War of words over work programme

The Department for Work and Pensions seems to love pushing the public around, but has a real problem when the public pushes back.

Don’t these people understand that they are civil servants?

The system of government is described as a mechanism by which the public elects members of Parliament to serve the interests of the majority, and MPs in turn are supported by the civil service, which is constituted to ensure that those interests are promoted and safeguarded in a practical and legal way.

When MPs get it wrong – as they clearly have in the case of mandatory work activity (MWA) – and the public makes its wishes known, it is not the place of the civil servants to subject those people to derision or to describe them in derogatory terms – even when the harshest language is used to describe the scheme.

That is free speech.

Having looked at the Sue Ryder Facebook page, I have to admit that the charity has a point when it describes “recent online lobbying using strong and emotive language” as the reason it has chosen to quit the scheme.

However I would dispute that it is withdrawing to protect staff from an online campaign of harassment, and I would want to see proof that the claims made about its volunteering practices – with regard to people on mandatory work activity – were misleading.

The simple fact is, the scheme is morally repugnant to the majority of people in this country and Sue Ryder should never have taken part in it. If the charity had stayed away, it would not have exposed itself to criticism.

Behind this lies another simple fact: Any flak taken by Sue Ryder is merely incidental to the escalating war of words between an unrepentant Department for Work and Pensions and an increasingly-embittered British Public.

This is a dialogue that has been running for many years now. It started reasonably enough but the intractability of the government department (civil servants, remember) and the misleading propaganda it purveys has provoked campaigners to increasingly strong reactions.

So perhaps Sue Ryder should put the blame where it belongs – with the Department for Work and Pensions.

The DWP is quoted by the Guardian as saying it was “deeply regrettable that a small number of people have targeted charities and subjected them to intimidation and abuse in an effort to disrupt the operation of this scheme”.

This statement is factually correct. Only a small number of people have subjected charities to intimidation and abuse.

The vast majority – and they number in the tens of thousands at the very least – have been polite. They have put their objections in writing, making reasonable arguments against mandatory work activity.

But they don’t get a mention in the DWP’s slanted appraisal of the situation.

So you see, it is the DWP’s language that is provoking and escalating hostilities. Until that organisation wakes up and remembers that it is an organ of the public will, accepts the majority view that Workfare/MWA is entirely abominable and agrees to put an end to it, the only option open to the rest of us is to find increasingly more strident terms in which to raise our objection.

My own opinion is that this goes back to the general election of 2010. Remember at the top of this article, where I said the mechanism of government is based on the principle that the public elects MPs to represent the will of the majority? In 2010, that didn’t happen.

No political party gained a majority of the vote. The Conservatives wormed their way into office by making a deal with a party that got far fewer votes than even they did. As a result, we are seeing minority-interest policies being forced upon the masses by a minority-interest party that should never have got back into government.

The only way to protest against its policies is to argue against them and to boycott those organisations that support them, and if a government department like the DWP is willing to combat this reasonable behaviour with propaganda then it must expect a savage backlash.

And so must Sue Ryder.

So let’s not have any more whining.

20 thoughts on “War of words over work programme

  1. hazelquinn

    I didn’t see abuse in comments to Sue Ryder. Loads of people said they were withdrawing support from them int he way of donations and buying from their shops. very reasonable and a very wise reaction I thought. The Sue Ryder reaction was awful, playing the victim. Quite ridiculous. Very contradictory statements by them and THEIR response was the emotive unreasoned one. Even now they’ve pulled out I won’t be supporting them anymore as I dislike their attitude towards desperate and frightened sick people.

    1. Mike Sivier

      There is abuse on there: “You’re scum!” “Keep up the pounding of these scumbags!” etc.

      I wanted to write an article saying that the correspondence with Sue Ryder was entirely reasonable and unabusive but that wasn’t the case.

      Then I realised that what I was seeing was a widespread expression of frustration. The people using the emotive language were showing how extremely unhappy and let-down they felt, that a charity would stoop to exploitation, hand in hand with a government department.

      It’s a betrayal of the people both organisations are supposed to serve. That’s why the responses were so strident; that’s why they deserved to be.

      1. hazelquinn

        OK. I suppose i didn’t think “You’re scum” that strong – especially under the circumstances of the deaths caused directly or indirectly from welfare changes. I mean if someone said that to me personally and I knew it to be untrue I wouldn’t really bother. Had far worse things said about me on fb – LOL. A big organisation should be able to shoulder it and not cry home to mummy. Think of all the things that could have been said! they should have stopped themselves and realised, as you said,, that there was real pain and anger and frustration behind those words…btw, I didn’t put any words like to them…but wish I’d put something on there like “I say chaps, you really are a bunch of rotten tomatoes and this just isn’t cricket and all that”.

  2. Angie

    I do volunteer work for the Libraries & Museum in the city where I live BUT I do the volunteering I am not forced to take part no one say’s to me “you will do this or no benefits” that is the difference between wanting to and having to, and yes I enjoy it and is dose not stop me looking or work or going to interview.

    1. theresa620292

      Yes I agree with what you are saying Angie I volunteer myself and I used to volunteer full time until I went back to college part time BUT do you realise that the DWP can force you to stop your Volunteer work and make you do the mandatory work activity. There is a young lady a geology graduate from Birmingham University – had been seeking experience in the museum sector, but was told she must complete a “mandatory” fortnight at the discount high street store instead,
      here is a link to the article http://graduatefog.co.uk/2012/1786/graduate-sues-government-mandatory-poundland-internship/

      1. Mike Sivier

        Alternatively, you could read the many articles on this very blog, starting with:
        along with this one.

  3. Duncan McLean (@A_D_McLean)

    Your comments on the outcome of the general election are ridiculous. No government in the UK in recent decades has won a majority of the popular vote.

    Labour and Tory work together to prevent the introduction of PR. This ensures they dominate politics by rotating in office but never with a true mandate.

    Labour even resorted to straightforward gerrymandering in 2010 by scuppering a long overdue boundary review. Now the LibDems and Tories will ensure that the same outdated boundaries are used in 2015.

    You might as well have ended this article exhorting people to Vote Labour, but as your comments on ESA and WCA make clear, they are just as untrustworthy when it comes to treating people fairly.

    Here’s hoping we in Scotland aren’t stuck with that crew post-2014 and, if Wales has any sense, it will get out soon as well. Maybe then Labour will wake up to the need for genuine reform of English democracy.

  4. Nigel Molesworth

    The same ridiculous censorship of comments and the use of weasel worded apologies is going on on the Salvation Army page at the moment.

    They began by deleting comments, then escalated to banning certain people, myself included, from commenting altogether.

    Shocking abuse of our right to reply, especially so from a supposedly Christian organisation.

  5. Ms Deceased

    As far as I’m concerned, Duncan McLean, the Tories have no right to govern because they got into power on the basis of a pack of lies. How can democracy function if a party says it will do one thing and then does the exact opposite (e.g. NHS)?

    1. Duncan McLean (@A_D_McLean)

      The same is true of Labour on tuition fees. So, it is the system that is broke because it fails to hold either of these parties properly to account.

      The jibe that the UK Government is an elective dictatorship is no longer that far off the mark. The gerrymandering of constituency boundaries is yet another manifestation of a system in decay.

  6. Stephen Bee

    Our fightback against the DWP started at 12 noon today with the following release..please share widely…



    Now’s YOUR chance to strike back!

    http://www.servitudecomplaint.org.uk contains a letter that has, today, been sent to every single Chief Constable, Police & Crime Commissioner, selected news outlets for syndication, the Electoral Commission, the Leader of the Opposition, Michael Meacher MP, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and others, including the PCS Union, to which many of the Job Centre staff belong.

    The letter deals with a matter raised in a press release received from Hampshire Constabulary on 22 February this year, in which it was reported that a Polish national had been sentenced to six years imprisonment for keeping people in servitude. This man enticed his fellow countrymen to come to England, where he forced them to live in substandard accommodation, appropriated their wages and left them with insufficient money to live on. By means of threats he kept them under his thumb. You can see the press release at the link given here.

    What this man was doing is no different to the methods being employed by the Job Centres to force people to work for money which is already legally theirs by threatening to withdraw it if they do not obey – the “comply or starve” method. This is legally classed as forcing people into servitude (see the press release) and the fact that the Polish man was sent down for applying it to people has set a legal precedent that MUST now be applied to every single Job Centre clerk who has ever sanctioned a job-seeker; to every Atos employee who has ever caused a disabled person to lose their benefits by deliberately mis-assessing them in accordance with the internal targets exposed by Channel 4 and the BBC; to every Job Centre director and government Minister who has been complicit in the implementation of this illegal policy.

    The ongoing commission of this crime was reported to Hampshire Police via a PCSO on 22 February. It is now the 26th and has been no response from Hampshire Police. The general distribution of the complaint and its various attachments has therefore been the next step in the process.

    YOU can now help this process if you will be so kind, by visiting the link and following the instructions on the main page. As you will see there are several ways in which YOU can add YOUR voice to the call for the perpetrators of this ongoing crime to be arrested and charged according to the law.

    Thank you for your interest. I have been Writing For Justice. I hope you will be willing to copy and share the letter and its attachments.

    Please copy and paste this message to your own wall so as many people as possible can become involved.


    !! NOW !!

  7. Sam Barnett-Cormack

    Actually, the principle of responsible democracy is that the elected officials serve the interests of the populace, not just the majority. Otherwise you get what is referred to in governmental and democratic theory as “the tyranny of the majority”. Strict majoritarian decision making can also lead to ochlocracy (lit. “mob rule”, but it has subtler meaning than that), which incorporates both the tyranny of the majority and distortion of majority opinion by minority interests through demagoguery, which we have certainly seen in recent decades.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Thanks for that, Sam!

      Political parties are elected on the basis of their manifestos, though. Once they are in office, they are expected to follow those promises, because that is what the majority (who voted for them) actually voted FOR. So I suppose it falls to the political parties to ensure that “the tyranny of the majority” does not take place.

      Hmm. I think the current government has gone too far the other way! Tyranny of the MINORITY, anyone?

      1. Duncan McLean (@A_D_McLean)

        As in my earlier comments – all UK Governments are governments by the minority.

        Labour’s 1997 landslide was won on the back of 43% of the poll, yet they could have swept all before them in the Commons. They could even have democratised the House of Lords, but that would have threatened the ‘legitimacy’ and ‘supremacy’ of the House of Commons.

        The problem is that some people only notice this situation when it is not the party they support that benefits. Big case of that going on here.

  8. Stephen Bunting

    One of many things that disturb me is the almost hysterical praise for whatever bollocks the Government is doing – issued as DWP press releases. The old idea of the Civil service being impartial is no longer applicable.

  9. john

    I suspect that Civil Service has simply been subject to the same erosion in ethical standards that is common to the rest of society. Charities, especially Christian ones, which have become involved in Work Programme type schemes have ended up, by slow degrees, compromising their founding principles through the allure of money.

    Seenior civil servants can also earn huge bonuses which tend to have a corrosive influence on standards of public service. When the people who are supposed to lead and set example are regularly caught in self-serving and criminal activities they badly influence the standards of society they govern producing a future generation of leaders even more compromised than themselves.

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