Over-ambitious targets to get unemployed people back into work combined with the tough economic situation are just some of the severe challenges facing the new Work Programme. The single scheme which will replace all existing welfare-to-work programmes, set to be implemented in June, has already come under immense scrutiny.

Dave Simmonds, chief executive at the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI), said that the service providers who will help unemployed people back into work faced a “high level of performance expectation”.

“The government has written this into provider contracts, so the performance expectation and the state of the economy could yet be the real achilles heel to the success of that programme,” he said.

“The accepted performance standard has been set at a level that’s essentially the same as the highest level that the previous New Deal for Young People ever reached, even at the height of the economic boom in 2000. So the performance challenge is severe. Critical to that will be the number of jobs in the economy at large.”

The Work Programme has previously been criticised by the PCS union, amongst others, which has claimed there will not be enough jobs in the economy to fill the programme’s requirements.

The expert panel also called for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to take an early and “proactive” role in contract managing providers should their service start to slip.

They highlighted lessons learned from previous welfare programmes, such as Pathways to Work, where providers often over-promised with unrealistic bids on what they could achieve, which were not addressed quickly enough.

Stephen Evans, director of employment and skills at the London Development Agency, said: “There’s a proactive role for the DWP that if things don’t get started as they should or don’t pick up as they should, the DWP can get in there and proactively manage it.”

The evidence panel also agreed that greater clarity was needed about the how Jobcentre Plus and the service providers would work together.