Colin Rogers with wife Carol [Image: Liverpool Echo].
DAYS after suffering a major heart attack and as he lay in a hospital bed wired to monitors facing a bypass operation, a Wirral dad was phoned and told he must continue a government work programme, writes Kirsty McHale in the Liverpool Echo.
Colin Rogers, 58, from Irby, had been admitted to Arrowe Park Hospital and then transferred to Broadgreen, in Liverpool, after suffering chest pains.
His wife, Carol, said she was later told he was moments from death as his heart failed and then specialists said he must undergo a quadruple heart bypass operation after he was taken ill on September 27.
Yet, days later – despite his wife informing the Job Centre of her husband’s condition and asking that this be passed on – as he lay in bed in hospital he received a call about his place on the Government’s Work Programme, delivered by public services company A4e.
Colin, who had worked for Champion Spark Plugs until the factory closed and he was made redundant, was told by a manager from A4e that he was committed to the work programme he had been signed up and would have to continue it.
Colin, who came out of hospital a few days ago, said: “I couldn’t believe that they were ringing me because I had given my wife a list of people who needed to be told and she had contacted the Job Centre and told them A4e needed to be informed what had happened to me. So I was completely shocked and I said to the guy I couldn’t believe he was phoning me, that he was supposed to have been told that I had a heart attack.
“This guy was persisting about wanting to discuss the next plan of action but I said I was ending the conversation and put the phone down.”
Colin said within minutes of this a nurse, who had noticed his heart monitor, came and asked if there was a problem, but Colin said: “I didn’t want to say anything because I was embarrassed I was being phoned up like that.”
He added: “But I was disgusted with what had happened. I want to work, but all I seem to be doing is fighting these people.”
A spokeswoman for DWP said correct procedures had been followed.
Here’s an article that ticks many boxes. Johnny Voidwrites:
“The body established to lie on behalf of the fraud ridden welfare-to-work industry have launched a new campaign on the back of a report so breath-takingly dishonest it would make Iain Duncan Smith blush.
“According to the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), the floundering Work Programme has been a huge success and is set to add £18 billion to the economy. This is based on a report which ERSA commisioned from a consultancy company called Europe Economics who have mangled the figures in an attempt to hoodwink the DWP into giving Work Programme providers like A4e and G4S even more tax payer’s cash.”
You can read the rest of the article here – but we’ve been here before. Look at the issues mentioned:
1. The report claims that around 100,000 people have gained jobs over the last three years as a direct result of the Work Programme – but that claim is based on the number of job vacancies. What about the phenomenal rise in self-employment? What about the question of whether these people are actually self-employed or are merely claiming Working Tax Credits because it is easier than jumping through the hoops placed in front of them by Job Centre Plus?
2. The report ignores the Work Programme’s utter failure to find jobs for people in the Work-Related Activity group of Employment and Support Allowance. These ESA claimants are in danger of losing their benefit entitlement at the end of a year – whether their physical condition has improved or not – and should therefore be a priority but the Work Programme providers are continually ignoring them in a process known as ‘Cream and Park’ – they ‘cream’ off the people they can easily get into work and ‘park’ those – like people on ESA – whose cases are too much like hard work.
3. The assumption that the Work Programme will add £18 billion to the economy is based on a lie. The figure adds together the amount the government is expected to save in benefits and the claimant is expected to receive in extra money, along with “some magical money added on top which they pretend it will save businesses”, as Johnny colourfully puts it. The trouble is, as he points out: “It assumes that everyone who gets a job and keeps it on the Work Programme is a 17-year-old with 50 years of working life ahead of them. 17-year-olds aren’t even eligible for the Work Programme” [bolding mine].
4. At face value, the report shows that the Work Programme is only adding £140 million to the economy at the moment – but it costs at least three times as much, according to Johnny’s article. What does this mean? The Work Programme is costing the UK economy at least £280 million every year.
You see, not only has this been going on ever since the Coalition government established welfare-to-work in its current form –
Not only have government ministers and backbenchers been lying to you about the payouts given to the profit-driven privately-owned provider companies –
Not only have these companies been sucking down on your hard-earned taxpayer cash as though they had done something to earn it –
But the people they were supposed to be helping – people who have been forced into ever-greater poverty by the benefit uprating cap, arbitrary and unfair benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax, the £26,000 cap on benefits for families, the imposition of council tax on even the poorest households (in England at least), the stress of continual reassessment (if they are ESA claimants in the work-related activity group), the humiliation of having to visit food banks and who knows what else…
The people who are desperate to get any kind of paying job, despite the fact that zero-hours contracts could make them worse-off than unemployment, due to the effect on in-work benefits, despite the fact that those in-work benefits are also being squeezed hard, and despite the fact that there are at least five jobseekers for every job that becomes available…
These are the people that government ministers, backbenchers and the right-wing press keep victimising with their endless attacks on “skivers”, “scroungers”, the “feckless”, the “idle” and the “lazy”!
If I was unemployed and my MP had been caught slagging me off while praising these good-for-nothing so-called work programme ‘providers’, I would make it my business to bring them before the public, lock them into some medieval stocks and pelt them with rotten vegetables. Public humiliation is the least they should get for this continual insult to common decency.
But wait! There’s more.
It turns out that, not only are these work programme providers a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing parasites, but many of them are also a bunch of foreigners who’ve come to the UK to take our jobs!
Ingeus is Australian. G4S is part-Danish. Maximus is American.
It seems that all the politically-fuelled and media-driven anger against immigration into the UK from the rest of the European Union and beyond may be designed to distract us all from the fact that foreign firms are immigrating here to take government jobs that should be yours, and to steal your tax money.
Nobody can say they’ve earned it, after all.
But let us not be unfair. It would be wrong to concentrate on welfare-to-work providers when all of government is riddled with foreign interlopers.
Look at the Treasury, where the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms have been re-writing tax law to suit their tax-avoiding corporate clients for the last few years. They are Deloitte (American), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (part-American), Ernst & Young (part-American) and KPMG (Dutch).
And then there is the huge, criminal, foreign firm that has been advising the Department for Work and Pensions on ways to privatise the welfare state since the mid-1990s – a firm so controversial that there is currently a moratorium on the mention of its name in the national mainstream media. It is an American insurance giant called Unum.
The best that can be said of these five corporations is that – at least to the best of our knowledge – they do work for a living.
“If this isn’t intimidation, I don’t know what is – it’s a very clear message to anyone: How dare you protest against us and, if you do, we’ll find you fit for work!” Anti-Atos protester Joanne Jemmett with the sign left by Atos workers outside the assessment centre in Weston-Super-Mare on Wednesday (“Fit enough to protest – fit enough to work!”) at the start of this short film documenting the demonstration there.
Watching the stories stack up in the wake of the national day of protest against Atos last Wednesday has been very interesting.
The immediate response was that Atos has approached the government, seeking an early end to its contract. This deal, under which Atos administers the hated Work Capability Assessments to people on incapacity or disability benefits, would have been worth more than £1 billion to the company over a 10-year period.
Allegedly, company employees have been receiving death threats, both during and after the protests. We’ll come back to those shortly.
The Conservative-led Coalition took this development in the way we have come to expect – spitefully. A DWP spokesperson said that the company’s service had declined to an unacceptable level, and that the government was already seeking tenders from other firms for the contract.
This is what happens when bullies squabble.
Atos is the big bully that has just had a shock because the other kids in the playground stood up to it and made it clear they weren’t going to stand for its nonsense any more. We’re told that all bullies are cowards and it appears to be true in this case – Atos went running to the bigger bully (the government) and said it was scared. The government then did what bigger bullies do; it said Atos was rubbish anyway and set about finding someone else to do its dirty work.
Here’s the sticking-point, though – as the BBC identified in its article: “The government was furious with Atos for leaking information it believes to be commercially confidential… If Atos wants to pull out early, some other companies may pay less to take those contracts on than they otherwise would.”
I should clarify that companies don’t actually pay for contracts; they offer to carry out the work at the lowest prices they think are viable, in competition with other firms. The government chooses the company it feels is best-suited to the work. In this situation, it seems likely that the possibility of death threats may put some firms off even applying.
So let’s come back to those threats. A spokesperson for the organisers of Wednesday’s demonstration tells us that pickets took place outside 93 Atos centres, across the UK. Most of these were very small – averaging 30 people or less (I can confirm that in Newtown, Powys, a maximum of 15 people attended at any one time). Brighton and London were bigger, but 12 demos had only one person present.
“That is really funny because, as you have seen, Atos are saying they had to close down all their centres for the day – up and down the country – because of huge hoards of scary, threatening disabled people issuing death threats,” the spokesperson said.
“All demos were peaceful and no trouble or arrests were reported.”
In the spokesperson’s opinion: “Atos have been planning to step down for a long time because they weren’t making enough profit and just used our tiny little demos as an excuse.”
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and sister group Black Triangle issued a joint statement: “The bizarre exit strategy Atos have developed in identifying apparent physical threats on Facebook despite the growing lists of real deaths caused by the WCA regime is an outrageous insult to all those who have died and all those who have lost family members through this regime.
“It is an insult to those left without their homes, without money and needing to go to food banks.
“It is an insult to every person who has suffered worsening physical and mental health through this inhuman regime.”
The statement also poured water on any government claim that other companies had been put off bidding for the contract:”The alphabet corporations – G4S, A4E, SERCO, CAPITA – are already lining up to take over the multi-million profits and the mantle of the new Grim Reapers. The misery imposed by this Government and the DWP will continue as long as its heinous policies continue.”
I would strongly urge all readers to put their support behind the remainder of the statement, which asserted: “The Work Capability Assessment must also end.
“The reign of terror by this unelected Coalition Government which has awarded itself pay rises and cut taxes for those earning more than £150,000 while piling punishment, poverty, misery and premature death on everyone else in its policies of rich against poor must end.
“Make no mistake – we will continue to demonstrate against ATOS, now delivering the complete failure of PIP in which claims are being delayed by up to a year.
“We will demonstrate against any other company that takes over the WCA contract.
“We will continue to demand the immediate removal of the WCA, and the removal of this Government.”
In my article on the Bedroom Tax evictions taking place in my home town (yesterday) I made it clear that too few people are bothering to pay attention to the evils of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government. That article received a huge response, garnering almost four times the readership of other recent posts within just 24 hours.
The situation described in this article is much worse – people aren’t being evicted from their homes; they are being forced off of the benefits that have kept them alive, pushed – by the government! – towards destitution, despair and death through either suicide or a failure of their health that their Atos assessment results deny should ever take place.
Today’s article should have more readers, after the success of yesterday’s – but we’ll have to see, shan’t we? If fewer people read it, we’ll know that they all just looked up for a moment, thought, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and went back to whatever distraction keeps them happy in the face of impending government-sponsored pain.
Any attempt to inform the public will fail if the public stops paying attention.
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The pretext: These are the figures showing the estimated amount of long-term illness in the UK per year. Remember that these figures have halved in the last decade.
The Department for Work and Pensions is setting up a new “service” offering “advice” to people who are off work with an illness for more than four weeks.
No reference is made to improving people’s health.
It should also be noted that sickness absence in the UK is among the lowest in Europe, and has halved over the past decade.
The announcement was made on the BBC News website shortly after midnight. Nothing has appeared on the Government’s own website so it seems the Corporation has gone back to being Westminster’s poodle again – breaking news for the government in order to give spin doctors time to assess the reaction and then write a press release that is more acceptable to the public.
The Health and Work Service will be a privately-run operation covering England, Wales and Scotland, offering “non-compulsory” medical assessments and “treatment plans”. This is reminiscent of the way Universal Jobmatch was introduced to jobseekers as a “non-compulsory” service – which many thousands of people have been bullied and harassed into joining.
The scheme will allow employers or GPs to refer employees for a “work-focused occupational health assessment”, according to the BBC report. So this means the employee has no say in whether to go on the scheme – it is down to bosses and doctors. You are invited to consider whether this represents another great step forward in the Conservative Party’s claims to be crusading for patient choice.
The story says workers will be allowed to refuse assessment or to follow any course of action that is recommended but, again, we have the example of Universal Jobmatch.
The “assessment” is meant to identify the issues preventing an employee from returning to work and draw up a plan for them, their GP and their employer, showing how that person can be “helped” back more quickly.
One is forced to question the efficacy of such a system, if faced with illnesses or diseases that must receive medical treatment.
You don’t talk someone better – the huge number of people who have died while going through the DWP’s Employment and Support Allowance sickness denial machine has proved that.
The government has made its aim in setting up the new scheme perfectly clear, saying employers will “save money” by having fewer staff off sick – possibly saving companies up to £70 million a year in reduced sickness pay and related costs.
The DWP says people will return to work earlier. This seems like a pie-in-the-sky aspiration, as illness does not go away in accordance with a timetable. This means the Department’s other claims – that there will be a reduction in lost working days and increased economic output – are also pipe dreams.
It is far more likely that sick people will be forced back to work before they are better – leading to an increased chance that illnesses will spread among workforces, there will be more lost working days and lowered economic output.
The Trades Union Congress, while supporting schemes that could help people back into work, agreed (with me) that this one creates a danger that people will be forced back to work before they are well.
Finally, any company involved in the scheme should be aware that it is unlikely to make a profit from it. Look at the effect on other firms of involvement with DWP schemes: Welfare-to-work provider A4e has reported a pre-tax loss of £11.5 million in the year to March 31, 2013 – up from a £2.1 million loss the year before. Turnover dropped from £194 million to £167 million.
So now we can say very clearly to all private companies:
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“If you’re a student, and you have to pay a fee to go to university… You end up with a debt of 12,500 quid, you marry another student – £12,500, well, 25,000 quid; you then try to get a house because you want to start a family – that’s 40,000 – you start life with a debt of £60,000! I tell you, it would be great, convenient, to a future employer because someone with a debt of 60,000 quid is not going to cause any trouble; otherwise they might lose their job and so on.” Tony Benn, speaking circa 2002.
One has to admire Tony Benn for his powers of prophecy!
Clearly, he was able to look nearly a decade into the future to foretell the coming of a government for whom the imposition of a £9,000-per-year tax on learning – by universities themselves, not the government itself – was a desirable outcome. Right?
Wrong. He was talking about the introduction of those fees by Labour in 1998. The Labour government increased the amount it was possible to charge in tuition top-up fees in 2004, a couple of years after Mr Benn uttered the words I quote above.
Labour was on the slippery slope, even then. The party of the people had lost sight of the effects such policies would have on them. Why? Because the lure of business-oriented advisors was so strong. “Here’s where the money is,” it seems they were saying. “Come with us.”
What a shame they were talking about money for them, rather than the UK as a whole. Mr Benn’s prediction about student debt was – if I may be so tasteless as to say so – bang on the money and now we’ve got a lot of people labouring (sorry!) under serious debt.
It was a mistake.
Look at the credit boom in the early 2000s, when banks and other organisations were throwing money at people willy-nilly (or so it seems today). We know from analyses made after the 2008 crash that little attempt was made to evaluate borrowers’ creditworthiness, and hindsight suggests we should not be surprised that so many of them proved to be completely unable to clear those debts, with many borrowing even more in order to meet the interest repayments they had incurred. Eventually, people started to default, and in huge numbers. What did the lenders expect?
That was a mistake – not just by our (and others’) government, but by the major lending institutions of the UK and the western world.
Look at Workfare. Labour wanted to bring it in, despite the results of repeated studies before the 2010 election that showed workfare programmes did not increase the likelihood of finding paid employment and could instead reduce that prospect by limiting the time available for job searches and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.
Then the 2010 election happened and Labour got the boot. So instead, the Conservative-led Coalition government brought it in. Interesting, that.It’s almost as if the same people had been advising both parties on employment policy, don’t you think?
We all know the effect of Workfare. By going into organisations – including profit-making companies that are perfectly capable of employing staff in their own right – and providing free labour for them, the government not only stops those firms from actually taking on new staff – it depresses wages by ensuring current staff cannot ask for a pay rise; bosses can now simply give them their marching orders and ask for more support from Workfare.
In a nation that desperately needs to increase its tax income, to pay off a rocketing national debt, that has to be a mistake, right?
We can see that it is planned because the effect of the Coalition’s Benefits Uprating Bill will be the same – by ensuring the unemployed must chase every job available – no matter how low-paid – because benefit no longer covers their costs and they run the risk of losing everything they own, the government is also ensuring that people who are already in low-paid jobs live in fear that their contracts will be dropped in favour of employing people who will take less.
So: not a mistake, after all.
Or is it?
The UK economy has taken three major hits over the last week or so. First Honda cut 800 jobs at its factory in Swindon on January 11, blaming a sales slump across Europe. That’s an effect of austerity – people have less money to spend on cars which, apart from houses, are the most expensive investments ordinary working citizens can make.
Then camera retailer Jessops closed its 187 stores with the loss of 1,370 jobs on the same day – apparently blaming the rise in camera phones. That’s another effect of austerity – people won’t buy specialist photographic equipment they don’t think they can afford when they’ve got cameras as part of their mobile phones; lack of disposable income means they must try to make their purchases wisely.
Now HMV has run into trouble, seeking insolvency protection and putting 4,500 jobs at risk. The 91-year-old record store chain couldn’t compete with online firms such as Amazon, it seems. And no wonder – Amazon is cheaper, people can do their shopping at home and, of course, Amazon don’t pay their taxes.
I reckon that’s around 6,670 people whose jobs are either lost or in serious jeopardy, because of austerity policies fuelled by managers’ greed. It is heads of industry who advise the government, and their advice (as I’ve previously stated) has always been to ensure that workers’ pay is low, so their own salary increases can be high – 800 per cent more over the past 30 years. I keep harping on about that because, as figures go, it’s such a whopper that it needs special attention.
But the policy has backfired because these people have failed to account for the fact that it is the working and unemployed poor who spend most of their money on the products their companies sell. With no money to spare, the companies lose revenue and have to make cutbacks. Now even fewer people are economically active and there is even less money to spare.
More companies hit the wall. Without sincere and concentrated effort to halt the process, a cascade effect could kick in, leading to – as I mentioned only a few days ago – economic ruin.
I take no pleasure at all from seeing my own prediction coming to fruition so quickly.
So, returning to Mr Benn’s comments at the top of this piece, what will Labour – Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – do about it?
And the answer is: More of the same.
What are they playing at?
Labour’s ‘Job Guarantee’ will, according to Boycott Workfare, “give billions of taxpayers’ money to subsidise big private businesses – probably the likes of failing and government contract-reliant A4E, and workfare-users ASDA – helping them to drive up their profit margins. It guarantees to further undermine real job vacancies as companies replace job roles with subsidised compulsory short-term placements.
“Labour, like the Coalition government, also now guarantee to undermine the idea of a living wage, which just two months ago Ed Milliband appeared to champion. After all if a company can get staff forced to work for it, both provided by and subsidised by the state at minimum wage, why pay the living wage?”
In spite of all the evidence, it seems Labour wants to make matters worse.
This is no good at all! When it comes to 2015, at this rate, voters won’t see any difference at all between Labour and the Tories.
It’s time for a complete change of plan. Labour needs to jettison all the nonsense it picked up during the New Labour years – along with any Shadow ministers who are still spouting it – and go back to its roots.
Work out a policy that actually supports industry, employment and prosperity, rather than the fatcats who are clearly corrupting all our politicians.
Slave auction: One of the posters created to protest against the work programme when A4e was still involved.
The number of people being referred to the government’s flagship work programme has dropped dramatically, according to official figures – but I wouldn’t start celebrating yet, if I were you.
Figures for the year to the end of July 2012 show 878,000 referrals, but total monthly referrals in July were fewer than 49,000 – less than half of the 100,000 who were put on the controversial scheme in July 2011.
The number of long-term Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants has risen by 188,000 during the same period.
Since January, 15 charities or voluntary groups have quit the work programme, possibly due to the bad publicity the surrounds it. But 20 more signed up.
According to The Guardian, “The programme is supposed to link job centres to the companies that help unemployed people find work. The firms are paid for every jobless person who is found work.
“Under the contract, companies, and the charities that work for them, can collect £13,550 for finding such claimants long-term work; double the money paid for getting an unemployed person a job.”
This certainly agrees with the information sent in by Vox Political commenters, like this one: “The WTW [Welfare-to-Work] provider gets a £600 attachment fee. They also get paid fees for ‘providing support’ i.e. bullying her into doing what they want. Later they get an ‘outcome fee’ for making her stay in the minimum wage job of their choice. If she finds something with no help from them, they still pocket the dosh. If she finds training other than their useless ‘courses’ she gets rewarded with a sanction (benefits withheld indefinitely) to ensure compliance.”
That comment was made by a person who was placed with A4e [Action for Employment], a training company whose government contracts have been terminated after allegations of fraud were made against it. A Channel 4 investigation revealed in September that A4e had only found 4,020 jobs that lasted more than three months, in the 10 months up to May 2012, for its 115,000 compulsory attendees, at a cost to the taxpayer of £45 million.
Only a few days ago I wrote about one such “training” company – it might have been A4e – that took £400 per claimant, then passed each person on to Job Centre Plus, to go on a £300 work scheme. The cash taken by the company – for doing nothing – was excused as an “administration” cost.
These are all incidental to the main criticism of the work programme, which is that it keeps unemployment high by offering private companies people who must work for no pay – in other words, state-sponsored slavery. When the work placement ends, the private company throws away that person and brings in another. My belief is that it is not the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay the wages of people employed by a private company; if a firm wants people to stack its shelves, it should hire them at a living wage, rather than ask the government to provide workers and pay them only in state benefits.
I do not think it is a coincidence that the work programme has slumped, apparently because Job Centre Plus staff are moving claimants straight into jobs. And look at some of the other figures! Unemployment – down. GDP growth – up.
I have always believed that the work programme was an attempt to funnel taxpayers’ money into the hands of ministers’ friends, and these figures suggest I am right. The nation is better off without the work programme.
But that means these friends of the ministers would go without, and we can’t have that, can we? So what will the government do?
Let’s all remember that one of Chris Grayling’s last decisions at the Department for Work and Pensions was to roll out the work programme in 16 London boroughs – all notable sites of the summer riots in 2011 – starting in September. So youngsters who probably weren’t involved in those riots will end up doing 390 hours’ community service, while Grayling’s fat-cat business buddies continue to get their government backhander.
Together with the right-wing press, he has already persuaded the general public to turn on the sick, the disabled, and the unemployed. Now Iain Duncan Smith (or Insidious Dole-Snatcher, as he has been dubbed) is turning his sights onto so-called “broken” families.
Iain Duncan Smith is a strange, strange man. His latest speech is proof of this. In it, he tells us all why it is a bad thing for parents to break up with their partners and form new relationships.
Apparently it’s much better to stay locked into loveless marriages, creating myriad social and psychological problems for the children, than it is to accept that a relationship isn’t working and move on to something better.
The Crip-killer General turned his attention on so-called “broken” families last week, announcing a series of new “outcome measures” whose stated intention is to track whether his policies promote “lasting life change”.
(I think we can be sure that anyone who falls foul of Mr Smith’s odious standards will certainly endure “lasting life change” of some kind – like the average of 73 people per week who, during assessment for his Employment and Support Allowance, die. You can’t get a more lasting life change than death!)
The first of these new measures checks up on the proportion of children who live with the same parents from birth, and asks whether those parents have a good-quality relationship.
“We are driving home the message that social programmes should promote family stability and avert breakdown,” he said.
Let’s consider the implications of what he’s saying. He wants to keep families together – that’s a good thing, right?
Not always. Notice he’s not suggesting that he’ll do anything real to help families with problems. He’ll just check whether they’re happy or not.
I know a thing or three about families that break up. I’m a stepfather myself (well, my stepson and stepdaughter consider me that way, even though their mother and I never married). I got into the relationship after the father had left; mother and children were not a very happy family at the time. There were arguments and upsets – a lot of dysfunctionality.
This changed after I joined them. It took a while, I admit, but things started to change for the better. Some long-term issues haven’t fully healed but for the most part, things turned out all right. Nobody in the family is a criminal. The children – who are both now adults – have held down jobs, although my stepson’s time in a local theatre was cut short when the government cut its funding. Thanks for nothing, Mr Smith!
What I’m saying is, family break-up does not lead, inevitably, to social problems and crime, and Mr Smith does the people of the UK a huge disservice by implying this.
In fact, he’s attacking step-parents, single parents – anyone who does not fit into his narrow-minded opinion of what constitutes a proper family group. He sees us all as a problem that he needs to fix.
No thank you, Mr Smith! My family and I got along just fine without you!
And besides, what’s he going to do to help families with problems?
Is the Department for Work and Pensions going to come into family homes to measure whether children are growing up in “stable, loving families”? Or will private companies be paid to force couples to stay together, no matter what real-life problems this may cause? Is the government seriously suggesting abusive partners should be kept in family homes?
Are couples looking at benefit sanctions, if they decide to split up – in effect denying them the short-term help they would need to get back on their feet as individuals? This seems more likely.
In fact the only solid plan I could find was to hand over huge wodges of cash to private companies Prevista, Social Finance and 3SC – apparently to shoehorn youngsters into the state-sponsored slavery known as the “work programme”.
So it’s actually just a get-rich quick scheme for companies run by Mr Smith’s friends. Let’s all take a moment to remember how one company – I believe it was A4E but I sit ready to be corrected – took £400 per claimant, before handing them over to Job Centre Plus and a £300 work scheme. The £100 taken by the company – for doing nothing – was excused as an administration cost.
I suppose we could call it jobs for the boys (and girls).
Many of you may be aware that I live in a large county called Powys, that has a small population. This means that the amount of money the local authority receives from central government and local taxation is always stretched very thin, in order to provide the services required across – what is it? – 6,000 square miles.
Given that context, it should come as no surprise at all that some of the information I have been receiving about the way that money is being spent has raised concern.
It seems the county council has employed a consultancy to carry out a survey of housing stock – to pinpoint where repairs are required and carry them out. This consultancy has taken £1.5 million from the council’s budget and not one repair has yet been carried out.
In addition, it seems most of the council’s own employees at its benefits section have quit, to be replaced by staff from an agency. This organisation charges £20 per hour for each worker’s services, I’m told.
Is this value for money? I don’t think so.
I think it is a local symptom of a national malaise: the disastrous affair public authorities have been having with the private sector. It is an affair that has already led to the humiliation of the government in the G4S Olympic security debacle; an affair that has its roots in the Private Finance Initiative that was launched by the Conservatives in the 1990s and continued into the current century (to my shame) by my own political party, Labour.
I have recently become quite a fan of ‘lefty’ columnist Owen Jones. This may come as a surprise to some readers as not only has he enjoyed greater success than me at the same career (journalism), but he is 16 years my junior. Talented, young and successful – I should be green with envy rather than cheering him on, right?
In fact I’m simply glad that someone is around to say what I would have said, in his position.
You may have heard this gentleman speaking on the BBC’s Any Questions (Radio 4, last Friday and Saturday), on the very subject of private involvement in public services. If you did not, allow me to enlighten you.
“What’s happened with G4S has exposed the dogma of the last 30 years, that the private sector is good and efficient, and the public sector is wasteful. What happened when G4S failed? The state had to go in and fill the vacuum – and it’s not just there we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it with A4E, this welfare to work programe, this company that basically took taxpayers’ money to line the pockets of those who were running it; we saw it with PFI – started by the Tory government, continued under New Labour, that’s like paying for public services on a credit card, getting these private companies to do what the state should have done, apparently it costs up to £25 billion more, of our money. It’s the same with the London Underground; it’s the same with rail privatisation – we’re now paying up to four times more on subsidies for private rail companies than we did in the time of British Rail. And we’ve seen it recently with water. We just recently had a drought when rain was absolutely hammering the southeast. That’s because a water company sold off 25 reservoirs in the last 20 years.
“Public services should be run by the public sector, accountable to us, democratically-run, instead of taxpayers’ money lining the pockets of private companies who do not have our interests at heart; they just want to make profit out of our services.”
In support of that, let’s have a few facts and figures. Those I have at hand come from a book entitled ‘You Are Here’ by satirical luminaries Rory Bremner, John Bird and John Fortune, with Geoff Atkinson. It was published in 2005 so the information – accurate at the time – may be out of date by now and I would be happy to read any updates on what follows.
In 2005, this was the situation:
When the railways were privatised (by the Conservatives) it was decided that one company would own and run the tracks, one group of companies would operate the trains and another group of companies would own them. There are three rolling stock leasing companies – roscos – that lease their trains to the operating companies. These trains cost just over £2 million to build and are leased out for £500,000 per year. Their lifetime is anything up to 40 years – which is a huge profit margin.
But don’t worry – they don’t receive a penny of taxpayers’ money. No – the subsidy for the South Central franchise was set to increase by £342 million between 2005-2010. Of this, 80 per cent went to the roscos for new rolling stock – around £273,600,000. But it wasn’t taxpayers’ money by then. It was taxpayers’ money when it was part of the operating company’s subsidy, but when it was passed between that company and the rosco it was a simple business transaction.
That’s how they get away with it. You and I both know that the cash came out of our pockets, but because it went through a middle-man, these companies can call it their own.
You might be interested to know that the three leasing companies are (or were, in 2005) all owned by banks.
According to ‘You Are Here’, “The Future of Transport White Paper says: ‘The privatisation of the rail industry in the early 1990s assumed that private sector discipline and innovation would drive down the railway’s subsidy requirement and drive up the quality of service. In part this has been borne out.
“Rail users might well ask: In which part? The same document shows 80 per cent of trains arriving on time in 2004, compared to 90 per cent in 1998. The latest National Rail Trends shows total government support to the rail industry in 1995-96 of £431 million. For 2002-03 it was £2,588 million.”
Private Finance Initiatives were intended to bring private sector cash in to fund public services – which may seem like a good idea on the face of it. As ‘You Are Here’ states: The deal is simple. Money for the new service is raised privately in the money markets and thus kept off the country’s balance sheet… but like any free offer, it does come with small print.
“The long-term value of PFI contracts may go down as well as up. Your public services are at risk if you do not keep up the repayments. The return for consortiums running PFI projects” – on the other hand – “may go up and up and up. Standard terms include: cost-cutting, short-term employment contracts, high management costs, huge legal costs. Every element must be a profit centre. After expiry of contract (typically 35 years) the consortium is under no obligation to renew the terms of the lease and can renegotiate at more favourable rates or move out of the public service sector and turn the property into a hotel or office block.
“PFI often means that an organisation which previously worked to a single goal is now in competition with itself, as different parts of the same system strive to outbid each other, the primary goal being to enhance profitability rather than deliver a service.” To enhance profitability rather than deliver a service.
In February last year (2011), David Cameron promised to deliver a ‘revolution’ in public services, in which he envisaged everything but the security services and the judiciary being privatised. You can read about it here. Private prisons; private police; private health services – we’ve seen these rear their ugly heads already, and I’m sure more is to come.
Considering the disastrous profit-driven performance of the private sector in public services, as detailed above, I cannot think of anything worse than letting private companies continue with what they’ve got, let alone adding anything new to their portfolio of travesties!
With this in mind, I have to ask why Powys County Council thinks employing a private firm to survey its housing stock, or workers for a private agency to administer its benefits, is an economical use of my taxpayer money.
It’s time the madness stopped, and if Westminster is too sick to do it, then perhaps local government should lead the way back to sanity.
Having read it myself, I’m glad to see that at least one Guardian contributor appears to agree with my opinion of Liam Byrne, as expressed in my blog back in January.
I believe I can answer the question posed by this article. There isn’t any anger because the prevailing emotion is DESPAIR. John Harris correctly deduces the government’s attitude to welfare, as prompted by companies like A4E, Working Links (who?), Serco and G4S. The trouble is, this is the government’s attitude, and we’ve seen that its far-right policy isn’t for changing just because benefit recipients are suffering!
There will be no Parliamentary rebellions; the Tory back-benches are behind Mr Cameron all the way and the Liberal Democrats are useless as anything but Tory enablers. The saddest part of their involvement is the fact that they will be blamed more than the Tories themselves.
The despair has spread to other scandals – the current banking issue is a prime example. The government wants an inquiry led by its own ministers, right? We know that half of Conservative donations come from the financial sector; Mr Cameron’s personal fortune is based in banking and tax avoidance (or so we’re told); the millionaires in his cabinet are heavily involved in banking. Therefore we can deduce that any minister-led inquiry will whitewash the banking sector and those who have been fleecing us – ‘us’ being ordinary working- and middle-class people who have to use banks to keep what’s left of our cash safe – will go scott free. The people see no way to prevent this.
Finally (although I could go on), Mr Harris asserts that the previous government’s social reforms are partly to blame for our current woes. There is certainly an argument for this and, together with the Labour leadership’s apparent inability to champion popular opinion, it means the people cannot expect the situation to improve, no matter who gets into power after the next election.
This is Britain under David Cameron. Hopeless. Perhaps this is why he is so fond of saying that word at Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s certainly why despair is the prevalent emotion, rather than anger.
Personally, I refuse to give up. I say: Britain needs to change. And the way to make sure it does is to be as vocal about it as possible. Demand change at every opportunity. Force ministers to explain themselves wherever they go. Make their position as difficult as it can be – after all, that’s what they’re doing to you.
If you give in to despair, and let them walk over you, then you’re as much a part of the problem as they are.
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