News that A4e didn't win a contract, but it raises more concerns about the whole privatisation project. There has been talk for some time of privatising the Probation Service, but one of the first steps comes in London, where a contract has been awarded for supervising people doing community service as a punishment. The contract went to Serco - one of the three huge companies (with G4S and Capita) which run more and more of our public services. The two failed bidders were Sodexo and A4e. All three companies teamed up with a Probation Trust or something similar to tender for the work. In A4e's case the partner was Mitie. I hadn't heard of them, but a bit of googling reveals that Mitie and A4e joined forces in January 2011 to form what they called com:pact specifically to bid for community payback contracts. They already run the MITIE Enterprise Centre, doing skills training at Hollesley Bay Prison and YOI in Suffolk. So it looks like the Probation Service is being privatised bit by bit, and A4e will get its share of the cake.
A few snippets of news. The first, in the Telegraph, tells us that the numbers of paupers' funerals are increasing as more applications for funeral grants are being turned down. The grant only covers less than half the cost of a funeral, but with more impoverished people claiming it and being turned down councils are having to bury more people at their own cost. The poor are stripped of their dignity even in death.
Then there's Iain Duncan Smith's proud boast that the benefits cap is already "encouraging" people into work. There's a straightforward account in the Independent. Note the wonderfully round numbers. Of the people who would be affected by the cap, 1,700 have found work and 5,000 have "indicated they would like to receive support to get back into employment". The cap hasn't yet come into force, yet IDS would have us believe that the prospect is already persuading loads of people to get a job (and, of course, there are lots of jobs available). Channel 4 News' Factcheck blog was sceptical. They ascertained that 58,000 people were told in may that their benefits would be capped at £26,000 a year. The Jobcentres have tracked those and report that just under 3% of them have gone into work and another 9% have asked for help to get work. But as Factcheck points out, there is nothing to prove that one follows from the other. There are no figures for the numbers who would have got work anyway. So IDS is making it up - again.
A third piece of news which has been mangled by the right-wing press for their own purposes is a suggestion that the Human Rights Act should cover "socio-economic rights". Here's the Daily Mail's interpretation; the Express used the word "spongers" in its headline. What it boils down to is that there would be a guaranteed minimum income. That's hardly new. It used to be called the "personal allowance", and it was what you got as "income support" if you had no other income. It didn't include things like housing benefit. Governments eroded that and eventually ditched it. It started with changing emergency grants into loans. Then asylum seekers got less than everyone else. And now the concept has been abandoned altogether. There is a real debate to be had on these proposals. But don't hold your breath.