Well, where to start? "Welfare" has certainly been in the news this week.
On the outsourcing front, we knew that there were moves to oust ATOS from their WCA contracts and move the work to other providers. Today we learn that the company has announced that it wants out. They gave the information to the Financial Times, perhaps significantly, giving as the reason the abuse of their staff. They say that they've been trying to agree an early exit for some months (the contracts are due to end in August 2015) but won't walk away until there are other providers in place. The BBC news website reports that the government is furious at this announcement because it will probably mean that other companies will put in lower bids to take on the work than they otherwise would. Which other companies would pick up this poisoned chalice? Capita already has half the PIP contracts, along with ATOS, so they might be keen. Then there are the other usual suspects, including A4e. This is not, after all, payment by results (not officially, anyway) so it's a guaranteed income. But would it be worth the hassle?
The row between the government and church leaders escalated this week. 27 Anglican bishops and 15 nonconformist church leaders wrote a letter, published in the Mirror, which attacks in no uncertain terms the government's creation of a "national crisis" of hardship and hunger. This forced the whole subject onto the agenda, with much discussion on TV and radio about Cameron's claim to a "moral mission". The debate was further fuelled by the publication of the latest sanctions figures. Record numbers have been plunged into destitution in the year to September 2013; 897,690, including 22,840 ESA claimants. This compares with 500,000 in the year to April 2010. Iain Duncan Smith's response, parroted by his colleagues, was, "sanctions are used as a last resort". We remain unclear as to whether he actually believes that. My congratulations go to the Bishop of Manchester who, in the face of a very hostile interview on BBC radio, was extremely coherent and accurate about the hardship inflicted on individuals for no good reason.
However, a leak to the Guardian this week showed that, just when you thought they couldn't sink any lower, they do. The idea has been considered by the DWP of charging people who have been stripped of their benefits to take the case to appeal. At the moment 58% of appeals are successful. This is clearly too many for the DWP, so slapping on a charge which no one could afford to pay would cut this figure admirably.
While the expected drivel poured from the right-wing commentators and their readers, I do suspect that a lot of people who had previously taken no interest in the subject have now woken up to what is going on. It probably won't change anything in the long run, but getting all this out in the open can only be a good thing.