Posts Tagged ‘Government Contractors’

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 2

August 8, 2016

The arguments trotted out to support the workfare policies are these.

1. Everyone has a duty to work. Those who take money from the state have a reciprocal obligation to work for the support they have received.

2. Following Moynihan in America, it’s argued that part of the problem of poverty in society is communities, where there are families, which have not worked for generations. In order to break the cycle of poverty, these people must be forced into work.

3. It’s also argued that many individuals have also been unemployed for so long that they, too, have lost the habit of working. These people must also be forced to work.

4. The unemployed are also socially marginalised and excluded. Workfare helps them, its supporters argue, become integrated into society and so become productive members of the community once again.

5. It is also claimed that workfare allows people to acquire new skills. In 2012 a report was published on the exploitation of the people forced to work for free as security guards for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A spokesman for the ConDem coalition responded to the claim by stating: ‘The work programme is about giving people who have often been out of the workplace for quite some time the chance to develop skills that they need to get a job that is sustainable.’ As Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols sang back in 1977 ‘God save the Queen and the Fascist regime.’

6. Workfare somehow reduces government spending on welfare programmes. Liam Byrne, New Labour’s advocate for workfare, who was quoted in the first part of this article, said ‘The best way to save money is to get people back into work.’

In fact there are serious arguments against just about all of these points, and some of them simply aren’t factually true. Let’s deal with each of these arguments in turn.

The Duty to Work

If people have a duty to perform free work for the goods and services that are provided freely by the state, then the middle classes and the elite should particularly be targeted for workfare, because they use the state infrastructure and its services more than the proles and those at the bottom of society. But the middle and upper classes most definitely are not required to perform these services. Furthermore there are also strong objections to performing workfare for a profit-making company. Those who do so, like those poor souls working free of charge for the big supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, are helping to make these companies even more profitable. It isn’t society that profits from their work, but extremely wealthy individuals like David Sainsbury and his shareholders, and the people running his competitors, for example. This claim also implies that low income people have a duty to work in an inferior position for the benefit of their social or economic superiors in a master-servant relationship. This is a distortion of the concept of duty. The same idea also leads to the view that if you are unsuccessful in the labour market, you therefore have a duty to work for nothing, a view of society that is both regressive – harking back to some of the worst aspects of the Victorian era – an alienating. On the other hand, if you are performing work that is unprofitable, then there should be no duty to perform it. If it is genuine, valuable work, then the people performing it should be paid the current market rate, not simply provided with unemployment relief.

Standing also makes the point that the concept of duty has led to the belief that people should be forced to find work. But the use of coercion is divisive and actually undermines the commitment to work. He also argues that it actually amoral, because it takes away from workers their ability to choose for themselves whether to be moral. Plus the fact that workfare is not levied on the idle rich, or the friends and relatives of the politicians forcing it on others.

Multigenerational Families of the Unemployed

The number of families that actually fit this description is so small as to be negligible, both in America and over here in Blighty. The academics T. Shildrick, R. MacDonald, C. Webster, and K. Garthwaite examined this issue in their Poverty and Insecurity: Life in Low Pay, No Pay Britain (Bristol: Policy Press 2012). Their research revealed that only 1 per cent fitted the description of a family in which two generations were unemployed. Official attempts to find these pockets of intergenerational unemployment have similarly turned up next to zilch. The whole idea is rubbish, but that hasn’t stopped papers like the Daily Fail claiming it’s true.

Getting People out of the Habit of Not Having a Job

Researchers have also looked at this one, too, and guess what? Yup, it’s similarly rubbish. There are very few people like this. But rather than acting as an incentive to find work, actually being forced to work unpaid in poor conditions may actually act as a deterrent.

Integrating the Jobless Back into Society

Far from being calculated to help the long-term unemployed back into society, the type of work that they are forced to do under workfare is humiliating. In many cases, this is quite deliberate as part of the government’s ideology of ‘less eligibility’ and dissuading people from going on benefits. And studies by the researchers and the DWP itself have also found that workfare makes absolutely no difference to whether a claimant gets a job afterwards.

Enabling the Unemployed to Acquire New Skills

This is also rubbish, as the type of menial work people are giving under workfare, in which they sweep the streets or stack shelves, are by their nature unskilled. And if a skilled worker is forced to perform them for months on end, this type of work is actually like to make them lose their skills.

Workfare Cuts Government Spending

This is also rubbish. In fact, workfare increases government expenditure on the unemployed, as the government has to pay subsidies to the firms employing them, and pay the costs of administration, which are actually quite heavy. And the work those on the programme actually perform doesn’t produce much in the way of taxable income, so money doesn’t come back to the government. Furthermore, most of the people on benefits are actually working, which makes Liam Byrne’s statement that the best way to save money is to get people back into work’ a barefaced lie.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 4

August 8, 2016

Workfare Extends State Power

When the High and Appeal Courts upheld the challenge to performing mandatory workfare by the geology graduate, who objected to having to work in Poundland, and a young chap, who had been sanctioned for refusing it, the Condem government responded by rushing through emergency legislation making the refusal to perform workfare punishable by sanctions. The procedure in which the legislation was rushed through parliament was supposed to be use only in national emergencies. The legislation further contravened accepted notions of justice, in that it acted retrospectively. That is, it punished actions committed before the laws against them had been passed, an idea that strikes at the very notion of justice enshrined across the world in human rights laws. The Labour party, which should have opposed this motion, didn’t. They abstained, and members of the Shadow Cabinet were told that if they voted against the motion, they would have to resign. This demonstrates just how deeply workfare had become embedded as the official ideology of the state and the main parties.

Welfare-to-Work as Corporate Scam

The private companies administering workfare, such as A4E and Ingeus, have profited immensely from this new, growth industry in unfree labour. They are paid £13,500 for every person they manage to put in a long term job. If the job is only short-term, then they receive only half that amount. There is thus considerable pressure for them to choose only those most likely to obtain long term employment, and thus discriminate against vulnerable minorities, including the disabled. The Employment Related Services Association, the trade body for the welfare-to-work industry, complained that more of the people being referred to these companies were those with disabilities, who had been judged ‘fit for work’ according to the tests imposed for the Employment and Support Allowance awarded to the disabled to help them maintain their independence.

The workfare companies also have wide powers in deciding which ‘work placements’ to put people on, and what counts as ‘community benefit’. The DWP permits them to place workers in private companies if this is considered to benefit those firms’ local communities. For a long time the DWP has refused to publish the information on the allocation of workfare labourers to private firms. The government flatly refused to reveal the identities of the participating firms on the grounds that if they did so, the scheme would fail due to public pressure forcing them to drop out. A list of the firms involved has recently been released after a series of Freedom Of Information Act requests. The two largest workfare contractors also refused to comment, when they were asked if they were forcing the workers contracted to them to work for private companies.

Additionally, many of the private companies administering the scheme are run by, or have links to, politicians, which is symptomatic of the general corporate corruption of parliament and the revolving door between corporations, MPs and senior civil servants. Tomorrow’s People, the charity that became notorious for stranding the workfare labourers it had employed for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee under London Bridge, where they were forced to sleep, was run by a Conservative peer.

Conclusion: End Workfare Forced Labour

Workfare is thus highly exploitative, and should be banned. It is the thin edge of a wedge leading to the increasing use of force against the poor and unemployed. One staff member from the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux described the situation to Standing thus

The boundaries of the acceptable are being pushed further in the direction of unfree labour. We’ve been here before – breaking stones in return for food during the Irish famine, and similar schemes in 16th & 17th century England, the difference being that technology means peoples’ activity can be monitored more and informal economy lifelines are being pushed further underground. I was talking with a colleague who has picked up growth of prostitution as one means of survival. I don’t know what it would take to break us (society, whatever that means) out of apathy to make protests against what we’re doing to ourselves.

Standing also makes a very apt point, directed at those members of the Left, who refuse to take a stand on it, fearing that it would damage their parties’ chances of winning elections. He states

It is a moralistic policy that should be passionately opposed by every liberal and progressive. If doing so puts political success at risk, so be it. Values matter.

This looks like a dig at Blairite New Labour, which has consistently abstained on the workfare issue instead of firmly opposing it. The Blairites based New Labour’s electoral success on appealing to swing voters, and not challenging Tory policy, except on the grounds that they could administer it more efficiently and were more concerned with social justice. The latter view is particularly specious, as in many cases New Labour went much further in its austerity and privatisation programmes than the Tories. It’s a concern that still motivates the Blairites in their repeated campaigns against the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s not an excuse for failing to tackle this new form of forced labour, a system that is slowly edging towards real slavery.

From 2013: Private Eye on the Government Doctoring Workfare Stats

March 22, 2015

As numerous left-wing bloggers have pointed out, the government’s welfare-to-work programme has been a disaster from the start. Johnny Void in particular has repeatedly pointed out how you are actually more likely to get a job using your own initiative, than if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of unfortunates pressganged into workfare. I’ve posted up several pieces from Private Eye supporting this, and showing that the workfare sector can only succeed and make a profit through continual bail-outs. In some cases, employees for the workfare companies have even been reduced to committing fraud by falsifying the names and details of claimants, who have found work through the system.

In their issue for the 19th April – 2nd May 2013, Private Eye carried this story reporting how the government itself was falsifying the statistics in order to present workfare not as an appalling shambles, but as a success. The story ran

Emails between employment minister Mark Hoban and lobbyists representing Work Programme contractors reveal how the coalition tried to massage the pisspoor results of its welfare-to-work initiative last year “for public consumption.”

The correspondence, released to Private Eye, under freedom of information rules, show that Hoban pushed for “simple” figures to be publicised instead of the grim official statistics – a pattern likely to be repeated when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) releases more Work Programme results next month.

The first figures, released in November, sowed that firms like A4e were not meeting minimum performance levels. The DWP had estimated that 5.5 percent of the unemployed would find jobs without the programme; and as no workfare firm has exceeded this, performance was thus worse than useless.

Hoban responded by meeting Kirsty McHugh, head of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), which lobbies for A4e, Working Links and others who are paid to get the jobless off benefits and into work. She told Hoban: “On performance overall, I think it is really important that both the industry and the department are robust in terms of defending the Work Programme as much as we can.”

Instead of castigating failing contractors, Hoban agreed and emailed McHugh to thank her for “discussion around the November publication and the simplicity of messages required for public consumption”. He told her he was keen on the ERSA figure of “200,000 Job entries” which, he said, would be “much more understandable to the media/public than discussion around Job Outcomes.”

This “simple figure” was misleading, however. Official “job outcomes” numbers show the proportion of the unemployed who find and keep jobs via the Work Programme. Baldly stating that 200,000 people started jobs means little without counting the far larger official number who did not start or hold on to a job.

Hoban preferred to push unofficial industry figures over official ones, however, and set up teleconferences and meetings between ERSA and the DWP press office. The emails also suggest he considered simply ignoring the contractors’ failure to meet minimum performance levels. But McHugh wasn’t so sure. She emailed Hoban to say: “On Minimum Performance Levels we absolutely take the points made by the department of these. However, our view is that the existence of Minimum Performance Levels are in the public arena and we need to prepare for questions around them.” In the event she was right. Hoban’s official DWP press release avoided all mention of minimum performance failure – but this damning statistic still grabbed the headlines.

It really isn’t surprising any more that Hoban should prefer to publish industry spin, rather than any kind of objective assessment. The Tories see themselves as the party of business, to the near absolute exclusion of any other concerns. Furthermore, all the parties have developed almost symbiotic links with the major government contractors. Private firms, like the big accountants, send staff to help the political parties formulate policy. They sponsor the party political conferences, and then afterwards offer politicians and senior civil servants well-paid seats on their boards. Hoban was probably thinking of this, when he went off to get McHugh’s advice.

And massaging statistics seems to be second nature to the Tories. Mike and the other left-wing bloggers have in vain tried to get the figures for the number of people, who have died after being assessed as fit for work under the Work Capability Assessment, from the DWP under the Freedom of Information Act. The DWP have repeatedly turned this down, often under the most spurious claims. They have also released completely different sets of figures on similar issues, but subtly different, in order to present the situation as being much better than it actually is.

This is a mendacious government, which has been lying almost since before Cameron was elected. It’s high time it was gone.