Sunday, 29 September 2013

"For Hardworking People"

That's the slogan for this year's Conservative Party Conference - although they're all forgetting and referring to "hardworking families".  So they're not for the single, the pensioner, the sick, the disabled, etc., etc.  We already know that the latest kicking of welfare claimants is that all those who are long-term unemployed will be subjected to a form of workfare.  They know that they're onto a winner with the electorate.  But it's doubtful whether they will elaborate on exactly how it's to be done.  Remember that the government currently refuses to disclose which firms and organisations take free labour from MWA and the like.  If lots more people are to be offered for free labour there will need to be more companies involved.  Will we be allowed to know which ones?  (Short answer - no.)
The media continue to ignore the fact that the government refuses to publish the numbers of those who have been "sanctioned".  I found this link (in a comment on the Conservative Home website); "A Selection of Especially Stupid Benefit Sanctions".  All of them are sourced, and a lot come from MPs.  Essential reading for Iain Duncan Smith, one would have thought.
For many churches, today is Harvest Festival; and many of them will be donating the produce to their local food banks.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Nine charged with fraud

It's all over the media by now.  The Slough fraud allegations have dragged on a long time, but now nine A4e former employees have been charged with a total of 60 counts of forgery and conspiracy to defraud.  According to the BBC they were working on a programme called "Inspire to Aspire", a local initiative very much like the Work Programme.  They will appear in court on 14 October.
Both the Guardian and the Independent front their pieces with a photo of Emma Harrison.  Curiously, the Independent says that "prosecutors have not been asked to consider charges" against her personally.  It also quotes the head of fraud at the Crown Prosecution Service, who describes A4e as "a social purpose company"; we thought that particular label had been buried.
The company did discover and report the fraudulent activity themselves - they had to.  And they will be glad to get the case out of the way and say it couldn't happen again.

Work Programme data

The figures have been published.  There's a summary here or a detailed analysis here.  Unless you're a glutton for statistics, it takes some ploughing through, but one significant point is that only 18 out of 40 contracts achieved their minimum performance targets, and the performance for ESA claimants is terrible.  I'll wait for someone else to analyse these figures properly and extract the meat, but it's much as we expected - not very good.
As several readers have already pointed out, A4e is one of the companies being penalised for poor performance, as the BBC reports.  But all that happens is that they see a small cut in the number of referrals in three areas.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013


The latest batch of Work Programme statistics is due for release on Thursday, 26 September.  I don't expect anything startling.  And I don't expect the media to take an interest.  The significant numbers will be the outcomes for the long-term jobless, and the "sustainment" payments.  The latter will give an indication of whether providers can cope financially with the contracts.  Comparisons between providers also matter.  We can expect the headline, from both the DWP and the ERSA, to be raw numbers, which tell us nothing.

There's another important set of figures which the government has obviously decided to bury - the data on sanctions.  They were due out last May but the DWP waffled about quality issues with the data.  Then there were indications that the delay might be down to the hiatus caused by the high court ruling and the need to legalise what had been declared illegal.  Then there was a hint that an announcement would be made in August.  Still nothing.  But we do have an announcement that there will be "an independent review of benefit sanctions".  Don't get your hopes up.  This is only to look at the "clarity of information" given to JSA claimants about the process.  It's to be carried out by a think-tanker, a theorist called Matthew Oakley.  I wonder if he will talk to anyone who has been punished.  A comment by Mark Hoban is insulting: "It is important that Jobseekers know exactly what is expected of them when they apply for Jobseeker's Allowance, and that they risk having their benefits sanctioned if they fail to play by the rules." [My italics]  Perhaps it's a game to you, Mr Hoban, but not to those who suddenly find themselves penniless.  There is so much about this regime that should be examined by a qualified independent person.  He might, for instance, consider a story in Sunday's Observer which shows that one in three homeless people on JSA have been penalised, compared to about 3% of jobseekers overall.  But this review is simply a cosmetic exercise.

That last story, the Observer article, ends in the now familiar way, with a quote from that shadowy figure, the DWP spokesman.  This person always makes political statements of dubious accuracy, but is never named.  Is this a civil servant doing his master's bidding?  Or a political aide to whom IDS has passed the buck?  Either way, if the journalists can't get a comment directly from those responsible, i.e. the politicians, they should refuse to publish this anonymous nonsense.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

"A4e found guilty of racial discrimination"

That's the headline of the story in the Guardian.  No one else has picked it up (yet) but it's perhaps indicative of deeper problems.
In the Bradford office of A4e three managers were alleged to have failed to follow proper procedures.  Only one of the three, Rohim Ullah, was subjected to investigation and sacked.  And he was the only one who was black.  He took his case to a tribunal and won.  A4e has been ordered to pay £50,000 in compensation.
It's not major, perhaps.  But, as the Guardian points out, A4e has been paid £345m by us since 2010 for its "employment services", so we are entitled to question the culture inside it.  If A4e discriminates where its staff are involved, what about its clients?

Sunday, 15 September 2013


"Contractorisation" - a hideous word coined by David Cameron when he was questioned recently by a parliamentary committee.  He was asked about Chris Grayling's statement that companies which are guilty of malpractice or gross failure could be ruled out of future contracts.  (Think Serco and G4S.)  Would this happen?  Cameron was vague, but said he was in favour of more "contractorisation".  Of course he was vague.  Because it won't happen.  For one thing it would be a legal minefield, and for another, who else is there?  He was also asked about the timetable for bringing in Universal Credit, and was equally vague, leading people to conclude that he and the government know it's not remotely on schedule, and only Iain Duncan Smith thinks it is.
With the start of the party conference season, we can see very clearly that there is consensus among the main parties about welfare and outsourcing.  Clegg waffled this morning about "making work pay" and dodged a question about the deepening poverty of those on benefits.  This is the Tory attitude as well; they believe that they have won the argument.  Tales of hardship can be brushed aside, because a majority of the electorate have accepted the propaganda.  Michael Gove caused a bit of a fuss by saying that he thought people who used food banks were just bad at managing their money.  Various Labour MPs are willing to put a different point of view, but their party would not alter anything the Tories have done.  Nor would they call a halt to the outsourcing.
Cameron, Gove, Clegg et al are not necessarily bad people.  They have good intentions towards people whose lives they cannot begin to understand.  When they are confronted with the truth they can't accept it.  And now that the economic figures aren't quite as bad as they were, they can proclaim that they were right.  It's grim.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Not working enough

It is fundamental to the government's approach to welfare to believe that claiming benefits is a choice people make.  They call it "languishing on benefits" and describe it as a "lifestyle choice".  When it dawned on them that most people on benefits were actually in work, and were able to claim tax credits because their pay was so abysmally low, or because they were working part-time - well, that must be a choice, too.  Little noticed some time ago was the announcement that in order to claim working tax credits people would have to be working 30 hours a week.  Clearly, and explicitly, the delusion was that people working fewer hours than that could find some more somewhere.  And now comes the plan to deal with those "not working enough".  Last Saturday's Guardian had a chilling article about it.  "People earning between £330 and £950 a month - just under the rate of the national minimum wage for a 35-hour week - could be mandated to attend jobcentre meetings where their working habits will be examined as part of the universal credit programme."  This makes perfect sense in the government's thinking.  UC will ensure that "work pays"; so people must be pressured into working more.  And if you're not making enough effort, you can be stripped of your benefits.  There will be seven categories of claimants, apparently, including those "too sick to work" and those "too committed to work" (which would include lone parents), as well as those "not working enough".  The language of the documents seen by the Guardian includes horrible phrases like "the claimant journey".   The TUC has responded with the obvious objections, including forcing people to live in constant fear and insecurity.
All of this is called "in-work conditionality", and the Resolution Foundation has published a report on the implications.  It's well worth reading.  One point which has been raised by many people is that the resources simply aren't there to implement this.  More contracts, perhaps?  The private sector is already cashing in.  A system called Worktrack is set to replace Universal Jobmatch.  It's a much more sophisticated system - take the tour on their website.  But then look at the pricing - between £500 and £600 per adviser license, with discounts for multiple advisers.  And consider that it is extremely unlikely that it will be voluntary for the client to sign up for this.

One company's opinion on how to make the Work Programme better has been published.  G4S, like all the providers, has been invited to submit ideas for the "next generation" of the WP.  It's not encouraging for anyone who wants to see an end to this useless scheme.  Naturally, the providers want to "reform" it in their own financial interests.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Concerns about the Work Programme - implications for the providers

Back in May the Work and Pensions Select Committee reported its concerns about the Work Programme.  The DWP has now responded.  You can read a useful summary on the Indus Delta site.  It's all interesting, but there are two points which are particularly relevant for the providers.

1) Market share shift.  This is the penalty providers are supposed to pay if they fail; a shifting of some of their share of referrals to other providers.  The committee wanted this shift to be "carefully and transparently applied" and wanted to know what work had been done on its likely impact.  The reply is that the DWP has already "adjusted the shares according to performance levels over 12 months".  So who has lost and who has gained?  There wasn't a great deal of difference in performance among all the providers.

2) Attachment fees.  These are due to stop in April 2014.  The committee thought they should be retained beyond that date "to protect service delivery".  The reply is non-committal: "The department will monitor the success of incentives under the payment by results model and make changes if it deems them necessary."  Now, this appears to mean that if the incentives are not successful, i.e. the providers don't make enough profit, the attachment fees could be retained.  And that's crazy.

One other "concern" will interest those who are coming to the end of their stint on the WP.  The committee wanted to ensure that people who hadn't got work should be provided with specialist support or "allowed to extend their time on the Work Programme".  (They didn't, apparently, see any irony in this.)  The response is that the Mandatory Intervention Regime (a phrase that's new to me) is already dealing with this, and that "post-work programme support remains flexible and tailored to individual needs."  So you've no need to worry.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The shambles that is Universal Credit

I really have nothing much to say.  Iain Duncan Smith has been all over the news today because of the National Audit Office's report into how Universal Credit is going, and we've said it all on here before.  The only thing which strikes me is how keen IDS has been to blame everybody except himself.  Mainly, it's been the civil servants being made to carry the can.
I know people want to comment on all this, so go ahead.  But don't go overboard.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The battleground

Issues of welfare and low pay are set to become the battleground in the 2015 election.  Opening shots have been fired this week, and, as always, factual reports quickly get countered by ideological nonsense.

The stories about zero hours contracts started a little while ago.  The numbers of people estimated to be trapped on these contracts rapidly rose, while noises from government about what they were prepared to do about it petered out.  Then came a report that a relatively sensible Tory strategist has said that his party won't make any headway in poorer areas of the country unless it is prepared to raise the minimum wage and work towards the living wage.  A detailed story in the Independent shows how nervous the Tories are about this.  Naturally their paymasters don't want to pay higher wages; they would much prefer to be subsidised by the taxpayer (which is all of us).  While Labour and the Lib Dems have more or less committed to this, the Conservatives remain ideologically bound to the concept of an untrammelled free market in wages.  Today the BBC news website published some interesting figures from the Resolution Foundation, showing that 20% of all workers earn less than the living wage.

But any attempt to have a sensible discussion on such issues is derailed by far-right pressure groups like the odious Taxpayers' Alliance, which often puts out press releases like a brattish child demanding attention.  As the BBC site headlined it, "Force claimants to work for benefits, government urged".  It displays the TPA's usual ignorance of the current system, but it got the publicity they wanted, not least from the Express.  In a typically hate-filled and untruthful report, the paper repeats the TPA's made-up figures of a saving of £3.5bn a year.  It accompanies this with a photograph, apparently authentically taken outside a jobcentre of the most unprepossessing youths they could find.  The Express also has a piece, complete with maps, to show where the highest numbers of households without work are.  Again, with criminal disregard for truth, all of these households (which include disabled people and their carers, for example) are labelled "work-shy".  And the areas where most people are out of work are called unproductive, as if they could be thrown away.

So, while we need a genuine debate on welfare and wages, we need to base it on truth.  And that will probably be impossible.

Finally, I couldn't resist this from an American website.  Iain Duncan Smith is giving a lecture later this month to a right-wing organisation on "21st Century Welfare Reform".  "He explains how transforming the country's welfare system goes hand in hand with transforming people's life chances - continuing a historic mission that Conservatives from William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury and Abraham Lincoln have always had to help people improve the quality of their lives."  What?????  I don't know much about Lincoln but I know a great deal about Wilberforce and Shafesbury.  IDS, you are no Wilberforce and you are no Shaftesbury.