Posts Tagged ‘Work Programme’

End Workfare Now! Part 1

June 20, 2017

This is the text of another pamphlet I wrote a year or so ago against the highly exploitative workfare industry. As the pamphlet explains, workfare, or ‘welfare to work’, is the system that provides industry with cheap, unemployed temporary labour under the guise of getting the jobless back into work by giving them work experience. If the unemployed person refuses, he or she is thrown off benefit.

These temporary jobs go nowhere, and it’s been proven that the unemployed are actually far better off looking for jobs on their own than using workfare. And it’s very similar to other systems of supposed voluntary work and forced labour, such as the labour colonies set up in Britain in 1905, the Reichsarbeitsdienst in Nazi Germany, and the use of forced labour against the ‘arbeitscheu’ – the ‘workshy’, as well as the compulsory manual labour required of all citizens in Mao’s china during the Cultural Revolution, and the Gulags in Stalin’s Russia.

Mike over at Vox Political has blogged against it, so has Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman of Another Angry Voice, and many other left-wing bloggers. It’s another squalid policy which New Labour and the Tories took over from Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to get rid of the work capability tests. I hope also that under him, the Labour party will also get rid of this vile policy, so that big corporations like Poundland and supermarkets like Tesco’s will have to take on workers and pay them a decent wage, rather than exploiting desperate and jobless workers supplied by the Thatcherite corporate state.

End Workfare Now!

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. In 1979 the Tory party ranted about the need to ‘restore the will to work’. Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that ‘The Government and the vast majority of the British people want hard work and initiative to be properly rewarded and are vexed by disincentives to work’. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Vox Political, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

Those forced into workfare are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections.’ Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed. In June that year David Cameron also declared that there was a need to end ‘the nonsense of paying people more to stay at home than to get a job – and finally making sure that work really pays. Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Forced Labour for the Unemployed in History

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state
support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Weimar Germany in the 1920s and ’30s also developed a system of voluntary work to deal with the problems of mass unemployment. This was taken over by the Nazis and became compulsory for all Germans from 19-25 as the Reicharbeitsdienst, or Imperial Labour Service It was mainly used to supply labour for German agriculature. Because of its universal nature, the Reicharbeitsdienst had no stigma attached to it, and indeed was seen as part of the new, classless Germany that was being created by Hitler. In a speech to the Service’s workers, Hitler declared that there would be no leader, who had not worked his way up through their ranks. Much harsher was the Nazi’s treatment of the serially unemployed. They were declared arbeitscheu – the German word, which forms the basis of the English ‘workshy’. These individuals were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a special badge on their pyjamas, just like those marking out Jews, gay men, Socialists and trade unionists, and so on.

Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The Workfare Scheme

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick. Mental health professionals – psychiatrists and psychologists, have also released reports attacking the detrimental effect the stress of these tests are having on the mentally ill. So far they have estimated that upwards of a quarter of a million people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety have had their condition made worse – sometimes very much worse – through the stress of taking these tests.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

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End Workfare Now! Part 2

June 20, 2017

Arguments for Workfare

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. One of the worst policies of Mao’s China during the ‘Cultural Revolution’ of the 1960s and ’70s was the policy of taking skilled workers, intellectuals and artists away from their work to perform manual work elsewhere in that vast nation. It was bitterly resented, although at the time it was in line with the idea of creating a classless ‘workers’ state’. The respected TV critic and broadcaster, Clive James, in his column for the Observer, reviewed a programme that exposed this aspect of Chinese Communism. James was horrified at the effect this had had on breaking the health and skills of those sent to labour in the fields, such as a dancer for the state ballet. But if such forced labour is unacceptable for the middle and upper classes, it should also be so for those, whose only crime is to be without a job.

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 parallels the exploitative nature of Stalin’s gulags and the Nazis’ use of skilled Jewish workers by the SS. The gulags were the immense archipelago of forced labour camps used to punish political prisoners and other victims of Stalin’s regime. Over 30 million Soviet citizens are estimated to have been imprisoned in them at the height of the terror. The vast majority were totally innocent. The system was used to industrialise the country, whose economy had formerly been dominated by agriculture. Under Stalin, the heads of state enterprises would supply lists of the types of workers they needed to the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, the state secret police. The NKVD would then arrest workers with those skills, and supply them to the businesses as requested. In Nazi Germany, the SS also formed an enterprise to exploited the skilled Jewish workers, such as jewelers, they had imprisoned. They were put to work producing luxury goods, which were then sold by the SS. They even produced a catalogue of the products made by these slave artisans.

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 – and 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. The Anarchist activist and writer, Alexander Berkman, made this point about work generally in his 1929, What Is Anarchist Communism? He made the point that much poor work was caused by forcing unwilling workers to perform jobs that they did not want and weren’t interested in. He pointed to the experience of prison labour, as an illustration. In prison, those workers, who were forced to perform such jobs did so badly. However, if they were given a job they enjoyed, then their work rapidly improved. He also made the point that Standing also makes about poorly paid but necessary work, that instead of forcing people to do it, wages should be increased to encourage workers to do them, and increase the social respect for those, who did those jobs. In a very stretched comparison, he described how both road sweepers and surgeons both helped keep people health. Surgeons, however, were given respect, while road sweepers are looked down upon. He felt this was simply a question of money, and that the social stigma attached to cleaning the streets would be removed, and the two professions given equal respect, if road sweepers were paid the same amount. This is too simplistic, as the surgeon is far more skilled than the road sweeper. But sweeping the streets and related dirty jobs would undoubtedly be more attractive if they were better paid.

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.

In addition to demolishing the government’s arguments in favour of workfare, Standing also provides a series of further arguments against it. These are that the jobs created through workfare aren’t real jobs; workfare is unjust in its treatment of the unemployed; it stops the unemployed actually looking for jobs for themselves; it lowers their income over their lifetime; it also acts to keep wages down; it keeps the people, who should be working at those jobs out of work; it’s a dangerous extension of the power of the state; and finally, it’s a gigantic scam which only benefits the welfare-to-work firms.

Workfare and Real Jobs

According to the ideas of the market economy developed by the pioneer of free trade, the 18th century philosopher Adam Smith, workfare jobs don’t actually constitute real jobs. Smith believed that the market would actually produce higher wages to entice people into performing unpleasant jobs. On this reasoning, if workfare jobs were real jobs, then they would have a definite economic value. They would be created through the operation of the market, and the workers in them would also be paid proper wages for performing them.

There are also moral problems in the definition of what constitutes a ‘real job’ that someone on workfare should have to perform. If it is defined as one paying the minimum wage, then workfare is immoral as it puts downward pressure on the wages and conditions of the people already performing those jobs, forcing them into poverty. If those ‘real jobs’ are defined as those which are dirty, dangerous, undignified or stigmatizing, and so unpopular, they would have the opposite effect of what the advocates of workfare claim – that they are encouraging people to find work.

The solution for progressives is to make the labour market act like it is supposed to act, rather than it actually does in practice. Adam Smith was quite wrong about wages adjusting upwards for unpopular jobs in a market economy. The wages provided for work should match both supply and demand, and people should not be made into commodities as workers. They should have enough economic support to be able to refuse jobs they don’t want. Instead of assuming that people need to be forced to work, there should be the presumption instead that most people actually do. It is arbitrary and ultimately demeaning for all concerned to try to identify people who are somehow ‘undeserving’. Genuine supporters of equality should want the wages in unpleasant jobs to rise, until there is a genuine supply of willing labour.

Vox Political: Judge Dredd Takes on Benefit Sanctions

April 2, 2015

Earlier today I posted a piece about reports by ITV and the Belfast Telegraph that 2000 AD were planning to pit Mega City One’s toughest lawman against Nigel Farage in the satirical guise of the politician ‘Bilious Barrage’. Assuming that wasn’t an April Fool’s joke, this looks like a good one to look forward to.

A few days ago, Mike posted this piece Art imitates life: Coalition ‘welf’ policies get comic-book treatment, about a Judge Dredd story in which the good Judge meets a disabled man, who has been refused food rations because the authorities have decided that after waiting six hours in a queue, he is well enough to work. After complaining about his treatment, the man is further wrongly accused of malingering by an insurance salesman he had turned down. Mike’s article begins

Sometimes, when you’re a blogger, an article comes along when you think you’re doing something else – for example, catching up on a little light reading.

Yes, even hard-nosed political bloggers like This Writer have to kick back and have a little ‘me’ time now and then – in this case, with the Judge Dredd Megazine, issue 356, dated February 17, 2015.

In the lead story ‘The Cop’, we see title character Judge Dredd’s domain – the Mega City One of a future North America – struggling to cope with the effects of a disaster. Already you can see parallels with the Great Recession of 2007 onwards.

Citizens are encouraged to help clear damage from buildings, making them usable again, in return for food rations. No effort – no food. This is actually described in the story as a ‘Work Programme’!

Then the story focuses in on “those adults who are unable to work”; one such person is thrust out of the line of workers by a classic bully-type character. Ordered to explain what’s going on, the character – clearly in bad shape, his body withered and weak – states that he has a condition in which half his body doesn’t function properly. He explains that he reported for ‘disability testing’ (a Work Capability Assessment).

“I waited six hours an’ then they told me to come down here!” the pitiful creature, named Carmody, explains. “Said if I could wait that long, it meant it couldn’t be that bad–”

Mike goes on to consider the parallels thrown up by the strip with IDS’ chequebook euthanasia, and the way the Neoliberals have stirred up hatred and a mob mentality against anyone they dub a ‘scrounger’. And Mike’s got the stats to show how often that term’s been used. He also notes that, like the insurance salesman, the Tories have also tried to introduce private health insurance.

He concludes by saying

The script for this mini-classic is by Al Ewing. It seems clear that, like another comic scriptwriter called Al – Alan Moore – he knows the score.

It’s one of the great things about the comics counter-culture. It isn’t monitored and censored anything like as heavily as mass cultures like TV.

So comics get to say what people really think.

That’s been true of British comics since the mid-70s, when Pat Mills, John Wagner and their fellow reprobates revived a medium that had become rather stale. They introduced characters and settings drawn from contemporary youth culture. This was extremely controversial. Action, which featured strips based on or strongly influenced by Jaws, Rollerball,Dirty Harry, and contemporary War films, caused a national scandal and was banned because of its violent content. It was succeeded by the thrill-powered 2000 AD, where the violence was made acceptable by being on the side of law and order. The strips were permeated by a strong, satirical edge, in which politicians, industrialists, TV personalities and pop stars were parodied and lampooned. Those who got the treatment included Maggie Thatcher, who turned up in Robo-Hunter as Iron Aggie, John Selwyn Gummer, David Bellamy – who was eaten by an escaped tyrannosaur – and Tony Blair. The Judge Dredd strip also featured a crooked businessman called Remington Ratner, whose surname is the same as a certain jeweller, who managed to bankrupt his business by making a stupid joke at a trade conference. And New Kids on the Block were clearly the inspiration for Mega-City One’s popsters, New Juves on the Block. At its height in the 1980s, 2000 AD was one of the most powerful forces shaping contemporary youth culture.

And its still making very sharp, satirical points. The ABC Warriors strip has run several stories in which its heroes, a group of former robot soldiers bringing justice and law to a violent and chaotic Mars, tell each other stories about their adventures during the Volgan Wars. This was a war between the West, led by America, and Russia, now the Volgan Republic. The War has been sold to its citizens as a defence of democracy against an aggressive dictatorship. The reality is that the West wishes to get its hands on the Volgan’s oil supplies. It’s very clear that Script Robot Mills is making a point about the lies by our governments in the invasion of Iraq.

All I can say is that it’s a pity we can’t get the good judge to round up Cameron, Clegg and co and put them in an iso-cube for a while.

The article can be read at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/28/art-imitates-life-coalition-welf-policies-get-comic-book-treatment/

Benefit Sanctions at Record Levels

February 19, 2015

The website Benefits and Work, which also gives a fortnightly news bulletin to subscribers about ESA, PIP and DLA, has reported that the number of people claiming ESA, who have been sanctioned has reached an all-time high. The article begins

Sanctions against employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants in the work-related activity group have hit a new record high, according to DWP figures released today.

In September 2014, the most recent month for which statistics are available, 3,828 ESA claimants were hit with a sanction. The total for the preceding month was 3,096.

It’s a very short piece that also gives the reasons why nearly 4,000 claimants have been sanctioned. It reports, however, that the DWP has so far not given a reason for the massive rise in sanctions since 2012.

The page also links to a fuller set of statistics.

I’m not remotely surprised that the government hasn’t given out these statistics. They have refused to release the figures for the number of people dying after having been assessed as ‘fit for work’ by Atos to Mike and other left-wing bloggers, after all. And as Johnny Void has repeatedly pointed out, they also won’t give details of the firms signed up for the Work Programme. Their reason? There would be too much of a public backlash against this firms, and this would cause it to fail.

The government is keenly aware how unpopular workfare, Atos and the whole fraudulent sanctions system is. They don’t want the embarrassment of having this revealed to the world at large, and so be unable to supply effective serf labour to their business friends.

Private Eye on G4S Demanding Sanctioning of Benefit Claimants

February 16, 2015

Private Eye also had this story in their edition for 27th July – 9th August 2012. It reports G4S’ demands for 7,000 claimants to be sanctioned, an extremely hypocritical stance given that G4S was claiming money from the government for providing security personnel at the London Olympics, who didn’t actually turn up.

Work Programme
Bad Behaviour

G4S also has its hands on contracts with a combined value of £183m to help the unemployed find jobs running the government’s Work programme in the North West, South East and Yorkshire.

Figures obtained under freedom of information law by the Corporate Watch campaign group show that during the first eight months of the programme G4S asked benefit offices to “sanction” 7,780 claimants. G4S wanted these claimants’ benefits stopped because, it claimed, they had failed to turn up or do as they were told on their employment schemes.

So while G4S still wants to pocket its multi-million pound management fee for failing to find workers to provide security for the Olympics, it wants thousands of unemployed people to lose the dole for alleged misbehaviour.

As Johnny Void in particular has pointed out, the Work Programme is deeply exploitative. Its purpose has less to do with actually finding people work, as supplying a free workforce to industry, and create the illusion that they are actually doing something to help the workers.

No-one should be sanctioned for failure to comply with the scheme. After all, you are far more likely to find work yourself, rather than through one of the welfare-to-work providers.

The scheme should be axed. Now.

From 2014: Private Eye on Fraud by Workfare Companies

January 28, 2015

WorkFare-not-working

A little while ago I posted a piece about how a group of employees at one of the workfare companies were caught fiddling the figures in order to get taxpayers’ money for people for whom they had not actually found work. According to this article in Private Eye last year for the 24th January – 6th February, they weren’t alone by a long way.

Fraud Popular

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been trying to bury bad news about allegations of fraud on its various welfare-to-work schemes even though some were so serious it referred them to the police for investigation.

According to the department’s
Report on Contracted Employment Provision, which was slipped out on the DWP website nearly a year late, and under cover of darkness, in 2012-13 the government received more allegations of fraud by workfare contractors than in previous years. Though the report named no names, it blamed the “substantial media and parliamentary scrutiny” of bad behaviour by firms like A4E and Working Links on the Work Programme and other job schemes.

The DWP believed there was a “case to answer” in five cases, three of which were referred to police. Prosecutions did not follow because “proceedings were considered by the police to be unlikely to result in a conviction or were not considered to be in the public interest”.

The alleged frauds followed the familiar pattern of false claims for fees and falsified documents about what service had (or had not) been provided; and the contractors were simply allowed to pay back the cash. The DWP said none of the dodgy cases related to the Work Programme, but did not say which employment scheme was involved.

According to the report, DWP inspectors also found scant concern among contractors for properly protecting public money from misuse. Of 49 contractors inspected, 29 had “weak” or “limited” assurance levels for handling government cash. Only 20 offered “reasonable” or “strong” protection.

Not surprisingly, the DWP seemed reluctant to trumpet these findings from the rooftop. Though permanent secretary Robert Devereux promised MPs he would produce the report in December 2012, it was actually slipped out on the DWP website with no press announcement last October.

The Eye submitted a freedom of information act request last July asking where it was. We finally received an answer this January – and an apology “for not responding earlier; no discourtesy was intended”. Of course if a benefits claimant took so long responding to the DWP, an apology might not suffice.

Again from 2011: Private Eye on the Failure of A4E

January 21, 2015

I’ve published a number of pieces from Private Eye over the last few days detailing the colossal failure one of the government’s workfare providers, A4E. They were massively incompetent from the start, and the National Audit Office was also very much aware that the welfare-to-work scheme was so flawed that it was bound to fail, and need bailing out. Here’s another piece from the Eye from four years ago providing more information on the company’s staggering ineptitude.

Yob Creation
Working Beef

With the riots highlighting the urgent need for job opportunities for Britain’s disaffected youth, who can solve Britain’s unemployment crisis? Recent inspections by Ofsted suggest that benefit-busting private firm A4E, one of the government’s favourite welfare-to-work outfits, is not the answer.

Since the Eye first exposed A4E’s shortcomings last autumn (Eyes 1271 & 1272), the firm has been awarded five multi-million-pound contracts to run pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme, covering East London, the East Midlands, South Yorkshire, the North West and South East. But three Ofsted inspection reports on A4E schemes are far from encouraging.

The reports rate performance on a scale of one to four; but A4E doesn’t score above a “3” or “satisfactory”. In other words, the company earning millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to help the jobless was never found to be “good”, let alone “outstanding”. Even when an inspection report into A4E’s management of 8,795 apprenticeships and work-based trainees on the “Train to Gain” scheme was said to be “satisfactory” overall, the trainees still often failed. The inspectors said: “Too many learners still do not complete their programme within the agreed time. The overall apprenticeship success rates have improved slightly over the last three years but are still low. To many learners do not complete their apprenticeship on time. Advanced apprenticeship success rates have declined.”

A re-inspection last year of A4E’s “New Deal” job-finding scheme in Northumberland found it had improved from “unsatisfactory” to “satisfactory”, but this still left many of the unemployed in difficulty. “A4E’s job entry rate increased slightly in 2009/10 but at 26 percent remains below contractual targets,” said the inspectors.

A4E’s work on a “Pathways” scheme in Leeds designed to help 7,000 disabled people on incapacity benefit was also found to be “satisfactory” even though the unemployed were still let down. “Outcomes for participants are inadequate,” found the inspectors, who said A4E’s job-finding skills were “unsatisfactory”.

Given the underwhelming results, why does the government put so much faith in busted benefit-busters like A4E.

In other words, if A4E was a school, it would almost certainly be placed in special measures, along with much media hoo-ha about declining educational standards. It isn’t, but I suspect the Eye’s last question was rhetorical. My guess is that they’re getting the contracts, despite their record of what can only be described as abject failure, because they are Tory donors, sponsoring events and providing support to the particular politicians.

From 2012: Private Eye on the Work Programme’s Future Failure

January 20, 2015

In their issue for the 10th -23rd February 2012, Private Eye discussed a government report predicting that the work programme would fail, and put forward ways in which it could be bailed out. The article ran:

Welfare reform
Nice Work

The National Audit Office (NAO) report on the coalition’s £5bn Work Programme (under which private contractors are paid to get people off benefits and into work) predicts that the scheme will fail. But it also suggests how the firms who run it might be bailed out.

The programme, the brainchild of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, is meant to avoid the “limited success” and “disappointing … performance” of past initiative thanks to payment-by-results. Contractors fund the scheme up front (hence the dominance of well-capitalised private firms in the programme) and are only pa9id when their clients find and keep a job.

The NAO thinks there is a significant risk, however, that Duncan Smith’s target of 40 percent of the mainstream unemployed finding work under the scheme is “over optimistic”. History, it says, suggests 26 percent is a more realistic figure. Payment-by-results targets that are too optimistic mean that: “It is possible that one or more providers will get into serious financial difficulty during the term of the contract.”

If firms do start going bust Because they don’t reach targets, what are the options? Most, according to the NAO, involve some form of bail-out. “It is likely that providers will seek to recalibrate the prices and other contract conditions during the lifetime of the contracts,” it predicts. In other words, the big contractors will try to renegotiate easier deals. Though the NAO says the government must be “robust in its negotiations and maintain competitive tension between providers”, in the past the Department for Work and Pensions has helped by offering better terms and referring “more easy-to-help participants”.

The second option is to let a provider go bust and give its contract to another firm. But the department has a limited number to choose from and, as the NAO says, “the rates offered to the new provider will be subject to renegotiation”. Easier terms, in other words.

The last option is for the department to bring the work in-house; but with all its welfare-to-work eggs in the private contractor basked, it doesn’t have the machinery to do this.

Recession and rising unemployment make failure by a contractor even more likely; and the auditors warn that while the government “has plans for dealing with a single prime contractor failing, it has not developed plans for dealing with multiple providers failing within and across geographical areas.”

Whatever happens to the jobless, some people cannot lose, however. As the recent accounts of Work Programme contractor A4E show, the firm lived up to its slogan of “improving people’s lives” by giving outgoing chief executive Bob Martin a £1m exit bonus on top of his £300,000 salary.A4E boss Emma Harrison did even better. The firm increased dividend payments by 400 percent, paying £10m to shareholders in 2011. As she owns 85 percent of the shares, most of this went into her pocket.

Subsequent events have borne this article out. Johnny Void in particular has published numerous articles describing how the workfare schemes have comprehensively failed. Mr Void has shown that many firms have effectively falsified their successes by only taking on people, who could easily be found a job, precisely as predict in this article.
In fact, you are far more likely to get a job by simply looking for one yourself, than by going on workfare.

The article shows further that the NAO predicted all along that the scheme would fail, and the government would have to bail it out for it to stand a chance of working.

And the case of A4E and its bosses, Bob Martin and Emma Harrison follow numerous other case where the chiefs of firms that have massively failed in their hype, have awarded themselves massive bonuses and pay. Well, the trend was set with the banks, and where they led, other industries followed. Private industry flourishes, and only the taxpayer and the unemployed get exploited.

What UKIP Won’t Tell the Voters: The Fascistic Illiberalism at the Heart of the Party

April 27, 2014

NigelFarage

Nigel Farage, Fuhrer of UKIP, whose policies allegedly include the removal of the vote from the unemployed and the sterilisation of the disabled.

I’ve reblogged another of Mike’s pieces from over at Vox Political, Does UKIP’s Euro election poll lead really reflect the People’s view? In it, Mike analyses some of the comments about UKIP posted on the Vox Political Facebook page. He concludes that UKIP’s electoral lead in the Euro elections is driven by disillusionment with the existing parties, rather than an outright endorsement of UKIP in itself. It’s a protest vote, caused by fears over mass immigration from eastern Europe. The article’s well worth reading for a glimpse into how people really feel about UKIP in their own words, rather than what UKIP’s own publicists and mainstream media commentators tell you.

I’ve remarked on how it is extremely suspicious and highly sinister that UKIP does not mention its domestic policies, preferring to concentrate instead exclusively on the issue of the EU and immigration. When you do find out about them, they’re horrifying. They have been described as ‘Tories on steroids’ because they advocate the complete destruction of the welfare state and privatisation of the NHS. One of their policies, for example, is the removal of the worker’s right to paid annual leave.

But if one of the commenters on Mike’s Facebook page is to be believed, that’s the very least of it. The party has other policies that verge dangerously close to the Far Right. Bette Rogerson posted the following about them:

“Why would you vote for a party that says it hates Europe, but at the same time takes lots and lots of money from the European parliament? Why vote for a party whose members advocate policies like less tax for the wealthiest, cutting of maternity leave and forcible sterilisation of the disabled? Why vote for a party who wants to take the vote away from the unemployed? Is your job really that secure? Lastly but not least, why vote for a party which claims it wants British jobs for the British and then hires an Irish actor to model as a poor Briton whose job has been taken away by a foreigner?”

Various Conservative politicians and mouthpieces, like the Daily Mail, have also attacked maternity leave on the grounds that its an expensive burden for business. At times this has verged into attacks on women working, as the requirement to supply paid leave for women to have children and raise a family, according to the Tory Right, makes employing women prohibitively expensive. Thus it sometimes forms part of an attack on feminism and just about every attempt to give women access to jobs outside the home since the Equal Opportunities campaigns of the 1970s.

The really frightening stuff, however, if Bette Rogerson is correct, are the demands to sterilise the disabled and deny the vote to the unemployed. The sterilisation of the disabled was a major part of the eugenics campaign in Britain and America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was based on fears that the ‘dysgenic’ – the mentally and physically handicapped – would outbreed the sane, intelligent and able-bodied, and place an unbearable burden on the rest of society. By the 1920s, about 22 American states had passed legislation providing for the sterilisation of the ‘unfit’. It became a central part of the Nazi programme when they took power, with the Nazis themselves boasting that they had introduced nothing new in this regard. In propaganda films like I Don’t Want To Be Born the Nazis promoted the abortion of disabled children. Their eugenics programme finally culminated in the organised murder by the SS of mentally handicapped individuals taken from Reich mental asylums under the direction of Hitler’s doctor.

As for the removal of the vote from the unemployed, this seems to be another throwback to the 19th century. The extension of the franchise enacted by Disraeli in the 1870s gave most working men the vote. But not all. The franchise was still connected to property and the payment of rates. Martin Pugh in his book, British Fascism between the Wars, points out that the idea of universal suffrage based on the rights of the individual, was rejected as ‘too abstract’ and French in origin. He makes the point that the undemocratic nature of the franchise, which also excluded women until 1918, was partly one of the factors that turned the Conservative Right towards Fascism. Large sections of the establishment were afraid and disliked the extension of the vote to all of the great unwashed, particularly groups connected with the Raj and the colonial bureaucracy. That makes sense. The British government of India was a European elite of official and bureaucrats ruling a vast sub-continent without any kind of democratic accountability to the millions they governed. They clearly took the same attitude towards their Indian subjects back with them to their fellow countrymen in the British working class.

More recently, Right-wing politicians and polemicists have also criticised the extension of the liability for jury duty beyond the traditional restrictions based on property qualifications. According to them, Roy Jenkins’ removal of the property qualification in the 1960s was one of the causes of the rising crime rate in the 1970s. Those with a proper investment in bricks and mortar were more socially responsible, according to these Right-wingers, and more aware of criminals as a threat to society than those without such property, who were consequently much more irresponsible regarding the proper punishment crims deserved. This was the point made by one such Tory writer, whose book was reviewed in the Financial Times in the 1990s. UKIP’s supposed policy to exclude the unemployed from the franchise does sound similar to this complaint.

Workfare: It’s almost Nazi forced labour under the Tories. Under UKIP, it would be the real thing.

And lastly, apart from the threat to democracy posed by the denial of the vote to the unemployed, simply for being without a job, it also turns the unemployed themselves into helots – state slaves – under the Work programme. I’ve criticised the government’s welfare to work programme, along with Johnny Void and many others, for constituting a form of slavery. At the moment one of the major factors stopping it from being real slavery is that those on the Work Programme still possess the franchise. They are, in theory, still electorally free. This would deny them that freedom, and so make them virtual serfs of the government and the private industries, to whom they would be rented out under the Welfare to Work rules. And needless to say, it would also provide a strong incentive for government and big business to shed more paid jobs, in order to create an army of state serfs denied the franchise and forced to work for a pittance in Jobseekers’ Allowance, rather than a living wage.

This is how the free citizens of the Roman Empire became the feudal serfs, labouring on the estates of the nobility in the Middle Ages, folks. See the relevant chapter on the decline of the Roman empire in R.H.C. Davies, Europe in the Middle Ages.

If this is all correct, and these are UKIP’s domestic policies, then Farage and his stormtroopers are dragging us back to the worst and most exploitative aspects of 19th century capitalism. It’s not quite Fascism, but very close. Oswald Mosley, the Fuhrer of the British Union of Fascists, in his autobiography, My Life, sneered at the concept of freedom under liberal democracy. For him, such freedom meant only the freedom for the poor and unemployed to sleep on a park bench. Mosley himself was a terrible man – a vicious racist and anti-Semite, who fancied himself as the British Mussolini or Hitler. But If this is correct about UKIP, then under Farage you wouldn’t even have the freedom to do that.

1898 Call from Russian Workers to Form Union against Employers’ Abuses

April 24, 2014

I found this leaflet from the Ekaterinoslav Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in Lionel Kochan’s Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970) in 1898. It’s a protest against the appalling conditions and high accident rate at the Bryansk factory. If the direct causes of the strike were particular to late 19th century Russia, I was struck by how many of the issues are recurring in Britain in the early 21st century: starvation, low wages, refusal by the company to permit ‘necessary breaks’ – according to Owen Jones in Chavs, in one call centre workers have to put up their hands, as in school, every time they wish to take a comfort break. Unions and strikers were illegal in pre-Revolutionary Russia, and this government would very much like to go the same way. Boris Johnson has said that he would like to make strikes made illegal, if they were passed without fifty per cent of the workers attending the meeting, even if all the workers present voted overwhelmingly for the strike. The leaflet reads:

Every day we must hear, no here, now there, that a man has died and our blood-suckers continue to stuff their pockets, giving
no consideration to the men who have died, whose families have lost their bread-winner and are perhaps dying of starvation. The whole day we work, pouring out our blood and sweat. Every minute we expose our life to danger, we have no chance to use an essential break, and when there are accidents they accuse us of carelessness! The greed of the capitalists, the long working day, the meagre wage – there is the cause of all accidents. Even the holidays which we have had until now, have seemed too much to these beasts of prey and they have persuaded the government, which is always on the side of the capitalists, to reduce the number of holidays in the year … Comrades, they have fooled us, they have fed long enough on our blood and sweat. Our only salvation can be Friendly Workers’ Unions, against which nothing can stand. Let us join together, comrades, in one general union and demand from the office new changes in the regulations. (p. 45).

People are starving in Britain due to the government’s reforms of the benefits’ systems. Mike over at Vox Political has launched an FOI request and went to court to get the government to release the precise numbers of figures for those who are dying. It’s about 73 people a month, although it may well be much higher. And the Work Programme and various workfare policies, traineeships and unpaid internships are all about supplying industry with unpaid labour. It’s about time all this was stopped, and working people stood together to unite to force the Tories out and overturn their vile policies.