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It isn’t very often one can say a news report was shocking – not because of the subject matter, but because of the way it was reported.
That was the situation tonight with the BBC’s item in which Work Programme providers complained that they need more money to “help” the most challenging jobseekers into work.
This group, of course, being benefit claimants in the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance.
This group being the most consistently abused and neglected element of the new underclass created by the Conservative-led Coalition government, demonised and hated by the right-wing press, often attacked in the street (to judge from first-hand accounts), many of whom have been driven to suicide or death caused by their conditions, which have been worsened by the unacceptable (and to most people reading this, inconceivable) amount of stress the DWP, Atos (the private company assessing their fitness for work) and the private Work Programme providers have put them through.
This group who have been sent on so-called “back to work training” with Work Programme providers, consisting of minimal and elementary exercises that are an insult to the intelligence, rather than an aid to employment. Does anyone remember the exercise in which people are asked to draw a pig? Apparently the direction it faces indicates whether you’re the kind of person who faces their challenges head-on, or someone who takes a more circumspect attitude (so, nothing to do with whether you think a side view is more interesting, then).
This group, being cynically exploited by Work Programme provider organisations in a blatant bid to screw money out of the taxpayer, despite having done the bare minimum to “help” people back into work.
This group, consisting mostly – if not entirely – of people who belong in the support group of Employment and Support Allowance but were placed among those who should be able to go back to work within a year because the Atos Work Capability assessors are under orders to place no more than 12 or 13 per cent of everyone they see into the support group. Oh, you don’t believe me? Ask yourself why, when the fraud rate for disability benefits is 0.4 per cent, the percentage of people being told they are lying and are fit for work is 70 per cent, to which a further 17-18 per cent can be added who are deemed likely to be fit for work with this so-called training from the WPPs.
This is why the Work Programme companies can’t get these people into jobs: They are too ill to work.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This isn’t about the facts. This is about ‘managing’ the news, to present the public with a cosy story to make Work Programme providers look nice and friendly. They’re not failing because of any lack of will on their part (the BBC story tells us); they’re failing because the government isn’t making them rich enough!
Let’s take this BBC story apart. We’ll use the article on the corporation’s website.
First factual claim: “Of those who have been on the scheme for at least a year, a third have begun a job, figures seen by the BBC show.” This may be true. Unfortunately, statistics tend also to show that these jobs do not last long and the individuals in them end up back on the Work Programme within a few weeks or months. The DWP’s own mark of success is a person keeping a job for six months or more. That’s not exactly permanent by anybody’s standards.
Second factual claim: “In the most challenging group – who claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – only 10 per cent have found work”. This may also be true. Readers will recall the fuss over government lies that 900,000 people had signed off ESA rather than take the Work Capability Assessment, that were proven to be the normal “churn” of claimants signing off for perfectly ordinary reasons such as finding a job they could do, even though sick/disabled, or getting better. ESA is not a lifetime benefit!
So with this figure – totalling around 1.7 per cent of the total number of claimants over a 12-month period – it is entirely likely that some will have found a job they can do, or got better, after taking the assessment. The figures for fraud aren’t touched by this possibility, as there is no reason to believe a fraudulent claimant would be put in the WRAG.
In other words, the 90 per cent of WRAG members left on the Work Programme are, most likely, those who belong in the support group, who are unlikely to find lasting employment because (let’s repeat it): They are too ill to work.
Work Programme providers have their own representative organisation called the Employment Related Services Association, or ERSA. This organisation claimed that the Work Programme cannot “fix” the “complex” health and skills requirements of ESA claimants on its own, but needed to tap into “skills and health budgets”. This is fascinating, because the Work Programme is supposed to be specifically designed to meet the needs of its users. We know it doesn’t, because it has been running since 2011 and we have first-hand accounts to the contrary from people who have been on it, but that was the claim.
ERSA figures “suggest around a quarter of ESA jobseekers have been unemployed for at least 11 years”. This seems likely – they belong in the support group, not the WRAG, and are unable to work.
“The DWP says it recognises the ‘particular barriers facing many of the hardest to help’. Hang on! Wasn’t the DWP under heavy fire only weeks ago because work programme providers were ‘parking’ the most difficult claimants – admitting there was no way to get them into jobs? And that, after the Secretary of State, no less, Iain Dunderhead Smith, went on the BBC’s Question Time and railed about people who had been “parked” on benefits for decades at a time, making it clear in no uncertain terms that he was going to get them off benefits, come Hell or high water?
This is the same story, but now the providers have got the begging bowl out. They’re already paid millions (don’t believe the payment-by-results claim) but they want more money.
Have they forgotten the aim is to save the taxpayers’ cash?
I thought George Osborne’s Mansion House speech would be the most infuriating thing I’d hear this evening.
I was wrong.