Saturday, 20 April 2013

Minimum service, minimum wage and a Labour proposal

Some of you will be familiar with this, but the minimum service delivery promises by the various Work Programme providers have been published on the government's whizzy new website.  I'm particularly interested in A4e's promises, of course.  I'm intrigued to see that they include "A fully personalised service: including (minimum) monthly 1:1 contact with a named advisor and a tailored journey that address their broader needs."  Maximus, Working Links, Prospects, NCG, Serco, Best and G4S say they will see people fortnightly, CDG  monthly.  The others don't specify.  It's amazing that the DWP thought a brief interview once a month was enough, and how that squares with the idea of "a tailored journey".

Labour, as we know, has been struggling to come up with coherent alternatives to the Tory measures, but there is a plan published in the Observer.  It would restore the link between contributions and benefits by paying newly out of work people up to 70% of their previous salaries for up to 6 months (with a cap of £200 a week).  The downside is that the extra would be repayable when the person returned to work.  I'm not sure how that would work if you got a minimum wage job and needed tax credits.  What do you think?

And talking of the minimum wage, there are estimates that anything between 100,000 and half a million workers are receiving less than minimum wage, according to the Independent.  They list a whole raft of scams by which this is done, including deducting money for clothing or benefits in kind; not paying for travel time between sites (something which is common for care workers); and paying piece rates rather than an hourly rate.  The article asks why so few prosecutions have occurred for this - just 8 in the 13 years of the MW's existence - and says that Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is now taking the issue seriously.  Let's hope so.  But what happens when someone who is unemployed takes one of these jobs before discovering the truth, that it doesn't meet MW?  Can they leave it without being punished?


  1. I have no confidence that the “tough new measures,” allegedly described by Ministers, will have any effect at all. Vince Cable might witter that he wants to do something but the Tory grandees will not allow it because they are in bed with some of the “employers” responsible for wriggling their way round the NMW at the expense of the workers whom the “employers” wish to exploit.

    I am aware of cases in my own area where I am pretty sure that the workers are being exploited. I have seen zero evidence that HMRC are willing to make the effort to spot the exploitation and to do something about it. I am also aware the local police force treat it as being a “civil matter” so the local cops are not prepared to do anything about it either.

    The Govt are actually the worst offenders with this particular rort. (Rort is an Australian word which means “exploit” but “rort” is actually a more apposite word for this particular subject, I feel.)

    If I were prepared to try to nark to the Govt about some of what I have seen and suspect, I would be told to phone one of the anonymous dob-in lines, which I think may be run by the DWP and/or HMRC. Would the Govt pay me anything for becoming one of their narks? No they bluddy well wouldn’t. They’d merely be the first to rort me themselves.

    Besides which, I’m not a nark and I disapprove of the practice of narking.

    Locally, I suspect that some (maybe all) of the rorted workers are aware that they are involved with a rort but they have chosen to do it – probably for any one or more of several different possible reasons - and it is not my place to interfere.

    1. "Besides which, I’m not a nark and I disapprove of the practice of narking."
      I'm afraid I don't share your attitude. If a firm is illegally paying less than NMW I would shop them without a second thought (unless I was working for them and it would jeopardise my job).

    2. I hear you, historian, but what about the worker? S/he might have been subjected to a Benefits sanction, for instance, as Dr Cable has hinted. However lousy the pay might be (perhaps only £2 per hour in real terms) it may be better than nothing at all.

      Hence I've decided to keep schtum about the various rorts that I suspect I have seen locally.

    3. NMW needs to be enforced by government and abuses identified and dealt with. If we embed a culture where NMW (which is, let's face it, not particularly generous) is disregarded by employers and the public and implicitly criticised by politicians (e.g. by evidence-free, largely unnecessary but symbolic changes to the LPC's terms of reference), we'll soon end up with no effective NMW at all.

      If nothing else, this allows unscrupulous employers to flourish at the expense of ones that meet legal requirements, and ultimately at the expense of everybody else too by making more demands on means tested in work benefits.

    4. I agree with Historian and Badger.

      How many times has the public been encouraged to 'shop' a suspected 'benefits cheat'? Such encouragement is to be found in the pages of rags such as the Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and the Daily Star as well as direct from the government via it's 'no if's no buts' ads form a few years back and other similar campaigns.

      If I or anyone on this blog were caught claiming JSA and doing paid work on the side, we'd be investigated, forced to pay the money back and may even end up being interviewed under caution by PC Plod!

      Well, anyone breaking NMW legislation should surely face the same penalties should they not? After all, what's sauce for the goose is surely sauce for the gander!

  2. Since I have been conscripted to A4E for the Work Programme scheme, I have read their minimum delivery service standards with a fine toothcomb and I have had several (informal) rows with A4E’s Directors about what their poorly worded sentence actually means.

    A4E claim that they will provide each and every WP customer of theirs with a “personalized,” “tailored,” “service.” Those are the three operative words in the public promise that A4E have made via the DWP’s website and A4E’s own website confirms this promise.

    A4E’s apparent inability to speak English means that A4E’s Directors have “translated” this public promise as meaning only, “See Customer X at least once a month and preferably ensure that the same ‘adviser’ sees Customer X if possible. Try not to switch Customer X around between too many different ‘advisers,’ though HQ accept that continuity may not always be possible and/or desirable.”

    The only thing that Customer X can expect from A4E is that A4E might trot out the same unskilled, unqualified, often inexperienced ‘adviser’ a few times in a row.

    “Personalised? “Tailored?” “Service?” Forget it. A4E does not have the expertise to be able to deliver any of those things and it is not willing to try, either, because attempting to provide any of them would cost more than A4E is willing to pay out on behalf of any of its Work Programme customers.

    I have been willing to tolerate this as a (very poor) “compromise” because A4E does not have the skills needed for A4E to be able to deliver on the guts of their promise as contained in the operative words. There is no point in my traipsing around to visit an A4E ‘adviser’ who lacks any relevant skills, bluntly.

    We all know that the Work Programme scheme has now proven itself to be a hideously expensive disaster. It has shown itself to be less effective than doing nothing in terms of getting unemployed customers into employment.

    A4E’s remaining Directors also know this – now!

    A4E’s Directors used to be led by the air-headed Emma Harrison - who convinced herself that she is both an “entrepreneur” and an “expert” when she is neither, as a matter of fact.

    A4E’s remaining Directors are now fully aware that Mrs Harrison was talking nonsense when she dragged A4E into the Work Programme scheme. A4E are losing a king’s ransom on running the WP scheme and A4E’s losses will get worse unless they and the ERSA are able to screw some more money out of the politicians.

    However, the pollies are happy to crow that they will not make payments except by results. It seems to me that A4E’s remaining Directors have been left holding the parcel when the ill-considered music screeched to a shuddering stop.

  3. You join many others in pointing out the problematic vagueness of most of the minimum offers - in any sector that genuinely works closely with people to provide personalised, intensive and effective support (e.g. drug services, homelessness, young people's services etc) it would be completely impossible to come up with such a vague set of offers and call it a service.

    Speaks to one of the main problems of the Work Programme - the media-friendly headline amounts are eye-catching, but need to be seen in the context of performance expectations, which are in any case being missed. Seen in that context, the WP is a cheap intervention at an anticipated payment of not much more than £1000 per head per participant for two years of support, which doesn't buy much contact and even less of the sort of meaningful skills and training efforts that might genuinely make a difference.

    As an aside, this isn't necessarily a call for more money to be put into the Programme; it's broadly speaking the wrong sort of intervention for the current economic environment and job market, but providing a cheap and cheerful intervention is going to be less effective than a higher cost, higher quality one.

    Finally, well spotted re. the Institute for Public Policy Research proposals, which have also been covered briefly here and found wanting, at large part due to the reason you touch on. Interesting table comparing the relative generosity of unemployment benefit compared to average net earnings too:

    The percentages of course need to be seen in the context of local conditions, so (for example) Poland's relatively low wages and high costs will make their 59% worth less that our 54% both absolutely and in terms of purchasing power, but looking at western Europe, it does tend to give the lie to the notion that state financial support for the unemployed in the UK is exceptionally lavish.

  4. What have I done to find employment? This is the question that is asked by JCP\WP at every appointment,"Everything possible" not trying to sound like a dipstick,but what can you offer? Retraining? Certification? At 50 years old it use to be that you went on to the next job because of contacts from the last,now without certificates you are not even considered,the WP response? NO Funding,the JCP? sorry you are on the WP It is a merry go round,I have had no contact with the WP for 8 weeks due to the staff having "Training days" Training for what? Frustrated,not really,as they provide nothing(other than a Bus ticket) it has had no impact on my life...Still disappointed in the whole degrading process,had really hoped for more.

  5. "It's amazing that the DWP thought a brief interview once a month was enough, and how that squares with the idea of "a tailored journey"

    My previous advisor left after Christmas and it took almost three months to even get a replacement ....

  6. I have been Sofa surfing for over 2 years,I was asked to supply the addresses of places I have stayed,I complied and now they have contacted these people which worried them,as although no threats were made they were implied.

    I asked if Housing was available,No What do you suggest? stay with friends or family...?????What do you think I was doing? Incredulous.

    1. I am confused.I thought a4es objective is to help you find employment,not waste time checking confirmation of every address you have stayed at. What business is it of theirs were you stay or have stayed, as long as you have a single address to claim your benefits from(this includes a c/o address) and it matches with JCP records,then I dont see the point of their actions. Unfortunately their 'tailored support' doesnt include signposting to organisations who can help with your housing,that would be deemed too complicated.

  7. Work Programme outcomes delayed until 27th June,rather than 28th of may...Why?

  8. I signed on at the Jobcentre yesterday. I was asked what plan the Work Programme had for moving me into employment.

    At my last meeting the work programme rep stated there were three ways I could look for a job: I could fill in application forms; I could send CVs in response to advertisements; I could send out speculative letters.

    The work programme rep was leaning over as he said it, as if he was imparting highly confidential information that few people had been made aware of.

    If I was patronised in this manner in any other situation I would walk away. However, because the work programme is backed by a sanctions regime I have no option than to put up with it.

    In prison the worst the authorities can do is restrict the right to buy sweets and cigarettes or pub me into cell for solitary confinement.

    I don't smoke and stopped eating chocolate regularly ten years ago; I wanted to stop putting on weight. The main way that I manage cope financially is by staying indoors for up to three days a week in a high rise council flat which has a bed, a table one chair, and a broken chest of draws.

    IF I refuse to participate in the farce that is the work programme I will be sanctioned, and so be unable to purchase food, or afford bus fare. I have mobility problems and cannot walk for long distances without suffering significant pain.

    I look for work intensively twice a week and check websites every week day. The employment situation is the worst that it has been in my lifetime.

    I have never been to prison, but I cannot imagine that being sent to an open prison for a minor offence can be worse than being unemployed in Britain in 2013. Perhaps this is the point of the work programme.

    1. HI Anon, Sorry to hear of your plight which, unfortunately, is all too common. Just about everyone who has had any dealings at all with the Work Programme knows that the point is NOT to find work for people. Creating the environment and circumstances where real jobs can be created is the responsibility of the government of the day. Too bad that they have a different agenda and see that a reservoir of unemployed keeps wages down and suppresses employment rights. Meanwhile the WP enables the providers to play a lucrative game of musical chairs with the unemployed (whilst not reducing the total unemployed by one iota). Some people have become (and continue to become) obscenely rich at the expense of public money for providing practically nothing and certainly not "improving anyone's life".
      I was thinking of writing a fictional essay about this but concluded that it would not be believable. A case of real life being so dystopian that one needs to pinch oneself to make sure that one is not dreaming.
      All we can do is try to survive and to resist in whatever ways we can.
      Good Luck and keep spreading the word.

    2. While doing MWA the choice was a Bus ticket(4hr's)
      or borrow a car.I made the wrong choice and used a friends car(it was a 6am start)the Jobsite was rural,on the last week of MWA I ran into a Police road block,I was not on the policy,car seized (paid to get it back)Fines totalled £892 I pleaded Guilty..After a dressing down by the Magistrate I was asked if I had anything to say..
      "I requested to be remanded for no less than 15 days" WHY? The 3 "R's" your Honour,Retraining, Rehousing and Rehabilitation..I await their Verdict.


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