Saturday, 12 July 2014

Fairer Fares For All?

Last Christmas First Bus in the South West/Bristol undertook a consultation, presumably because of the constant criticism they rightly received for their dismal service. For years they have been the target of anger and frustration from local people: the service is dire, overpriced and staffed - more than is acceptable - by people with an appalling attitude to customers. I think we've all known times, if we use the buses at all, when we've barely taken our ticket and the driver has put his foot to the floor throwing us around the cabin like a rag doll. I've seen that happen with a woman holding a baby (it didn't end badly, fortunately)!

The result of this introspection was to fundamental change of the system leading to the removal of return tickets throughout the region. The only option now is to pay for slightly cheaper single tickets, priced according to mileage, or pay for a day ticket that costs at least £6. In Bristol itself these changes seem to be somewhat popular, though time will tell if it makes any difference to the overall quality of the service.

Beyond, out in the sticks, it's a different matter: we are also affected by the lack of a return ticket option. Unfortunately this has had the effect of increasing the cost to make such a journey by at lest 25%. In response to my tweeting them about this (i have also made a formal complaint) I was told that 'fairer doesn't mean cheaper'. Not sure what else it means, nor how an arbitrary decision undertaken by management, who defend this by saying it's what customers wanted, is in any way fair.

As an example, a return trip to the Jobcentre used to cost £4.40. Now I have the choice of paying £2.80 each for two single tickets, or £6 for a day ticket. Had that journey been slightly further west (it fits within the influence of the Bristol city zone) that day ticket would be £7 instead. By any definition this is not fair. There is no reason to scrap return tickets at all. They do not require any significant change or difference in the ticket mechanism. This is laziness on the part of a company that needs to be divested of its control over a vital public service. This is the perfect example of the failure of privatisation.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Weaponising Poverty



I went for a walk this morning. This is something I like to do when the weather is less onerous – which includes when it’s hot. Though I hate to moan about our weather (that’s a lie), I find myself struggling in the heat these days. I use the word heat in relative terms; it certainly isn’t as hot as really hot parts of the world, nor has it been as hot as it was last year during that heatwave. You’ll forgive me if I wish for more tolerable weather than that.

The weather has taken a more sedate turn with some welcome rain and a chance to walk where it’s fresh and fragrant. This is surely the essence of a healthy lifestyle. Why then am I made to feel, as someone receiving benefits, the opposite?

We have a society where, even if one does things that are healthy (such as enjoy a simple walk in nature), they are made to feel negative as a result. Currently I feel exceptionally negative about society; I do not see any immediate solution to the problems we have because there is no real opposition. There are certainly a lot of angry people and a lot of people in real hardship as a result, but there is no organisation against these problems.

Problem isn’t even the right word; that would imply something beyond our control. These are circumstances that have been engineered by those in power to both maintain that power and to increase it. I’m not seeing much that will change it, even though we, the people, have the real power because we have the numbers. Unfortunately the will just isn’t there to organise it properly.

I can’t take a walk without feeling guilty that I’m enjoying the most basic thing life has to offer: my passive presence in the natural world. I am made to feel that I should be doing something else, something proactive, because that’s the role imposed on me by the system and its masters. Meanwhile these masters do everything they can to maintain their system. They make sure they are as well as can be; you will hear Tories refer to people such as William Hague as being non-aristocratic, but he receives no less compensation for being part of that power base. Compare that to a teacher who is struggling to survive on a wage far beneath what their workload demands. That is of course deliberate. Steve Webb, Pensions minister and Bedroom Tax apologist, not only receives the generous wage that ministers get (at least 150k) but also a shit load of perks including mortgage relief!

It’s a scam and if you aren’t in on it, or aren’t playing the part of gullible mark, you are to be ostracised. This is the essence of the weaponisation of poverty that has taken place over the last four years. Consider how people that are sanctioned from the system are treated. Whatever the reason given, I can see nothing to justify this almost religious level of punishment: to be removed from society through financial means seems utterly cruel. Once excluded these people are abandoned: there is no policy within the DWP (and I’d love someone to put this to IDS, who will doubtless argue such people deserve their fate) to help such people. They invent the Work Programme, they give money hand over fist to unqualified and unprepared organisations to harass and bully the unemployed, punishing them for their position. Yet no help is offered once you’re out of that system, through a sanction. Does that make any sense? It’s the use of money, to put it crudely, as a weapon. This is reinforced by the revelation that full employment (in the true sense) is not desirable.

There is a strike on Thursday. It looks like it’s going to be a big one. Of course the BBC will be in full propaganda mode (this is the same organisation that denies the truth when reporting unemployment figures) with trolling throughout the day. Unfortunately one day alone isn’t going to cut it. We need the stomach to stay out for longer. Sadly since Thatcher broke the back of industrial action in the eighties there just isn’t the appetite. You can’t really blame people when they are facing a government that wields poverty as a tool against them.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Between Two Worlds



Last Wednesday I had a meeting with the asperger’s diagnosis person for them to clarify their ‘inconclusive’ diagnosis; meanwhile I wait for their report in writing.

As expected this meeting didn’t really help – they aren’t going to change their position even though ‘inconclusive’ surely must default to ‘conclusive’ if any of this is going to matter. In other words, why don’t you err on the side of caution? Why wouldn’t you give the patient the benefit of the doubt? Otherwise why not admit that it is conclusive: conclusively negative? At least be honest.

The reason they give is down to a lack of developmental history to cross reference. I don’t know if this is simply the way the testing process is structured, for right or wrong, and therefore out of the clinician’s hand. My feeling, if I’m honest, is that, if someone has the ‘symptoms’ (words are poor substitutes here, I am not an expert in any of this) then what does their history matter, and if it’s not one condition in particular, so what? These are ultimately just labels; names for disabilities and disorders people face.

That said there was one glaring issue that warrants discussion. I had given them, as supporting evidence, the report provided by the Work Psychologist. When I asked what they made of this the clinician mentioned the following issues:
  1. The test undertaken by the WP was out of date (whether or not this is actually a problem I don’t know).
  2. The WP didn’t record the actual scores of the test: the clinician said, on the face of it the deviances in areas of understanding revealed were not per se a problem, but without knowing how strong those deviances were it was meaningless.
  3. The report mentions something called ‘Non Verbal Learning Disability’, but the clinician denied this even existed.

I subsequently put this to the Work Psychologist. If her report is compromised then I wanted to know why. Unfortunately the records were not kept past two years. Apparently this is standard procedure. However she did say that the test being out of date is irrelevant, and also said that NVLD does exist. Upon refletion why on earth whould she go to the trouble of lying about a non-existent condition? That seems an extraordinary thing to do; I looked it up on google just to see if it was real. It is. This is a condition, the peculiarities of which I don’t understand and are a separate matter, that, despite what the clinician said, is a thing.

So where does that leave me? For all I know that one detail could be the key to unlocking all this. somehow I doubt it; I intend to confront the clinician when the report arrives about this. Why does she claim something that does exist as a disorder doesn’t exist. It’s precisely this that makes it difficult for mental health sufferers (and physical health sufferers for that matter, it’s the same issue) to get taken seriously. Without proper – i.e. recognised – diagnosis for one thing it makes claiming things like DLA/PIP impossible. It will certainly make a reassessment, which, now that my claim passes the 6 month mark, is a possibility.

This to me seems utterly irresponsible: I am caught between two experts neither of whom seem to be able to ultimately help me. To be fair the WP has offered to take another look at the report and, if the clinician is willing, to actually talk directly to her. I’m not confident this would achieve much but I am of course grateful she is offering to help; it’s just a pity that help doesn’t go further. Why, you might ask, can she not diagnose herself? She is a psychologist after all!

To summarise it’s another example of this fragmented system and how, when it’s there to help, it’s fatally reluctant to do what’s needed. Getting an actual diagnosis seems to be the last thing they want to do; a thousand and one reasons are given as to why they can’t and why they seem reluctant. Unfortunately, while these reasons seem credible and compelling, they don’t really get you to a place of actual help. Even the DWP’s own Work Psychology service eludes me: just what are they actually for? This process has taken 5 months and I’m in the same place as when I started.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

CWP Provider Guidance



You know, I instigated this blog with the notion of being a smart investigative type, even though there are a ton more and better blogs doing just that. Unfortunately I always end up doing something else. I record some ideas on the Dictaphone app on my ancient mp3 player and then forget about it, and, given so many issues come up almost daily, I lose track.

Well that’s my excuse anyway. Clearly I’m not as smart as I thought I was. I’m also trying to work on my own ideas – ideas I need to spend time on since I’ve told the DWP that’s what I spend my time doing. Inevitably they will want to see results at some point (as if I’ll ever share my writing with them).

However it just keeps getting worse with the DWP. A few weeks ago the Community Placement (i.e. workfare for the post Work Programme generation) provider (i.e. the same people that run your WP placement get another crack at the public purse) guidance (i.e. the DWP are telling them how). This information can be found online, but I’m going to break some of it down here, even though (I should warn you) I am no expert!
CWP Referrals
1.07 For those JSA claimants returning from the Work Programme, JCP advisers will adopt a triage approach, supplemented by information from a Work Programme exit report, to establish claimant suitability.

First we can see that the claimant has no say in this. Whatever the DWP wants he has to do. If that means being made to work for nothing, attending daily, or anything else, that’s what’s required. So it’s obvious this has nothing to with what’s best for the claimant at all.
Establishing suitable work placement provision
2.05 Subject to Para 2.11, you must work to source 30 hour per week (excluding breaks) work placements that will last for up to 26 weeks for each claimant. We recognise that in some circumstances participation in a single work placement of 26 weeks may not be possible. If necessary, the provision duration can be made up of several shorter work placements which total 26 weeks (further information about work placement minimum standards can be found in Annex

We can see that workfare will be more than 30 hours a week because this doesn’t include break periods. That means you will be involved, whether technically ‘working’ or not, for at least 35 hours – though I guess that depends on how generous the ‘employer’ is in terms of break periods. Some places grant no more than 30 minutes a day, and that’s just for lunch. I find this ridiculous. No doubt these are the sort of places where they bemoan staff for breaking just to have a piss – while paying them a pittance.

This will also last for 6 months! That’s either with the same gang master, or through a combination of placements. Why six months?

That’s a significant period of time during which the employer is the sole beneficiary. There is nothing here that indicates the employer is then obliged to pay or hire their slave, nor any evidence that the slave becomes more employable, which is the stated aim of this nonsense. But that isn’t the worst part, since there is a job search component on top of this, which will come up later.

2.06 You must ensure that any restrictions on the type of work the claimant is seeking are taken into account when sourcing work placements - for example, if a claimant has a particular religious belief impacting on the type of work they can carry out or, if a claimant is unable to do heavy lifting due to a health condition or disability.

Given that the local provider is the same that ran the Work Programme (who subcontracted to the people that actually saw me: the Salvation Army), I could argue, were I to be put through this nonsense, that I have a religious objection. I object to them being a religious organisation motivated to making money through exploitation while pretending to be an actual army!

2.08 You should manage claimants’ expectations of available opportunities but wherever possible placements must be appropriate to the claimant’s desired employment sector and/or occupation type, and local labour market. Placements must be designed to give claimants experience of work, help strengthen their CVs and enable them to compete more effectively in the job market.

This is one of the more telling guidelines: claimants who expect something even half way decent from this scheme (such as the government would have them expect) are out of line. These expectations should be ‘managed’, presumably using the excuse that there aren’t the opportunities locally. That’s a huge copout. If you can’t manage to find decent opportunities for people, then exploiting them is hardly a viable or ethical alternative. We know you’re interested in writing, GW, but we can’t be bothered to find or source anything locally, or there isn’t anything, so fuck off to Tesco and lick the floors!

2.10 The days and hours of the work placement are not prescriptive but they must adhere to the EU Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) including requirements regarding rest breaks. This requirement is imposed because DWP views the directive as useful guidelines on working time, rather than being legally binding for those placements. Please Note: The above requirement does not extend to adhering to guidelines regarding claimant holidays.

Not sure what to make of this. Are they saying that, if they weren’t restricted by it, they’d have providers ignore the working time directive? I bet the Tories would love to do just that. We all know they consider these rules typical of EU bureaucracy infringing on the right to exploit people for hour after hour without respite.

The portion about claimant holidays refers, I think, to the rule that a claimant is entitled to two weeks holiday a year. I guess if you are hoping the provider will allow you to actually go on the holiday you’d booked and paid for prior to being mandated, you might well be hoping for too much.

The rules do say that, if you have restricted hours as part of your Claimant Commitment, the provider is meant to respect that. Whether that overrules the 30 hour a week basis I don’t know since it would seem pointless otherwise. Unfortunately this is how these providers make their money: by putting you on placements for a total amount of time. I think that the claimant is then meant to make up the shortfall by doing placements for longer. I’m not entirely sure.

2.14 If a claimant is already undertaking voluntary work and you can justifiably advise that the work is beneficial to the claimant by helping them to overcome barriers to employment, you may count that voluntary work towards the full time work placement hours. However, if you do not feel the voluntary work is of appropriate benefit to the claimant, you may require the claimant to do the full-time work in the placement you have sourced for them (but must give the claimant at least 1 weeks notice). Please Note: Where a claimant is already undertaking voluntary work you must also ensure you give the claimant 48 hours notice for any required participation/ attendance.

So it’s entirely within the gift of the provider, who is motivated to do so because they get paid, to compel a claimant to give up an existing placement. Well there is already precedent for this isn’t there! What would count as not being suitable work? Are providers really going to be able to offer something even better for the claimant? This is a nonsense. The only thing that will influence this decision is how easy it will be for the provider to get a payment. That the DWP can even consider giving providers the opportunity to do this is quite telling.

2.15 Claimants undertaking part-time work should continue the part-time work but you must top up the part-time work with a work placement to ensure the claimant’s required hours of participation are satisfied.

This is the same as the holiday rule. The claimant, as with the Work Programme, is on a scheme and, regardless if he is actually working, as long as he’s claiming is still subject to the whims of his provider. That provider isn’t going to be making a profit from the fact the claimant has a part time job so it’s more likely that job will be jeopardised by being compelled to undertake workfare since that will be deemed the priority. It isn’t just time spent doing that work: there will be time taken to get to that job and the time spent not working that is organised to do all the other things one needs doing, like shopping, arranging childcare etc.

This also applies if the claimant is actually serving a community service punishment!

2.16 Please Note: JCP will refer claimants who have insufficient work history or a lack of motivation; therefore we would expect only a minimal proportion of claimants currently undertaking part-time or voluntary work to be referred to CWP.

But no actual reason for not referring people and no penalty for being overly keen.

2.26 You are required to keep auditable records of travel cost payments with evidence of the expense incurred by claimants. You must also ensure that you do not place undue financial hardship on claimants e.g. do not leave customer to fund travel each day and reimburse at the end of week.

Thank god for small mercies I guess, but what is going to happen if the provider doesn’t live up to this responsibility? Why would their conduct in this area be any different than some report their experience as being on the Work Programme?

We all know who will suffer the consequences.
Agreeing claimant provider-led job search activity
2.33 Provider-led job search will last for the duration of allotted time and MUST be in addition to participation in work placement provision. Where a placement is not available, as part of the 30 hours provider-led job search and/ or other work-related activity a minimum of 4 hours must be provider-led job search.

So as long as you are on the CWP programme (i.e. six months) you also have to undertake a ‘provider led’ job search. I assume ‘provider led’ refers to attending the venue of that provider and doing whatever they tell you. I have no idea how they fit 30 hours into this. Is that in addition to the 30+ hours (not including travel) per week working for nothing? If so that’s over 60 hours which exceeds the Working Time Directive and doesn’t cater for time taken getting to the job search venue. If the venue is intended to be within a certain distance of the workfare venue that will further limit the opportunities.

2.34 Once the claimant has attended their initial engagement meeting, and for each week following, until the claimant becomes a CWP completer (unless the claimant is not required to participate e.g. where they are in employment and have left benefit) you must ensure that claimants, on a weekly basis, take part in a minimum of 4 hours and 10 a maximum of 10 hours provider-led job search which must be evidenced and recorded.

It’s ten hours a week (maximum). Therefore the claimant will be doing more than 40 hours a week once you account for travel and breaks. As someone with particular dietary and metabolic problems (that are never taken seriously) this is troubling. I can’t ignore these issues so I hope they are happy with people fainting!

Maybe they will let people do their job search at home, but that isn’t ‘provider led’ – and you’d have to show them the result at some point (and presumably the Jobcentre as well since you are also in receipt of JSA).

This also doesn’t include breaks, where necessary.

And the provider can actually outsource the job search element, though where they would send claimants to I don’t know. Leaves one wondering just what these people are going to end up doing for their pound of the public flesh.

2.39 Provider-led job search must be tailored to each individual and should focus on the claimant gaining and enhancing the skills required to sustain employment. It MUST include weekly job search activity including career guidance and the development of a CV (upon completion of the programme the claimant MUST have an up to date CV). Provider-led job search may also include: improving communications, mock interviews, completing application forms, workshops and training (this list is not exhaustive).


After your 7 hours at the workhouse for no pay, you are then to find the energy to engage with the provider in all manner of schemes. Not just a passive job search, this can include more extrovert activities which no doubt you will be required to show the requisite enthusiasm for!

Maybe you just want to get back home from a day of working for no money feeling justifiably exploited and down and get some dinner!

2.40 Weekly provider job search must be supervised, but can be managed remotely provided you are in contact with claimants throughout the period in question and can evidence and assure that this has occurred.

Do they mean something like Skype? Seriously?

Google+ Hangouts with A4E?

You can even be mandated to work beyond regular office hours as per this example, which pertains to guidance on informing claimants of their placements:

Monday
29th September
-
-
-
-
Tuesday
30th September
13:00
16:00
17:00
20:00
Wednesday
1st October
13:00
16:00
17:00
20:00

Which means childcare arrangements and transport must also be sourced.


4.10 Whilst participating in CWP, claimants may request time off due to domestic emergencies, e.g. a burst water pipe, fire, a break in at home, funerals, serious illness or accident of a close relative or close friend etc.

4.11 If a claimant informs you that they are unable to comply with a mandated activity due to a domestic emergency or other unexpected event, you must phone your contact in JCP to check if the claimant’s reason for absence can be accepted.

The fun continues: if I were to ring the provider and say, for any of the reasons above, I can’t attend my unpaid work placement, the provider is then meant to ring the JCP to determine if that’s good enough. So if I get burgled and can’t attend, the provider has to get permission from the JCP to accept this!

The same goes for sickness, with the proviso that the DWP only ‘allows’ a certain number of sick days (14 I think) per year:

4.19 Where JCP informs you that the claimant has already had two periods’ (of up to 2 weeks each) absence due to sickness in the previous 12 months you must make a DMA referral (at the end of the current provision week) detailing on the DMA referral the date the claimant states they became sick and any other relevant information (LMDM teams will then investigate further and request the claimants reasons for non-compliance).

So if you get sick for three weeks, it gets referred with no room for common sense or trust.

Finally, the holiday rules:
Claimant holiday entitlement
4.36 Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations allow claimants to be treated as actively seeking employment when away from home on holiday (within GB once in a rolling 12 month claim period) but they must be willing and available to return immediately to take up employment.

4.37 Where a CWP claimant informs you in advance that they would be absent on holiday and will be unable to comply with a mandated activity, you must direct the claimant to report this to JCP. JCP will check with the claimant to ensure they will be available and actively seeking employment throughout the proposed period and will notify you provided this is accepted.

4.38 Periods of holidays cannot be counted towards participation for claiming outcomes.

So this seems to suggest that, if you plan to go on holiday during your CWP, you get reported by the provider. The JC then has to check with the claimant that, despite being on holiday, they must be available for (presumably proper) work and that they will be actively seeking work. How can that be right? It also means that the holiday period doesn’t count toward the six month sentence.

Classy. Oddly they are more forgiving of bank holidays:
Bank Holidays
4.43 Where a bank holiday falls on a day that a claimant would be required to attend a work placement the claimant must be excused attendance on the work placement and the hours of attendance for that week should be reduced by 1/5th to take account of the bank holiday. The claimant should therefore complete at least 24hrs (or hours proportionate to their restrictions) on a work placement where there is a bank holiday day during the participation week. You remain required to deliver a minimum of 4 hours provider-led job search regardless of any work placement reductions.

4.44 Claimants are also not required to undertake job search activity on bank holidays

Also if the provider is open for business but the placement is closed, on any given day, the provider is meant to find activities for the claimant. This can even include Christmas!
Christmas and New Year opening
4.45 You are expected to provide appropriate activities for days that the placement organisation is closed and your premises are open.

They just can’t leave you alone.

It never ends folks!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Immigration and Crime

The hypocrisy of the British media on immigration.

Today’s Mail has another incarnation of the perennial “we can’t evict foreign criminals because of political correctness” nonsense. A Ghanaian woman is using what the Mail probably inaccurately describes as the Family Life defence (aka the pussy cat defence).

But if she committed the crime in this country, shouldn’t she be prosecuted and punished here; regardless of the place of her birth? If not then what law has she broken? Only the law of the land matters here, doesn’t it (including laws we sign up to)? So therefore why are we considering deportation? Wouldn’t it be even harsher to incarcerate her as a stranger to this country, if that’s what she is, thereby appealing to the Daily Mail ‘hang them and flog them’ crowd?

If she is deported we have no control over her fate with no guarantee she will get punished at all. Isn’t this what happened when the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing was released. Even though the grounds were different (and decent – it was an act of compassion not contrition, despite what some right wing blowhards might think), he was released and deported. The point being that the papers carried many reports of Libya celebrating his return, as if to give the British the middle finger – that he should have remained in prison to suffer our good justice!

Isn't’ that hypocrisy?

What about the numerous cases of British people, usually women it seems, who become embroiled in drug smuggling charges. How many times does the right wing press call for them to be deported from the third world hellholes in which they wind up (further evidence of course of the squalid lives of Johnny Foreigner) back to Blighty? How many Mail readers would call for such people, even when guilty, to be deported back to Britain? Shouldn’t the people in those countries call for the same thing we do here? Of course we don’t want that; it serves these people right if they are guilty of breaking foreign laws, smuggling drugs for instance, and as such deserve to rot in foreign jails.

One rule for them: when ‘they’ come over here and break our law, we don’t want anything to do with them but stick them on the first plane back. But when it’s Brits breaking the law abroad we can wash our hands of them; our justice is inferior?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Inconclusive.



Five months ago the assessment process began, ostensibly to determine if I have aspergers. I don’t really understand the processes involved or even if the assumption of aspergers is accurate. This past week I was finally informed by the clinicians (if that’s the right word) of the outcome.

Inconclusive.

The tests and interviews performed over the course of 3 appointments did not give them sufficient information to say one way or the other. I am told this is because of a lack of childhood or lifelong data with which to correlate. I personally think this is bullshit; if someone has a condition in the here and now I simply do not understand what relevance past history has. If that history cannot be provided, as an adult, then this outcome is inevitable. I guess this is how the diagnostic process works; clearly it is dependent on that information even if the signs, in the here and now, are present.

Unfortunately there isn’t much that can be done about this. they aren’t going to change their minds just because life is difficult or because having to, inevitably, deal with the DWP or even sign on, as sooner or later I will have to, requires a conclusive clear label.

Here is the problem: there is no such thing as an inconclusive outcome. What that will mean to everyone else (i.e. the DWP) is ‘there are no problems’. That’s the reality of the present paradigm and that’s why getting a diagnosis is so important. Unfortunately getting that diagnosis is a real effort, mainly because there is very obviously a desire not to see people as having problems. Maybe this is a political correctness thing, that, as with most PC issues, comes from a good place – the desire not to write folk off – but in practice it leaves people vulnerable. For example, if one cannot persuade the likes of ATOS of the existence of these problems then one has a difficult time persuading an already denial-led DWP of the difficulties you have. Even then there remains the question of what help can be offered. That would have been the next step.

So, at some point, I will have to go back to ATOS. As far as I’m aware the reassessment process is still currently on hold. Even if that’s true I cannot assume it’s indefinite. This means that I will have to hope the inconclusive report, which they will send me, will have enough to tick the boxes necessary. But without a concrete diagnosis (and never mind that the DWP has no help for people that have these kinds of difficulties) there isn’t much hope of being treated appropriately, as I feel I (and indeed everyone) ought to be. Consequently I’ll be lumped in with everyone because that’s the prevailing attitude: that’s how the government thinks it’s helping people. Dismiss their problems with the stroke of a pen or a subtle change in the parameters, and people are no longer sick, disabled or otherwise troubled.

I do not understand how that is meant to help me. Diagnosis or not the issues I have persist. They aren’t going to be wished away to suit a right wing pro-business zero hour piss poor wages agenda.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Dark times just keep getting darker…


This is the week that has seen the introduction of perhaps the nastiest of all the Tories welfare reforms: the risibly titled Help to Work scheme. Here claimants will be mandated to one of three outcomes after 'failing' the Work Programme; intensive training', compulsory 6 month community work' at 6 hours a day along with a further 10 hours a week job search, or daily 'reviews' at the Jobcentre.

On top of this other claimants will be mandated to routine 'bursts' of weekly attendance. Where they hope to find the time or the staff escapes me. It seems, the claimant will have no say in this and their path will be decided by their newly branded ‘Work Coach’, because nothing spells hapless ideological punishment like changing the title of the job. Though I'm given to believe travel costs to such daily reviews will be reimbursed (not sure about the work placements, that may be left in the hands of the private providers once again paid to oversee this nonsense), there is no guarantee that one will be given the same appointment slot daily.

I'm sure I don't need to explain why forcing someone to take a randomly assigned chunk out of their day to attend a pointless and wholly punitive meeting is troublesome. What if you have kids in school, caring responsibilities, or have a limited bus schedule to work with, what if you have o be somewhere else...what if you are, I don't know, actually trying to look for work, despite the bullshit the DWP seem intent on throwing at you.

All of this of course is enforced with the threat of our old friend, the sanction. Don't forget Jobcentre Plus is run by a man (Neil Couling) who said, to the Scottish Parliament, that people welcomed the jolt - the short sharp shock if you will – that sanctions gave them. His comments regarding foodbank use are equally odious and, more importantly, equally ignorant.

I mention that because it just goes o show what we are dealing with. There's no point forensically examining just how stupid and unproductive this scheme is (the ONS has done that for us, concluding that the trial scheme helped but 1%). This is pure ideology. It speaks volumes as to the attitude of the ruling elite who perversely project their own dark hypocritical attitude onto the people they claim to be helping. They are the real scroungers, helping themselves to every benefit he corporate and parliamentary world can offer and exploiting it to the fullest while claiming a sense of egregious self entitlement. All the while they assume the worst in the unemployed and the poor: because they are grasping scroungers it must follow, in their twisted minds, that everyone else is. Consequently when they look at someone out of work they don't see a cancer sufferer desperately trying to survive without their PIP month after month, they don't see a genuine effort to find work, they see a scrounger; someone sat on their arse in state sponsored finery doing very little.


Esther McVey was wheeled out, as presumably the pleasant face of punitive change (and because IDS doesn't think he has to answer to lesser folk). This woman cannot help but sound insincere; she could read the weather and you'd think she was hamming it up. Every word is delivered in a painful hammy overacting style as if she was trying to hard to impress someone (I think we know who).

If David Brent were to undergo a sex change and a desire to stand for political office her new name would be Esther McVey. She is such a venal soulless entity; like a used car salesman, or the sort of creature one finds in 'The Call Centre'. Someone that's clearly given up on pursuing anything deeper in life and now wholly embracing the corporate lifestyle; she refers to long term unemployed as having been distant from not just the workplace but also the marketplace! That's all life is to her and that's just sad.

She attempted to defend the scheme, in her own confused way, refusing to give Evan Davis the actual figures but finally owning up that the success rate of the trial was pitiful. This hasn't stopped IDS from committing £300 million to this farce. Given that he was never going to abide by the outcome of the trial (which any fool could have predicted) his profligacy is as egregious as it is offensive as it is ideological. The treasury is a blank cheque to him, even though other people are being turfed out of their homes to pay for it: the DWP recently lost a landmark Bedroom Tax case in Scotland against a disabled (there's a pair of words most civilised folk had hoped the 21st century would have seen the back of - against disabled), but that won't stop IDS throwing our money at DWP lawyers to ensure the right result, no matter how long it takes or how much it costs. It is right, he will say.

This is her response to Evan Davis, when interviewed on Radio 4 on the day this scheme launched. He had twice previously attempted to wrest from her the actual success rate from the trial conducted last year:

“well what we found is significant numbers of increases of people through it could have been nine days where (or were, can't tell her accent) extra were off benefits or twelve days they were extra in work, and that's what we found, so we saw, with this extra support, they were remaining off benefit but more importantly they were staying in work, but it isn't just one form of support, as I said there is the daily signings that's for people who've already been in work who need a little bit more work (presumably she means help), other people needed more sort of employability skills; could they get up on time, could they work with other people, were they positive and confident in the environment, so that was another set of trials that...”

Evan then interrupts because she's not giving him the figures though she then confirms the success rates are 'ones and two's percents" and that if they'd been in the community work programme “you're more likely to be in work by 9 extra days”, whatever that means, and that if they'd done the more intense regime that goes up to 11 days. I've no idea what the more intense regime is. All we know is that there are 3 components which are entirely different: workfare, daily signing, or training. Which is she referring to, or does that mean there are multiple levels or intensities of workfare?

She also quotes a girl she'd spoken to who hadn't worked for 20 years was now happy to do voluntary work. Voluntary, Esther.

Mcvey also claims that half a million people have a job because of the WP and that half of those have a long term job. Sounds like bullshit to me.

Now that the private sector is involved (as if it were ever going to be any different), I have concerns that the likes of G4S, who also have interests in the prison service, will simply farm workfare victims to the same schemes as those running community service punishments. Is there even a difference anymore? Are we going to see the unemployed breaking rocks alongside actual vandals? Is it that unlikely given that community work will include clearing up after such people? Whatever happened to the Tories and their vaunted notions of responsibility?

I now feel that we really are flying without a net. This recent stuff has really upset me and that's because it just feels, now, that there is no ‘safe word’: there's no safe threshold for individuals. No matter how much shit they are put through, no matter how many hoops and how much anti-welfare ideological bureaucracy they have to endure, there is no point at which they will back off. Consequently that means no recognition that someone is struggling, just more misery as they are labelled non-compliant.

There's also no explanation of how someone in the ESA WRAG fits into all this. Am I going to have to do workfare? Will I get the choice of 'intensive training' (whatever that is) instead; I can't do daily signings, but I wouldn't be surprised if they wanted me to come in every day!

There really is no safety net. Just a hard concrete floor covered in broken glass and shit.

Links: