Does anybody remember the Coalition Agreement? This was the document drawn up between the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties, either in May 2010 or in March that year, depending on who you believe. Did they stick to it?
Of course they didn’t!
The whole thing seems to have been a Con job. A glance through it today reveals inconsistencies with what has happened, deviations… some might even say outright lies. Let’s have a look at a chapter, shall we?
19. JOBS AND WELFARE
This seems an obvious place to start because of the incredibly reckless behaviour of Iain Duncan Smith. Here’s the introduction:
The Government believes that we need to encourage responsibility and fairness in the welfare system. That means providing help for those who cannot work, training and targeted support for those looking for work, but sanctions for those who turn down reasonable offers of work or training.
Experience shows that “help for those who cannot work” meant ending unnecessarily complicating the benefit assessment system to ensure that any evidence supporting a claim of illness is treated with suspicion if not discounted altogether, and ensuring that those on the Work Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance were shunted off the benefit after a year, whether they were better or not. “Training and targeted support for those looking for work” meant work programme providers who were supposed to be helping those on ESA find appropriate employment in fact ran a ‘cream and park’ system in which only those for whom it was easiest to find work ever received serious attention; the rest were left to rot until their term on the benefit ended. For jobseekers, this training involved silly ‘lowest-common-denominator’ education schemes in which graduates were asked to relearn simple English and arithmetic or how to write their CV, being forced into ‘Workfare’ schemes at the taxpayers’ expense while the participating companies made a huge profit, and being pressured into registering with Universal Jobmatch, a job advertisement system that quickly gained a reputation as a home of identity thieves and sex industry predators. “Sanctions for those who turn down reasonable offers of work or training” suffered ‘mission creep’, and very soon people were being sanctioned because they were being offered driving jobs when they didn’t have a licence, or because they arrived for Job Centre appointments slightly late.
Let’s go into the details:
- We will end all existing welfare to work programmes and create a single welfare to work programme to help all unemployed people get back into work. Did this ever happen?
- We will ensure that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants facing the most significant barriers to work are referred to the new welfare to work programme immediately, not after 12 months as is currently the case. We will ensure that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants aged under 25 are referred to the programme after a maximum of six months. We know that those with the most significant barriers were ‘parked’ on benefits by the work programme providers, despite Iain Duncan Smith’s protestations that his DWP was “transforming their lives”. Transforming them into misery, perhaps.
- We will realign contracts with welfare to work service providers to reflect more closely the results they achieve in getting people back into work. This never happened. Work programme providers are supposed to receive payment based on results but it seems they are still receiving payment based on the number of jobseekers who get put on their books.
- We will reform the funding mechanism used by government to finance welfare to work programmes to reflect the fact that initial investment delivers later savings through lower benefit expenditure, including creating an integrated work programme with outcome funding based upon the DEL/AME switch. What?
- We will ensure that receipt of benefits for those able to work is conditional on their willingness to work. Unfortunately this willingness to work has become subject to arbitrary decisions by Job Centre staff, based on the number of people they need to get off their books at any particular time. There is no consistency to it at all, and certainly no justice.
- We support the National Minimum Wage because of the protection it gives low income workers and the incentives to work it provides. Can either Coalition party then explain why the minimum wage has suffered below-inflation increases until now, when an above-inflation rise has been programmed in time with a forthcoming general election?
- We will re-assess all current claimants of Incapacity Benefit for their readiness to work. Those assessed as fully capable for work will be moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance. The assessment was based, not on any rational system, but on a regime devised by an American insurance company as a way to prevent people from receiving the support they clearly deserve.
- We will support would-be entrepreneurs through a new programme – Work for Yourself – which will give the unemployed access to business mentors and start-up loans. Has anybody ever heard of ‘Work for Yourself’?
- We will draw on a range of Service Academies to offer pre-employment training and work placements for unemployed people. Did this ever happen? If it did, how many people have won proper jobs (not part-time or zero-hours positions) because of it?
- We will develop local Work Clubs – places where unemployed people can gather to exchange skills, find opportunities, make contacts and provide mutual support. Did this ever happen?
- We will investigate how to simplify the benefit system in order to improve incentives to work. This would be the ongoing and exorbitantly expensive fiasco that Iain Duncan Smith calls Universal Credit.
What a catalogue of calamity. Viewed in the Coalition’s own terms, it is easy to see that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government has done nothing to improve jobseekers’ chances and everything to fatten the wallets of their friends running the sham ‘Work Programme’ schemes or build the profits of the companies taking part in Workfare programmes.
Policies for the long-term sick or disabled have been nothing short of catastrophic, with tens of thousands driven off-benefit and into an uncertain life with no income, either forced to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance (and be refused because they are too ill to work) or to beg from friends and family, or to commit suicide or die quietly of malnutrition. The Department for Work and Pensions conveniently keeps no record of what happens to those who are bumped off-benefit, and is stubbornly refusing all legally-submitted requests for statistics on the number of people who have died while in receipt of benefit.
Bear in mind also that this is just one policy area out of 31, and you start to get an idea of the chaos that has been caused by this single rogue administration.
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