Posts Tagged ‘Working Links’

Private Eye on the Magistrates’ Partnership with the Private Prisons Companies

April 27, 2016

One of the biggest scandals in America is the relationship between the private prisons companies and legal authorities and local governments. The private prison companies lobby the state legislatures to pass harsher laws, and the judiciary to increase custodial sentencing, all to boost their profits. One of the cases highlighted by Michael Moore in his film, Capitalism: A Love Story, is the case of a troubled teenage girl, who was sent to a private jail by a judge, who was in receipt of monies donated by one of the private prison companies.

According to this last fortnight’s Private Eye, the same has been happening in England. They report that the Magistrate’s Association has been attempting to open a profit-making arm in conjunction with the outsourcing companies that run prisons. After having been criticised for the scheme, the Association is trying to fold it into the Probation Institute, but leaving this corrupt relationship intact.

Here’s the article:

Magistrates

Bendy Beaks

Who is the Magistrates’ Association trying to kid?

Last year it was criticised for getting into bed with the very same private punishment companies which now carry out the sentences imposed by … magistrates. It had set up a commercial wing, the MA Education and Research Network, as part of an “income generation strategy”. Alas, three of its funding partners were the French multinational Sodexo, US import MCT Novo, and Working Links – all of which, thanks to former justice secretary Chris Grayling, now profit from carrying out court punishments.

The move troubled some at the top of the MA as well as its rank and file; and after the Eye highlighted concerns over conflicts of interest, sources told the Eye that there were plans to close the network. But when asked if it would therefore return members’ money used as seed funding, MA communications director Jason Hughes said, on 4 December last year: “There are no plans to close down the network. Your question regarding seed funding is therefore redundant.”

But the Eye has now been leaked minutes from an MA board meeting held two days earlier, on 2nd December, showing a weaselly plan to distance the MA from the scheme. In the minutes, chief executive Chris Brace said the board had decided to dissolve the network and that it would be “incorporated” into the Probation Institute. Among the reasons cited were negative publicity, allegations about compromising justice and judicial independence, and the amount of time spent on “reputational management”.

Troubled members of the MA should know what this means. As Hughes now explains: “The network was incorporated into the Probation Institute; it therefore exists (not closed) with a different ownership and governance structure – however, the objectives are maintained. The legal vehicle by which it was subsidiary of the Magistrates Association has been dissolved, as per the minutes. The [seed] funding … has been allocated to setting up the new initiative and into research about the treatment of women in the criminal justice system.” (Readers may recall that “women in the justice system” were hastily added to its initial research plans after the Eye questioned why its first year was to be focused on “technology” – an obvious commercial interest.)

The Probation Institute website declares that this “new joint Probation and Judicial Matters Professional Network … will include magistrates, probation and … rehabilitation practitioners” – ie, Sodexo et al. The venture is “an evolution of the work that has already taken place within the association’s Education and Research Network”, and aims at “identifying priority areas of research which the two organisations should promote, and to facilitate and encourage contributions from funder”. New name, new legal governance – same old tricks?

If the MA hope this would head off criticism, it hasn’t. Frances Crook, of the Howard league, said: “Taking substantial sums of money from companies delivering sentences calls into question the independence and integrity of the Magistrates Association. Now would be the time to repay the money and be honest with its members about this unfortunate relationship.” (Private Eye, 15th – 28th April, 39).

The relationship between the Magistrates Association and the private prisons industry would have confirmed to anarchists like Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Malatesta not only the basic injustice of the state, but also its links to exploitative capitalism. With a fund-raising network like that, you can understand why the Surrealists, in the first issue of their magazine, demanded that the prisons should be opened and the convicts released. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s a recipe for terrible miscarriages of justice and bring the British legal system into severe disrepute.

Private Eye from 2012 on the Failure and Misgovernment at the DWP

March 13, 2016

In their edition for 1st – 14th June 2012, Private Eye devoted nearly a page to the disgusting actions, policies and general misgovernment in aIDS’ DWP. Here it is.

Not Working: A DWP Special

Freudian Slip
How serious does the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) treat cases of alleged fraud in its multi-million-pound employment programmes, under which private companies are meant to help benefit claimants find work?

Last week pressure from ministers led Tory MPs on the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) to oblige their colleagues to listen in secret to whistleblowers describing potential fraud by welfare-to-work firms like Working Links and A4E.

This was just the DWP’s latest attempt to hide its dirty washing: it has been shifty about possible cheating by the “benefit-busting” firms for years. Take, for example, the mysterious “annual report” on employment programmes which was promised to MPs before disappearing from sight.

In 2010, MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee said that reports of the “Risk Assurance Division”, which investigates allegations of fraud by workfare companies, “must be published where wrongdoing is found”.

While the DWP argued that publishing the reports would be unfair on contractors, its “delivery director” Alan Cave instead promised some “regular reporting of trends and lessons learned” in an annual report.

This March, when the Eye asked to the report, the DWP press office responded with contradictory answers. The report was published, it said, and a copy would be sent. Then it announced that the report was about to be published. Finally it stopped returning the Eye’s calls altogether.

Unable to get any sense from the press office, the Eye made a freedom of information request. The DWP pointed to a March admission to MPs by Mr Cave that the report had not been delivered. Cave said because of the new government and new Work Programme, it “seemed sensible to put a pause on that while we got the new system up and running before returning to that.”

Really? The Eye made another freedom of information request to see any papers relating to the report-but the DWP says there are none. In other words, all the work in providing MPs and the public with information on workfare fraud apparently hasn’t generated a single email, minute, letter or note.

In fact, the entire proposed annual report appears to be a fob-off, as it seems the DWP didn’t put any work into it anyway.

Missing Links
The evidence of Eddie Hutchinson, former head of internal audit at “benefit-busting” firm Working Links, confirms what the
Eye has been saying repeatedly: there is something seriously wrong with this company, which gets more than £100m a year from taxpayers (via the DWP) to help the unemployed.

Hutchinson told the Commons public accounts committee that fraud was “extensive” and “systemic” at Working Links, explaining: “All these frauds involved the falsification of job outcome evidence to illegally claim monies from the DWP, together with the false claiming of bonus payments by staff through the company’s incentive bonus system”.

In 2006, DWP research showed the firm failed to meet targets on benefit-busting schemes, whereas JobCentre staff did twice as well. The government responded by taking JobCentre staff of the job and handing more schemes to Working Links. In 2009 Ofsted found that Working Links was failing to meet targets – so the government stopped Ofsted inspecting benefit-busting programmes!

In 2011 the Eye saw a leaked report showing the DWP had caught Working Links claiming money for people it had not helped into work in Liverpool. Hutchinson’s evidence suggests that DWP clawed back cash for similar fiddles in South Wales (2007), Glasgow (2007 and 2008), Hackney (2008) and other areas. However, while the DWP asked for the money back, it does not appeared to have punished the firm.

* it may be generating bad headlines for its sloppy internal financial controls, but A4E still knows how to find work for people – if they happen to chums with the chancellor anyway.

A4E recently hired lobbyist George Bridges and his firm Quiller Consultants to help with its crisis management. Bridges, a personal friend of George Osborne, became head of Conservative Campaigns in 2006 and helped Osborne run the Tories’ election campaign in 2010.

Quiller Consultants itself is owned by Tory peer Lord Chadlington, who also happens to be Cameron’s constituency party chairman in Witney. His links with the prime minister caused embarrassment last year when it emerged that the lobbyist lord had sold Dave a strip of land used as a driveway and garage at the PMN’s Witney home. Chadlington bought the land and sold it to the prime minister, raising questions about lobbyists’ access to Cameron.

Downing Street meanwhile is considering hiring another Quiller Consultant, Stephen Parkinson, to pep up Number 10’s spin operation. Parkinson was also previously a Conservative Central Office apparatchik, underlining the close links between a4e’s new friend and the government.

Factory Fibs
Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith refused to apologise for declaring that disabled people in Remploy’s supported factories were “not doing any work at all… just making cups of coffee”.

Perhaps he was bolstered by Remploy chairman Ian Russell’s own foreword to the recently published 2011 accounts claiming that workers “have little or no work on most days of the week”. The comments help the case for closing 36 of the remaining 54 Remploy factories, despite union figures showing that 85 per cent of disabled workers made redundant in the last round of Remploy cuts remain unemployed.

One problem – a recent congratulatory internal letter from Remploy Enterprise Businesses (EB) managing director Alan Hill paints a different picture of life in the factories. “I am delighted to say the overall performance of EB has been outstanding,” writes Hill, reporting that sales have grown 12.2 per cent in the last financial year, reaching £117m.

Indeed, after cutting costs as well, the Remploy factories’ overall operating result had improved by a whopping 27.9 per cent, according to Hill. A KMPG analysis produced in Mary found that some of the Remploy businesses – such as making car parts and monitoring CCTV – were viable and even profitable, while others could also be made sustainable.

NEST beg

Misleading advertising is nothing new when it comes to financial product mis-selling, but few would expect the government to exploit a loophole to produce its own dodgy sale pitch.

The DWP has been busy pushing “workplace pensions”, using adverts that feature toy people building a rising wall. “A simple step to a better future” is the unequivocal message.

The principle “workplace pension” being promoted is the government’s default scheme into which employees will soon be automatically enrolled, the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST). But tis is a stock-market based scheme in which there will be a large number of losers after fees, the loss of other means-related benefits and the fact that stock markets can go down as well as up. Go in at the wrong time and you’re effectively screwed.

The standard disclaimer to this effect is, however, missing from the government’s adverts because, the DWP tells an Eye reader, its lawyers agreed that the adverts’ purpose “is to promote the general concept of saving through workplace pensions, rather than saving through a specific product”. Never mind that almost all such schemes, including the reassuringly branded NEST, are now stock market-based.

The government is effectively saying that volatile investments will be a good bet for a safe pension, risk-free. The next big mis-selling scandal, in other words.

This catalogue of incompetence, lies, fraud and failure also puts the lie to another claim by the Right: that Socialism somehow punishes excellence. By redistributing wealth and putting checks on the rapacity of senior management, the argument goes, Socialism and the welfare state somehow punishes the superior skill and talents of private entrepreneurs. This shows the opposite: that it actively rewards failure and punishes excellence. How else can you explain the determination to stop JobCentres finding work for the unemployed and hand it over to fraudsters like Working Links, or close profitable and potentially profitable Remploy factories? Or promoting potentially underperforming ‘workplace pensions?’ This is all about supporting failing private industry, the Tories’ paymasters, and punishing excellence in the state sector. This even goes as far as the personnel selected to run the Department. Ian Duncan Smith stands out as a man of precious little talent, but somehow this massive failure of a man has been awarded an entire department to run, and run into the ground.

Blair and the Corporate Penetration of New Labour

January 29, 2015

I also found this very revealing remark about Tony Blair and his very right-wing conception of the what the Labour party should be in Lobster 45, in an article on Demos by William Clark. Demos is the ostensibly left-wing thinktank, that actually aims to extend the power and influence of big business in the Labour party. One of its members is Lord Stevenson, formerly the chairman of Express newspapers, if I recall correctly. He described in the article as a friend of Peter Mandelson, and was supposedly recruited by Blair in 1996. In a 1998 interview with Sunday Times, he states that Blair

… always wanted to make Labour into an alternative party of business. There were some big businessmen who were always pro-Labour: Lord Hollick and Chris Haskins for instance. Blair wanted to meet the others, so I organised evening where he could meet friends of mine. People running FTSE companies … Blair has involved businessmen to a huge extent … In fact he has almost delegated power to them. I think there is a legitimate question about the extent to which that is actually right.

He was also chairman of the recruitment company Manpower, which ran Working Links, the welfare-to-work company.

Among the other members of Demos was Graham Mather, a director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, who declared that he wanted ‘to get government out of providing schools and hospitals, cut taxes and give vouchers to the poor. He was also a member of the Institute of Directors, where he stated that he wanted ‘the advance of markets into government itself’. According to the article, he saw himself as part of a ‘priesthood of believers in the market’ pushing for libertarian right ideology against the ‘threat … from socialism’.

The connections between Blair’s New Labour, Stevenson, Graham Mather, and many others like them probably explains why so many of Labour’s front bench don’t attack the government and its policies with the venom they deserve. They don’t press their point home, even when the Coalition present open goals, because essentially they stand for pretty much the same thing.

From 2012: Another Workfare Company Guilty of Fraud

January 29, 2015

I’ve posted up several pieces recently on fraud by the welfare-to-work companies, and the way the system is actually designed so that it is highly vulnerable to such crime. The National Audit Office was well aware that the system would almost certainly fail, and suggested ways in which it needed to be bailed out. An article from a previous issue of Private Eye that I posted up yesterday stated that five workfare companies had been reported to the police for fraud. The charges, however, were eventually dropped, either through sufficient evidence to secure a conviction, or because it was deemed ‘not in the public interest’. Private Eye in their issue for the 13th – 26th July 2012 published this article about fraud by yet another workfare company, the Real-Time Training Group.

Workfare
The Real Steal

Yet another company has been using the government’s lucrative skills, training and workfare contracts as an easy way to gain large amounts of taxpayers’ money in return for, er, not delivering.

The latest to join the dubious ranks occupied by A4E, Working Links et al in cashing in at the expense of those seeking to improve skills or find work is the Real-Time Training Group (RTT). It has just gone into administration amid allegations of fraud and wrongdoing, leaving staff unpaid and apprentices and those on skills courses in limbo.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) declined to respond to reports that an RTT audit had found irregularities and that the agency was seeking to claw back money wrongly claimed for “successful” work and training placements. A spokeswoman would only confirm that it had terminated the company’s contract, believed to be in the region of £3m.

Castle Donington-based RTT, which names various members of the Barton family (John, Jennifer, Michael and James) as directors and company secretary, claims to have been delivering “world-class training and learning” thanks to contracts with the Department for Work and Pensions and funding the European Social Fund as well as the SFA.

One insider told the Eye that course have been run by people who have no qualification to do so; “learners” have been signed up for courses on the basis that they would obtain qualifications and licences to work, for example in the security business, when RTT was not entitled to provide them; that others had been incorrectly assessed for basic numeracy and literacy qualifications so that they take more courses than necessary; and that people who did not meet the usual criteria had been signed up to qualify for hard-to-employ enhanced payments of up to £1,000 per person.

He said he was instructed to forge papers for the “Train to Gain” programmes aimed at improve the skills of those in work, when those recruited were all job-seekers.

The Eye tried to put these allegations to RTT by email and by phone. But reply came there none.

Private Eye also posted up a piece, which I’ve also blogged, pointing out how poor the standards of companies like Working Links and A4E were in the educational courses offered to job-seekers. These were actually far below the standards of the vast majority of this country’s schools, as assessed by Ofsted. This is another piece of evidence showing that private industry does not lead automatically lead to higher standards, as well as showing the massive potential for fraud in the welfare-to-work sector.

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.

From 2012: Private Eye on Fraud by Workfare Company

January 21, 2015

This Sunday, 18th January, I reposted an article from Glynis Millward’s blog, reporting the trial and conviction of several A4E employees for fraud. They had been falsifying the numbers of unemployed people the company had helped back into work, in order to get money under the government’s ‘payment by results’ scheme. Although noteworthy, it wasn’t the first time a workfare company had committed such fraud. Johnny Void has also blogged about similar abuse of the system by the workfare companies. And three years ago, Private Eye reported a similar case of what may have been fraud by Working Links in their edition for the 18th -31st May 2012. The article ran:

Workfare
The Links Effect

“Benefit-busting contractor” contractor Working Links tried to claim government cash for helping people into work when the “clients” couldn’t be traced, were still receiving Jobseekers Allowance or were actually helped by rival “workfare” companies.

The company also made several duplicate claims, asking to be paid twice for helping the same person, according to internal papers passed to the Eye. The documents, which cover Working Links’ £5m-plus contract for work on the New Deal for Disabled People in 2007-8, were found in a disused desk on a rubbish tip.

Working Links, one of the UK’s largest “benefit-busters”, had contracts to encourage incapacity benefit claimants back into work through coaching, interview advice and other “job club” activities. It was paid around £300 for each unemployed “client” and received bonuses of more than £1,000 for each one getting a part-time job and nearly £3,000 if they found full-time work.

The files include monthly invoices from Working Links to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ranging from £400,000 to £1m. The DWP rejected up to £20,000 a time on many invoices because of multiple errors. The DWP did not investigate the false claims nor treat them as fraud, and the files do not show these were deliberate errors. However, they do show that Working Links was more enthusiastic about claiming cash from the government than it was about keeping accurate records. Separately, DWP “compliance visits” have found systematic overclaiming in some Working Links offices. (See Eye 1311).

Overclaiming appears rife among workfare contractors. Emails between the DWP and the National Audit Office obtained under freedom of information by the Eye show that “benefit-busting” firms made more than 10,000 false claims on the “New Deal” employment scheme in 2010-11. In the emails, the DWP told the auditors about failures in checking that claimants the contractors claimed to have helped had actually signed off benefits. The DWP describes “30 percent failing the check and around 10 percent ultimately unvalidated”.

A third of claims by contractors are initially questioned. Most are cleared up, but the remaining 10 percent are false. The DWP found that of 104,767 invoices from New Deal contractors, 10,462 failed the off-benefit check and remain “unpaid”. This means that companies like Working Links and the giant A4E asked for to £30m they were not due. The DWP did not pay the cash, but the fact that it did not investigate the false claims further shows a liberal attitude to the contractors.

Working Links, part-owned by temp agency Manpower and consultant CapGemini, has many other government contracts, including £300m for running the new Work Programme in Wales, Scotland and the South West.

This is a shocking statistic, but it isn’t really surprising. I posted up another piece by Private Eye yesterday reporting on the conclusions of the NAO several years ago that the welfare-to-work scheme would fail, and would need bailing out. Moreover, as Johnny Void has repeatedly blogged, the workfare system is so flawed that you are far more likely to get a job through your own efforts than from one of the workfare companies.

The entire scheme is set up to encourage fraud, and based on the exploitation of the unpaid labour of the jobless themselves. It should be totally discontinued.

From 2011: Private Eye on the Failure of Working Links Workfare Firm to Find Jobs for Unemployed

April 13, 2014

workfare-isnt-working

This is from the Eye’s edition for the 25th November – 8 December 2011.

Workfare Update

Challenged in parliament over rising unemployment, David Cameron repeatedly offered the government’s Work Programme as the answer. But one of the main contractors running the welfare-to-work scheme has been deemed “inadequate” at helping the jobless find work, according to Ofsted inspectors.

Working Links, a partnership between Manpower and CapGemini, runs the Work Programme in Scotland, Wales and the South West. But according to an Ofsted report earlier this year: “The percentage of participants that progress iinto jobs is low”.

Ofsted marks services on a scale of one to four, from “Outstanding” to “Inadequate”. In Derbyshire the “outcomes for participants” – like jobs – got the worst mark. the inspectors also lamented that “the number of participants who joined the programme was significantly below the contract targets” and that “during this period only 13 percent of participants gained employment”.

The scheme is the brainchild of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who had hoped to create a body of “Fairy Jobmothers”. Alas, the Ofsted inspectors were not over-impressed by some Working Links staff. “The personal consultants do not always negotiate and set clear targets for the completion of different activities. Often, they do not monitor these activities sufficiently well,” said the inspectors.

In the North-East, meanwhile, Working Links operations in cities like Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Tyneside and Sunderland, admittedly unemployment black spots, were underwhelming . Though the number of people finding jobs had improved slightly, job rates “remain low”, the inspectors said.

Working Links’ antics have sometimes been questionable. As Private Eye revealed in April, a confidential government audit into the partnership’s Liverpool operation showed that it was even claiming government cash for jobseekers who had found work without its help. As well as running the Work Programme, Working Links is now also part of the Community Justice Partnership, bidding for probation contracts (see last Eye).

Workfare is little more than a 21st century form of forced labour. A number of bloggers, such as Johnny Void, and including myself, have pointed out its similarity to the totalitarian forced and compulsory voluntary labour systems of Stalinist Russia, Communist Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany, all of which had schemes in which those persecuted by the regime, including the unemployed, were forced to work for industry. Johnny Void and several others have also shown that these schemes are terrible at getting people into jobs. The statistics actually demonstrate that you’re more likely to gain work through your own initiative than through the government’s Work Programme. Not that this seems to bother the government, as it looks like the whole programme is designed to supply cheap labour to industry, rather than actually combat unemployment. This piece by Private Eye adds more information on how useless the Work Programme is.

Private Eye on Fraud and Corruption on Workfare Schemes

February 7, 2014

gogol-dead-souls-en

Gogol’s book, ‘Dead Souls’, about a man who mortgages dead serfs.

Last fortnight’s issue also carried this story about allegations of fraud on its workfare programmes.

‘Fraud Popular

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP0 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 jobs 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 in information 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.’

A few months ago Serco and a number of other firms were revealed to have engaged in massive fraud to gain government contracts. These included putting in claims for guarding criminals, who had long ago been released. The whole affair has more than a little of Gogol’s class work, Dead Souls, about it. Gogol was another 19th century Russian radical from the Ukraine. The book follows Chichikov, a Russian middle-ranking nobleman, as he attempts to get rich by buying up dead serfs from the surrounding gentry in order to relieve them of their tax burden. Once enough of these have been acquired, Chichikov plans to take out a loan against them, and then retire with the money and status as a true man of property to a country estate. It’s a grotesque satire on Russian society at the time. It was written in 1841, about twenty years before Alexander II emancipated the serfs in the 1860s. Serfdom is, however, coming back under the guise of workfare, with companies like A4E and Atos aiming to supply them, and a number of charities and big businesses all too willing to bid for contracts to employ them. And with A4E, Working Links, Serco and other companies committing fraud to get these government contracts, Dead Souls is now extremely relevant to 21st century Britain. Gogol’s novel essentially describes the same scam used by these companies to get rich by deceiving the government bureaucracy. It may not be called serfdom, but Chichikov is alive and well and the managing director of A4E, Serco and Atos.