The Government has launched what it's describing as a "revolutionary" Work Programme today, to help around two and a half million people back to work in the next five years.

More than 500 voluntary sector groups will be involved in delivering the programme, including Mencap, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Prince's Trust and Action for Blind People.

Ministers say under the scheme providers will be free to design support, based on the needs of jobseekers and local labour markets.

But critics warn the programme will do little to improve job prospects for people living in economically weaker areas of the UK.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling says: "The Work Programme will tackle the endemic worklessness that has blighted so many of the country's communities for decades.

"It is revolutionary in the way it tailors support to jobseekers' needs and pays organisations primarily for getting people into sustained employment.

"We want to establish a deal, where we will do our bit and get people ready for work and in exchange we will expect people to take up the work that is available.

"Millions of people on out-of-work benefits who have previously been shunted from dole queue to training room to dole queue again will now finally be able to access support that's built around their needs."

Grayling says providers will be paid for supporting people into employment, with higher payments for supporting the hardest to help.

Over the course of the seven years the contracts will run, the total value is likely to be between 3 billion and 5 billion.

The Work Programme replaces employment support currently on offer including the New Deals, Employment Zones and Pathways to Work, with ministers saying they were "overly prescriptive" and failed to achieve enough good job outcomes for the long-term unemployed or good value for money for the taxpayer.

Concerns raised

However, the Work Foundation, a not-for-profit think-tank, says it will be difficult for private contractors to deliver the programme at a profit in certain parts of Wales, Scotland and London.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne says: "We support the principles of the Work Programme, which builds on Labour's reforms. But there's a real worry now that the Tory-led Government is not putting enough fuel in the tank.

"Failing to get Britain back to work fast enough is helping to push up the benefits bill this Parliament by over 12 billion compared to what the Government was forecasting last autumn 500 per household making it harder to get the deficit down.

"So it's vital that the Government tells us now how many people the Work Programme will get off the dole."