In an outsourced society, targets are, apparently, vital. You can't measure the success or failure of a contract without them. When companies bid, they have to agree to meet targets. But as we've seen so often, not meeting them doesn't matter much. There's no penalty. You just don't make as much profit. But if that's already factored into your calculations, who cares? All the Work Programme primes missed the first year target, which was pitifully low anyway. Even delaying publication of the data for a couple of months didn't push the figures up enough. So what happens now? A stern letter from Mark Hoban. Well, what else can he do? If they've all performed equally badly, or if the differences between them are minimal, you can't penalise one and not the others. And anyway, the only suggested penalty is to cut down the number of referrals to the worst performing companies. For some, that would be welcome, since they can't cope with the numbers they've got.
There are other targets, unofficial ones, which do have an impact, but on clients rather than the companies. Think of Atos. Both the DWP and Atos have denied that there are any targets for getting people off incapacity benefits. But whistle-blowers among Atos staff have said that they are indeed given targets and are pressured to meet them. And now we have the Universal Jobmatch site. Again, the official line, in all the guidance, is that it's not compulsory for people on JSA to register with it. But we know that people are being told, by both JC and Work Programme advisers, that it is compulsory, because they have been given targets, and it's easier to give orders than to persuade.
Two other words have become part of the language of welfare-to-work, and in the process have been neutralised. The first is "mandatory". We all know what it means in practice. But it somehow sounds better than its dictionary definition (a real, physical dictionary, my copy of the Concise Oxford, 8th edition) which is simply "compulsory". So let's not talk about people being "mandated". They are compelled.
Even more weasly is the word "sanction". It's an interesting word, because it can mean two very different, almost opposite, things. One meaning is approval. The other is penalty. And it's the second meaning, of course, which pertains here. When people don't do what they are compelled to do they are penalised - punished.
So if you're an outsourcing company which has failed to meet its targets, you can't be penalised. But if you're a client, you can be told that something is compulsory when it isn't and penalised for not doing it.