There are two big stories to look at today. First let's look at:
The latest sanctions figures have, at last, been published. Between October 2012 and June 2013 they show a rise of 6% on the same period a year before, to 580,000. Think about that - more than half a million. The BBC website explains the new rules, and says that 53% of the decisions were at the lowest level, up to 13 weeks, for such failures as not attending an appointment. Then it says that about 1 in 5 were for failing to keep an appointment with an adviser. Esther McVey is trotted out to speak for the DWP, saying that sanctions were only used against those who were "wilfully rejecting support for no good reason".
In another piece the BBC's Sean Clare looks at "Life when the Jobcentre says you broke the rules". It brings out some of the absurdities and injustices of the system, with several horror stories. The CAB is quoted as saying that they've seen a 64% rise in people coming to them because of sanctions. The PCS union, whose members have to administer the regime, says, "There's no question that there is an overarching pressure to enforce the sanctions regime as strictly as possible." The DWP, of course "flatly denies" this. But the article has stories which cannot be brushed aside in this way.
"UP TO THE JOB?"
BBC Radio 4 did a "File on 4" programme yesterday on the Work Programme, which gives me my title for this post. It seems that Esther McVey has rapidly absorbed her boss's approach to uncomfortable facts; three times her response was to say that she didn't believe it.
The programme started in Eastbourne, where unemployment is a lot lower than the national average, but the local MP Stephen Lloyd (a Lib Dem) is angry at the number of people who have done their 2-year stint on the WP and been failed by it. One 47-year-old man said that there was no respect and he was treated like a child. A woman said she'd seen her advisor only once a month.
The WP providers there are Avanta and G4S. One older woman who had a good experience (and found a job) through a sub-contractor of G4S was interviewed. But the programme then turned to Richard Johnson, formerly of Ingeus (didn't he work for Serco too?). He said that the quality of the contract was deteriorating because case-loads were now up to 240 per adviser. McVey said she didn't believe it. The official figure is 80 - 140. And, she said, people can make a complaint.
The point which emerged was that of the just under 2.5 million who are unemployed, 900,000 have been out of work for a year or more and these, along with those with medical problems, are not being helped. A consultant, a chap called Grimes, said that the sanctions against the worst-performing providers (the 5% "market shift") are inadequate. The DWP should remove their contracts altogether, but the providers know that this is not going to happen.
The attachment fees are due to end in April 2014. Johnson spoke about the discounts of 30% or more offered by some of the providers when they bid. These are back-loaded to years 4 and 5 (i.e. at this point the providers will get 30% less for outcomes) on the assumption by the providers that the government would never let this happen. The contracts, he said, are not viable at this price. Deloitte's, who partnered with Ingeus, are now trying to sell their shares, and Johnson thinks it's because they understand the implications of the discounts. "I don't believe that", said McVey. She thinks Deloitte's want out because they are doing very well.
Turning to those on ESA, the programme highlighted a man who had been sent to Triage Central. In 7 visits he saw an advisor only once and got no help at all. He said that the emphasis was on what he was doing wrong. Disability Rights UK said that the Work Programme isn't working for disabled people, and a 90% failure rate is not acceptable. Once again, McVey said, "I don't believe it."
More or less the last word came from Grimes, who said that the long-term unemployed were at the back of the queue and moving backwards.
Lots to comment on, I think.