Vox Political Reports the Return of the Workhouse

This is truly chilling, and should frighten and upset anyone, who has any idea of history, or has simply read Dickens. Mike over at Vox Political has this piece reporting the conversion of a former bus depot in Blackburn into a recycling centre and accommodation for the homeless. The inmates will not only be given a roof over their head, but also training, education and work experience et cetera.

Mike’s report begins

Yes, you read the headline correctly. As originally reported on this blog in November last year, a former bus depot in Blackburn seems set to become the first new workhouse the UK has seen since before the Second World War.

Amazingly, Labour-controlled Blackburn with Darwen Council has approved in principle the sale and conversion of the Transdev/Lancashire United garage in Manner Sutton Street in Eanam on the edge of Blackburn town.

“SENIOR councillors have approved the framework of a deal to transform a semi-derelict former bus depot into a charity and recycling centre.

Under the scheme, up to 10 otherwise homeless people would live at the site under supervision.”

A charity calling itself Recycling Lives would run the site as a recycling centre for metal, scrap cars, tyres, plastics, televisions and redundant household items.

You can expect more of this as the government’s decimation of the NHS and the welfare state continues. The workhouses are usually considered something from the 19th century, but they continued in England right up to 1947. They were only ended by the creation of the welfare state.

And I’m not surprised that it was a Labour council, which approved the scheme. I dare say that as it was presented to them, it seemed very left-wing and progressive: housing, training and support for the homeless and unemployed, as well as recycling, so appropriately Green and environmentally friendly. And of course, there are enough Blairites still in the Labour party, who think hitting the working class as hard as possible and cutting benefits to the poorest is perfectly acceptable if it wins the support of the aspirational middle classes and the approval of Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre.

This shows just how far back our political class is willing to take us. All the way back to the 19th century. And if you have any doubt just how nasty and degrading these institutions were, remember that when they were set up they were called ‘The new bastilles’. They were a product of the Liberal administration, and even the Tories in some areas were so horrified by them that they refused to build them.

This is a vital issue that I intend to blog about in the future. In the meantime, Mike’s article can be read at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/10/28/workhouse-deal-is-signed-between-council-and-charity/. Go and do so. This is a warning of what will come.

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6 Responses to “Vox Political Reports the Return of the Workhouse”

  1. John D Turner Says:

    Say hello to the ‘workhouses’ of the Foyer Federation (http://foyer.net/).

    A workhouse was a public institution in which the destitute of a parish received board and lodging in return for work. How is this variation on the foyer model a workhouse?

    What are your proposals to address the issues this project addresses? Incidentally, Corbyn signed up to Labour’s Job Guarantee back in March this year. Does that make him a Blairite?

    Better aspirational middle classes than affluent middle class types like Milne and Burgon.

    • beastrabban Says:

      You asked that question over on Mike’s site, Vox Political, and I refer you the answer he gave there. Also your statement that a workhouse was a public institution in which the destitute of a parish received board and lodging in return for work effectively describes what this is. It may not be a public institution, but you can bet it’ll be asking for public money and support, and the lines between the private sector and the public are becoming extremely mixed and blurred, a workhouse is a what it is, regardless of what it describes itself as.

      • John D Turner Says:

        Have you ever thought of getting out from behind your keyboard and asking what the homeless want from a project like this? I have.

        I also have decades of experience working in this area and I see nothing fundamentally wrong with a project of this type. I have no problem with partnerships between the public, private and voluntary and community sector. Partnerships along the line of those that were set up to deliver New Deal for Young People and New Deal for Lone Parents.

        Seemingly, only the ideologues of the Right and the Left object to projects like this one. The Right think they should be funded by charitable donations not the taxpayer whilst you also object to them being funded by the taxpayer without suggesting any alternative method of funding and/or delivery.

        I suspect the project has been set up on the basis that the residents will at least receive help with their rent and Council Tax. Moreover, they may be receiving start up support from a range of public, private and voluntary and community sector sources. The big issue will be creating revenue streams going forward to maintain the project. I assume that is the idea behind Recycling Lives (http://www.recyclinglives.com/) taking space within the converted building.

        Where is there any suggestion that people will be compelled to take part in, say, the recycling? As for the supervision, I would be surprised if there were no 24/7 supervision, support if you prefer, in a project working with homeless people. People, who often, though not always, have chaotic lifestyles and present with multiple problems, some of which affect their employability. Just the lack of a fixed abode may make the difference between being asked in for a job interview or not.

        I would hazard a guess that this is the sort of a project that might well invite Jeremy Corbyn along for a visit. It is very socialist in nature, people being helped to help themselves to improve their lot. Should you know a better way for those at a disadvantage to do that then instead of criticising projects like this one, why do you not blog about your ideas? I would suggest, though, that before you put finger to keyboard that you do some research and ask those for whom you claim to speak what they want.

  2. beastrabban Says:

    I don’t think you really understand the dangers in this, nor my objections to them. Let’s deal with your points one by one.

    ‘Seemingly, only the ideologues of the Right and the Left object to projects like this one. The Right think they should be funded by charitable donations not the taxpayer whilst you also object to them being funded by the taxpayer without suggesting any alternative method of funding and/or delivery.’

    That’s not at all why object to it. I have absolutely no objection to the state funding or managing homeless shelters and dormitories. And I do want more social housing to be built and for affordable housing to mean affordable for everyone, not affordable for the less wealthy but certainly not to the proles, which seems to be the government’s position at the moment.

    Now I’m sorry that you don’t see the inherent dangers in this. First of all, there is the problem of supervision. I’m well aware that many homeless people have drug and alcohol problems. However, at no point does this describe the limits placed on this supervision. How personal and intrusive does it get? It looks good on paper, but then so do many of the government’s welfare policies. A ‘work coach’ a la IDS sounds excellent, until you find out from brutal personal experience that they don’t actually give you any advice, but are simply there to bully you into getting a job. Sorry, motivate you.

    Now let’s deal with the recycling. Read the article – that’s only one side of it. They say that they will offer work experience, training and so on. Presumably, this will include the homeless, though it may not. Where’s the guarantee that they will receive a living wage? What protection do they have from workfare, for example, which will mandate the unemployed to work for charities simply for their benefit money.

    I also refer you to Teresa Parry’s comment over at Mike’s blog:

    ‘There is a lot of recycling going on in Blackburn, which I think is a good idea.

    For example; Cycle Roots take old bicycles, fix them or strip for parts, then sell cheap. They use volunteers, unemployed and skills are gained from this. I know a young man with Learning difficulties who works there and it occupies him for a day instead of sitting playing games because no one will employ him.
    This is just one example, there are furniture, books, clothes, white goods, all recycled and sold cheap to the many people in this deprived area who could not afford them otherwise.
    The other plus to these enterprises is that we are saving on waste disposal by re-using items, we live in a ‘throw away world’ polluting and using up valuable resources.

    This Centre will also give 10 homeless people a place to sleep, not a bad thing. People want to do something worthwhile, work with their hands and the finished product can provide something for people on the breadline.

    What I don’t agree with;
    These CIC’s & Charities are running these schemes for their own benefit. I’m sure if they weren’t, some enterprising volunteers would build them into a business creating jobs & paying wages because there is a lot of scope in this town for cheap items.

    Also, the schemes are used for ‘Workfare’ which is just slave labour.

    When I was employed as a Supervisor in one outlet (didn’t last long) we talked about starting up our own business. There is just not the will though to take on a venture in this financial climate.

    I thought I disagreed with you when I started to write but now I am on the fence!
    But for the immediate future, some poor people will have a roof and something to build their self esteem.’

    Also Shaun’s:

    ‘Mike while I was a part-time lecturer at university this sort of scheme was being talked about as a solution for the homelessness problem. Most of those involved would be classed as from the ‘New Labour’ element, but with a tendency towards the Puritanical. If my memory serves me well, and if it is that’s unusual, the schemes derive from a French system know as Foyers(?). You are right to be sceptical as there is plenty of room within this system for exploitation and for more damage to be done to individual’s self-esteem than good. It’s that unquestioned belief in the ability of markets to provide solutions in all cases and at all times if the right mechanism can be found. Octavia Hill is the often quoted hero of this group – tough love delivered by ‘well meaning’ self-made men and women, where the market is emperor and the individual apt to moral deficiencies, unlike them who fought and struggled to make it in life. With friends like that it’s hard to differentiate friends from enemies, no wonder the working-class do not which way to turn. So let’s hope Corbyn can get his message delivered.’

  3. John D Turner Says:

    What inherent dangers? You, Mike and the commentators on his blog are reading a hell of a lot into one local news report. You are speculating without much in the way of fact about not a generic, but a specific project which you have turned into a straw man. This stuff with which I disagree happens elsewhere, therefore, it must happen here and so on. If running things down, on the basis of little or no evidence, were an Olympic Sport then Great Britain would be in pole position for a Gold every four years. The Internet has merely magnified that cynical, pessimistic trait.

    Why do you object to a project (or projects) involving a partnership between the public and voluntary and community sectors designed to help the homeless improve their lot? What has this project got to do with IDS and his Work Coaches? 24/7 supervision is standard in projects like this that are providing accommodation for the homeless. Nothing sinister about that when it has been standard practice for over 15 years. I know because I sat on an interview panel back in 1998 for such a supervisory position with St Basils here in Birmingham (http://www.stbasils.org.uk/).

    Why are you seeking to read things into the article which are not there? I am opposed to workfare on principle. I am a keen advocate of work experience where it may be shown to be of benefit to an individual. We are not talking about individuals here and, if we were than I would hazard that I am the only one of us who is competent to undertake a diagnostic interview to determine the support an individual might need to improve their employability. I was a pukka Work Coach back in the day when Jobcentre staff routinely gave employment and benefit advice in places like Probation Offices, but never food banks.

    So Teresa has problems with Community Interest Companies (http://www.cicassociation.org.uk/about/what-is-a-cic) and thinks they and charities run such projects for their own benefit. A criticism I and others have made of the Big Society is that Cameron and Company think it would run on fresh air. Seemingly Teresa (and you?) are similarly deluded.

    We stopped talking about not for profit organisations and switched to describing them as social enterprises in an effort to stress they need to make money over and above their day to day running costs in order to survive from one year to the next. Shock, horror, then that organisations seek to make a surplus. You may have noticed that one of the weaknesses of Kids Company’s business model was its lack of financial reserves?

    And the comments of Shaun, a middle class ex part time lecturer (in sociology?) are frankly risible. Apart from anything else, foyers are not intended to be a way of ending homelessness. Foyers provide a half way house and the traditional model would see young people in work or training living alongside those out of work. Their one common bond being that the foyer provides them with a home and camaraderie whilst they find other forms of accommodation.

    What will Shaun do when Corbyn turns up at such a project for a guided tour? What will you and Mike do? Projects like foyers are socialism in action. They are about a hand up, not a hand out and their origins pre-date the writings of Karl Marx and Octavia Hill. I suspect a fair few of those earnest, well intentioned people who came out to vote for Jeremy Corbyn are involved with similar projects to that in Blackburn in their own communities. Momentum has even talked, wrongly in my opinion, of setting up food banks.

    The people who will decide if this project is up to snuff are the homeless of Blackburn. Rarely do you, Mike or the commentators on his post mention them not as abstracts, but as people with minds of their own. My socialism is grounded in helping people to find their own voices so they may articulate their own thoughts, desires and fears. To do that you need to have a conversation with them not lecture at them nor presume to speak for them. Stop asking each other if they take sugar and ask them directly.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Okay, John – let’s deal with your impassioned reply, point by point:

      What inherent dangers? You, Mike and the commentators on his blog are reading a hell of a lot into one local news report. You are speculating without much in the way of fact about not a generic, but a specific project which you have turned into a straw man. This stuff with which I disagree happens elsewhere, therefore, it must happen here and so on. If running things down, on the basis of little or no evidence, were an Olympic Sport then Great Britain would be in pole position for a Gold every four years. The Internet has merely magnified that cynical, pessimistic trait.

      But you haven’t done anything to rebut my points either, merely screamed that I’m being cynical about it. The problem is, cynicism is justified. If you take the Tories at face value, everything they’ve done looks wonderful. The reality is that isn’t, and rotten to the core. I’ve told you precisely what the dangers are, but you prefer to ignore that, crying that it’s all an exaggeration. That is not a rebuttal.

      Why do you object to a project (or projects) involving a partnership between the public and voluntary and community sectors designed to help the homeless improve their lot? What has this project got to do with IDS and his Work Coaches? 24/7 supervision is standard in projects like this that are providing accommodation for the homeless. Nothing sinister about that when it has been standard practice for over 15 years. I know because I sat on an interview panel back in 1998 for such a supervisory position with St Basils here in Birmingham (http://www.stbasils.org.uk/http://www.stbasils.org.uk/).

      Congratulations on having sat on an interview panel 15 years ago. I told you precisely what this has to do with IDS and his work coaches. I’m sorry if I didn’t make myself sufficiently understood. I was making the point that the work coaches now look great on paper. They aren’t. They’re bullies. I know. You said you were one of them – do you agree then with what they’ve become? As I said, there is the danger that however wonderful this looks, it will be not live it up to its promise.

      So Teresa has problems with Community Interest Companies (http://www.cicassociation.org.uk/about/what-is-a-cichttp://www.cicassociation.org.uk/about/what-is-a-cic) and thinks they and charities run such projects for their own benefit. A criticism I and others have made of the Big Society is that Cameron and Company think it would run on fresh air. Seemingly Teresa (and you?) are similarly deluded.

      Please try to avoid the ad hominem. I can also say, and with good reason, that you, too are deluded for not realising the perils of this. But let’s go further. Clearly, some supposed charities are being run for profit. You have only to look at the various heads of third sector organisations paying themselves massive salaries, while demanding their cut of public money. And you haven’t responded to Teresa’s comments that many of them use workfare. You know perfectly well they do and are. Instead you merely scream about how you are the greater expert on this than I am.

      We stopped talking about not for profit organisations and switched to describing them as social enterprises in an effort to stress they need to make money over and above their day to day running costs in order to survive from one year to the next. Shock, horror, then that organisations seek to make a surplus. You may have noticed that one of the weaknesses of Kids Company’s business model was its lack of financial reserves?

      Yes, I’m well aware of the collapse of Kid’s Company. I am also very well aware of the need for financial security. Now I have a problem with public-private partnerships like these because I don’t see that they are performing better than the state. Indeed, my own suspicion is that they are inadequate, and excuse for the government to cut state services under the mistaken idea that private enterprise will always do this better.

      And the comments of Shaun, a middle class ex part time lecturer (in sociology?) are frankly risible. Apart from anything else, foyers are not intended to be a way of ending homelessness. Foyers provide a half way house and the traditional model would see young people in work or training living alongside those out of work. Their one common bond being that the foyer provides them with a home and camaraderie whilst they find other forms of accommodation.

      You don’t know what his background or qualifications are. I told you not to be ad hominem. I assume he knows what he’s talking about, because he has studied it or heard from those who do. Now I’m very well aware that I make comments about the middle classes, but social origin does not necessarily mean that someone is automatically a villain or a blackguard. And I would be careful about sneering about someone else’s social origins when your position as a work coach automatically places you in the middle classes.

      Secondly, you clearly have no idea what sociology is like. It involves ethnography – actually talking to people involved in a given situation, sometimes even participant observation. When I was on a course for this at Uni there were people who had lived and worked with homeless and with drug addicts. As you should be aware, if you have worked as a responsible officer in the Benefits Agency, there are protocols and ethical committees supervising sociological research to make sure their findings are objective/ trustworthy and that they don’t misrepresent or exploit the people they are researching. You sneer at him because he may be a sociologist. I don’t know if he is or isn’t, but if he is, that does not mean his knowledge is less than yours. Indeed, it might even be that his is greater.

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