming incapacity benefits.

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