Welfare-to-work: Official figures show job target missed
The government's flagship welfare-to-work programme has failed to hit its main target, official figures show.
Under the scheme, firms and charities are paid to help find jobs for the long-term unemployed.
But only 3.53% of people found a job for six months or more - missing the coalition's 5.5% target.
The coalition said the scheme was "improving" at getting people into work, but Labour called its effect "worse than doing nothing".
The figures, which cover the 13 months from June 2011 to July 2012, showed that of the 878,000 people who joined the programme, only 31,000 found a job for six months or more.
The Department for Work and Pensions had told providers they should get 5.5% of people on the programme into sustained employment.
It said more than half of the jobseekers who started on the programme in June and July 2011 had spent some time off benefits.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith defended the scheme, telling the BBC: "Over 50% of those who have been sent there [on schemes] have been taken off benefits. Of the 800,000 who have gone through, over 200,000 are within work."
He added: "I think we are on track. Payment by results is about saying the taxpayers need not foot the risk."
Employment minister Mark Hoban said: "It's still early days, but already thousands of lives are being transformed."
He added: "It's clearly ridiculous to suggest the work programme isn't helping people into work. Already nearly 10% of the first starters on the work programme have got into work and stayed there for six months.
"The figures also show that 40% of the 31,000 outcomes published today came in June and July - the last two months for which data is available - clearly showing that performance is already improving."
Poorly performing organisations involved in the programme have been given until April to improve their performance. They have not been revealed by the government.
The Employment Related Services Association, the trade body for the welfare-to-work industry, said 20,000 jobseekers were being helped each month. More than 200,000 had found employment since the scheme's launch, it added.
For Labour, shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne told BBC news the figures showed the government's approach was "worse than doing nothing".
"Over the course of this parliament the welfare bill is now going to be £20bn higher than projected.
"That is because the chancellor has choked off the recovery and it is because the DWP has comprehensively failed to get in place a back-to-work programme that actually works," he said.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, said: "The government's work programme is not working - it's a dismal failure. Far from being 'early days', it has been running for more than a year."
Under the scheme - replacing the New Deal, Employment Zones and Pathways to Work - approved providers in England, Scotland and Wales, mostly private companies, try to find work for claimants on a payment-by-results basis.
Providers can earn between £3,700 and £13,700 per person helped into work, depending how hard it is to give support to an individual, with an initial payment of between £400 and £600.
The government has said it expects the scheme to help 2.4 million people back into work over five years.
Joining the work programme is mandatory for people aged over 25 when they have been out of work for a year and for under-25s after nine months. People in certain circumstances, like young offenders, must join after a shorter period of time.
Those on some benefits, such as income support and employment support allowance, can join the scheme voluntarily if they meet certain criteria.
Once a person has been referred to the work programme, they remain on the scheme for up to two years.