Category: Workfare

Frank Field’s New Report: Fixing Broken Britain?

 

In a study report that was published today – Fixing Broken Britain? An audit of working-age welfare reform since 2010, Labour MP Frank Field and co-author Andrew Forsey argue that: 

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should take a lead role in tackling the dependence of employers and landlords, whose subsidies in the form of tax credits and Housing Benefit have grown exponentially, by raising wages and productivity.

… the next front in welfare reform will see a fundamental switch from the Department for Work and Pensions – historically always responsible for welfare reform – to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, reflecting the new reform agenda.

Field and Forsey, writing for the cross-party think tank Civitas, propose that the next step of welfare reform:

 … involves a renewed drive to help those who have not yet been found a job under the Work Programme – principally the over-50s and the disabled. This should involve weighting the payment-by-results systems further in favour of those claimants facing the steepest barriers to work. This major task, and the prompt and efficient payment of benefits, should be the primary objective of the Department for Work and Pensions.

We believe the payment-by-results system the government introduced now requires a significant recalibration to give the most disadvantaged participants a fighting chance of getting and keeping a job.

The language used in the publication is controversial and I was both concerned and disappointed to see the phrase “welfare dependency” used more than once. It alludes to the Conservative claims of a so-called “culture of dependency”, for which there has never been any supportive empirical evidence presented, (and that’s despite Sir Keith Joseph’s notorious best efforts and meticulous but ultimately forlorn research into a neoliberal New Right myth.)

However, there is much empirical evidence to support structural explanations of unemployment and poverty, but the current government has tended to psychopoliticise these issues, blaming the character and attitudes of unemployed people, reflected in language shifts – for example, the frequent use of words such as “worklessness” which implies responsibility and choice – making unfortunate circumstances a very personal  burden – as opposed to “unemployment”, which at least accommodates factors such as labour market constraints, economic conditions, structural inequalities, state responsibilities and the consequences of political decision-making.

Field and Forsey also recommend “identifying claimants’ strengths and difficulties” as early as possible once they begin claiming benefit; early referrals to the new Work and Health Programme for those on any benefit in most need of support; and lifting the cap on numbers who can enrol on the voluntary welfare-to-work programme for claimants with disabilities, and extending the time for which they can participate.

The problem is that referrals are unlikely to be on a voluntary basis. One of the aims of the Work and Health Programme is to enlist the support of GPs in “prescribing” work coaches to sick and disabled people. Given the confidential nature of the patient/doctor relationship, such an intrusive measure is likely to ultimately undermine people’s trust in their GP, and leave sick people who genuinely cannot work feeling harrassed and coerced by the state. There is good evidence that the work programme has not increased sustainable employment outcomes, and furthermore, it has harmed people with mental health problems.

In fairness to Field and Dorsey, they do accommodate some structural factors in their analysis. They say:

A second major new front against benefit dependency involves raising the earnings of low-paid workers, which requires a national productivity strategy that can be built around the new National Living Wage. The major objective here is to prevent yesterday’s workless poor becoming today’s working poor.

The conditionality attached to the receipt of benefit may have made work an easier option, but real wage growth at the bottom end of the labour market has been the missing piece of the government’s welfare reform puzzle.

In order to enshrine work as the best route out of poverty, the next front in welfare reform must build upon the National Living Wage to deliver the higher productivity that can sustain rising real incomes across the board. This policy needs to be driven by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Field and Forsey criticise Universal Credit, stating that if it is ever rolled out nationally, it will not “incentivise” work.  They go on to say:

The government’s flagship welfare scheme will only deliver a lower marginal tax rate for certain groups of claimants and even for them it will be undermined by Universal Credit’s failure to encompass council tax support and free school meals.

Because of Universal Credit’s higher taper rate for many claimants the strategy of fixing “broken Britain” by offering lower withdrawal rates than the current system lies in ruins.

If creating an incentive to work is the goal the present system for the vast majority of claimants meets that goal more effectively. Any reduction in the marginal tax rate will only come for particular groups of Universal Credit claimants should the benefit be introduced.

But then, the failure of Universal Credit to encompass also Council Tax support and free school meals will throw all of these calculations into a mild chaos, to put it at its gentlest.

However, it’s clear that the whole point of Universal Credit is to facilitate a further withdrawal of funding for welfare support.

Field and Forsey argue in the report that because there is little prospect of Universal Credit being rolled out fully by 2020,  George Osborne should act now to “protect lower-paid families with children within the framework of the welfare cuts he is planning.”

They formulate a five-point plan for in-work benefit reform in the current parliament:

  • The tax credit system should be centred on lower-paid workers with children, with entitlements to families earning up to twice the level of the National Living Wage, a ceiling of £32,000.
  • By 2020, childless couples and single workers without children should no longer be eligible for support from the tax credit system.
  • Jobcentre Plus should be revamped so that staff have the skills to help claimants in work increase their hours and/or pay, either in their current job or by finding a new one.
  • Tax credit claimants should be allowed to increase their earnings by up to £5,000 in any 18-month period without any clawback of entitlement, so that they do not lose large chunks of income for working more or for better pay.
  • Vulnerable workers who cannot currently work a full week should be allowed to work up to 24 hours a week and claim Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance, rather than the current 16-hour maximum.

They say:

These five reforms would be much more effective in protecting those in work on modest earnings than anything the government is proposing. They build around the revolutionary idea the chancellor has introduced into British politics, particularly welfare reform, namely of introducing a National Living Wage.

This move begins the process of transferring the responsibility for lower earners’ welfare to employers and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and away from the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

However, this is a heavily corporate-sponsored “business friendly” neoliberal government with a clear anti-welfare agenda. What could possibly go right?

 —

 This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

Soul-breaking government scheme to provide ‘expert’ employment ‘support’ to young people in schools

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The so-called ‘small state’ government have pledged to intrude schools to place ‘demand-led, Jobcentre Plus staff to supplement careers guidance and help schools deliver their statutory duty to provide high-quality, independent and impartial careers advice.’

See government press release: Jobcentre Plus support rolled out to schools.

Isn’t all existing careers advice impartial?

Ah, I see that impartial now means: ‘to inform independent choice,’ according to the newly introduced Careers and Enterprise Company, who will work with Jobcentre Plus staff ‘to ensure schools receive a coherent and aligned offer.’

Aligned to what? 

The needs of local businesses and the neoliberal labour market and not the needs of young people.

To inform independent choice. That’s a bit like saying “If you do everything I say, you will be truly free to make your own choices.  

The Tories are experts in linguistic behaviourism, telling lies and social control freakery, but not very much else.

Impartial. It’s another one of those Tory definitions that mean something else completely. Like helping or supporting people into work, which actually means a crude type of punitive behaviourism  – the imposition of  punitive financial sanctions if you don’t do exactly what you are told, and actually, quite often, even if you do. I’ve never understood how starvation and destitution can ever help or incentivise anyone to find a job, especially when experience and empirical evidence tells us otherwise. The welfare state has been weaponised against the people it was designed to support: a penultimate, vindictive Tory tactic before they completely dismantle it once and for all.

In 2015, the government’s Earn or Learn taskforce announced a new 3-week programme to give young jobseekers an ‘unprecedented level of support that will help them find work within 6 months.’  Personally, I shudder at the very thought of the Tories supporting my own children. I don’t want them anywhere near young people more generally. Regressive and Orwellian Tory ‘support’ has killed adults. There is no conceivable way that this bunch of tyrants can ever be trusted with our children’s future.

From 2017, the new programme will offer ‘an intensive curriculum’ involving practicing job applications and interview techniques as well as extensive job searches, and is expected to take 71 hours over the first 3 weeks of the claim. Welcome to the ultimate libertarian paternalist’s dystopic ‘education’ programme.

This ‘expert employment support to young people’ has been launched by two utterly inept, lying, dogmatic Conservatives with a history of formulating extremely nasty, punitive approaches to state defined ‘welfare and wellbeing’ – Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel.

Someone should put them straight: education includes the opportunity to attend college and university. Curiously, the Conservative brand of ‘impartial’ career advice seems to be all about big business ‘leading the way’ by instilling the protestant work ethic in our children. Life and learning is about working for people who make profits. That is the order of the world. 

Children from the age of twelve are to be coached to undertake ‘work experience.’ To clarify, that’s work fare – stacking shelves at Poundland or sweeping floors at your local McDonald‘s, for no pay.

It’s difficult to see what kind of educational process such a Conservative ‘curriculum’ entails, although it does include a sequence of instruction: a barely concealed hidden curriculum which reinforces existing social inequalities by ‘educating’ students according to their class, promoting the acceptance of a social pre-destiny of exploitation without promoting rational and reflective consideration.

A veritable pedagogy of the oppressed.

Duncan Smith babbles:

This scheme is fundamentally about social mobility and social justice – ensuring we give all young people the best chance to get on in life.

Someone should tell this idiot that social justice is all about the fair and just relationship between the individual and society. This is measured by the distribution of wealth, resources, opportunities, freedoms for personal activity and social privileges. It is about removing barriers to social mobility, the creation of social safety nets and economic justice. There is no mention of work fare for adults and children, exploitation, corporate profits and Tory donors in any standard definition of social justice anywhere.

Steve Bell cartoon

It’s not as if the Conservatives have historically shown the slightest interest in and recognition of realising human potential. That’s far too progressive and would require the capacity for democratic dialogue instead of paternalist preaching and lofty class-contingent, traditionally prejudiced, moralising. The Tories have always prefered a steeply hierarchical world, comprised of ascribed social status.

What the Conservatives plan is a blatant programme of indoctrination and political micromanagement to ensure that young people learn their place and accept a future of exploitative, low paid, insecure jobs, without the prospect of real opportunities or the chance to go to university. It’s more psychoregulation and authoritarian politics and has nothing to do with genuine needs-led or evidence-based policy.

And it’s to be delivered in our schools: transforming them from Ideological State Apparatuses – ideologies have the function of masking the exploitative arrangements on which class societies are based – into unmasked Repressive State Apparatuses. Hidden in plain view.

Authoritarianism tends to become more visible and frankly expressed over time.

demcracy

 


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Work Programme continues to harm people with mental health problems

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The Government’s Work Programme is making the lives of people with mental health problems worse, and having a detrimental impact on people’s ability to work, research by a leading mental health charity has found.

A report from Mind said the flagship scheme, which requires people to take unpaid work allocated by contractors or face losing their lifeline benefits, was taking entirely the wrong approach and actually damaging people’s motivation and capacity to work.

The research found that most people who are on the scheme because of their mental health problems reported worsening health issues due to their experiences of it.

83 per cent of people surveyed said the scheme’s “support” had made their mental health problems worse or much worse.

The latest statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal that less than 8 per cent of people being supported by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have moved into employment through the Work Programme. Around half of people on ESA are being supported primarily because of their mental health problems.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:

“These latest figures provide further evidence that the overwhelming majority of people with disabilities and mental health problems are not being helped by the Government’s flagship back-to-work support scheme. A recent report from Mind found that people with mental health problems are less likely to be supported into employment through the Work Programme than those with other health conditions and are more likely to have their benefits sanctioned.”

Even more worryingly, the majority of respondents to our survey said the Work Programme was actually making their health worse, and as a result they had needed more support from health services and felt further from work than previously. Mind is calling for everyone with a mental health problem who is receiving mainstream support through this scheme to be placed onto a new scheme and offered more personalised, specialist support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges people face in getting and keeping a job.”

Additionally, over three quarters of people – 76 per cent – said the Work Programme had actually made them feel less able to work than before they were coerced to participate in the scheme.

The results resonate with figures released in a number of previous years suggesting that people on the Work Programme are actually far less likely to return to work than people who are simply left to their own initiative.

In the first year of the £450 million programme, just two out of 100 people on the scheme returned to work for more than six months.

In 2013 Labour’s then shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne described the scheme as “literally worse than doing nothing”.

Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer wrote:

“Cutting someone’s support for failing to meet certain requirements causes not just financial problems but a great deal of psychological distress too.

Mind was one of a group of six mental health organisations to respond to a Work and Pensions Committee Welfare to Work inquiry within which we voiced concerns with the system and made a number of recommendations for improving benefits and back-to-work support. A number of schemes deliver far more effective support to people with mental health problems, at a fraction of the cost of the Work Programme.

WorkPlace Leeds, for example, delivered by Leeds Mind, costs much less than the Work Programme and achieves far better outcomes, with nearly a third (32 per cent) of people with severe and enduring mental health problems gaining paid employment. Schemes such as these are far more helpful and effective in supporting those ready and able to work into fulfilling, appropriate paid employment, relevant to their individual skills and ambitions.

We wholeheartedly support the Government’s aspiration to halve the disability employment gap by helping a million more disabled people into work. However, this will only happen if bold changes are made. As the Welfare Reform and Work Bill makes its way through Parliament, Mind is calling on Employment Minister Priti Patel to overhaul the benefits system, by focusing less on pressurising people and investing more in tailored, personalised support. We’re calling for everyone with mental health problems on the Work Programme to be taken out of this scheme, and instead given alternative support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges they face in getting and keeping a job.”

There are perverse political incentives for pushing people onto workfare programmes. The DWP has simplified its performance measures and now primarily targets the move by claimants away from benefits, or “off-flow”, as a simple and intuitive measure of performance. However, this gives no information about how individual jobcentres perform in supporting claimants to work. Some may have found work but, in more than 40 per cent of cases, the reason for moving off benefits is not actually recorded.

The government does not track or follow up the destination of all those leaving the benefit system, and so the off-flow figures will inevitably include many having their claim ended for reasons other than securing employment, including sanctions, awaiting mandatory review, appeal, death, hospitalisation, imprisonment, on a government “training scheme” (see consent.me.uk  and the Telegraph – those on workfare are counted as employed by the Labour Force Survey, which informs government “employment” statistics.)

Workfare programmes offer further opportunity for imposing sanctions, too. Last year, Iain Duncan Smith met a whistle-blower who has worked for his Department for Work and Pensions for more than 20 years. Giving the Secretary of State a dossier of evidence, the former Jobcentre Plus adviser told him of the development of a “brutal and bullying” culture of “setting claimants up to fail”.

“The pressure to sanction customers was constant,” he said. “It led to people being stitched-up on a daily basis.”

The whistle-blower wished to remain anonymous but gave his details to Iain Duncan Smith, DWP minister Esther McVey and Neil Couling, Head of Jobcentre Plus, who also attended the meeting.

“We were constantly told ‘agitate the customer’ and that ‘any engagement with the customer is an opportunity to ­sanction’,”  he told them. 

Iain Duncan Smith and his department have repeatedly denied there are targets for sanctions.

“They don’t always call them targets, they call them ‘expectations’ that you will refer people’s benefits to the decision maker,”  the whistle-blower says. “It’s the same thing.”

He said that managers fraudulently altered claimants’ records, adding: “Managers would change people’s appointments without telling them. The appointment wouldn’t arrive in time in the post so they would miss it and have to be sanctioned. That’s fraud. The customer fails to attend. Their claim is closed. It’s called ‘off-flow’ – they come off the statistics. Unemployment has dropped. They are being stitched up.”

The Department of Work and Pensions no longer meets the needs of people requiring support to find work. Instead it serves only the requirements of an ideologically-driven, irrational and authoritarian government.

 

Related

The Government are under fire for massaging employment statistics

A letter of complaint to Andrew Dilnot regarding Coalition lies about employment statistics

544840_330826693653532_892366209_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

A letter of complaint to Andrew Dilnot regarding Coalition lies about employment statistics

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I’ve written the following to Andrew Dilnot:

Dear Sir,

I write in response to the government claims made recently regarding employment. During Prime Minister’s questions in Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said that the number of people in full-time employment had risen. Other ministers, such as Esther McVey have echoed these claims.

We are growing the economy and we’ve got more people in work,”  Mr Cameron said.

And: The number of people out of work in the UK fell by 133,000 to a fresh five-year low of 2.2 million in the three months to March, official figures show.The jobless rate also fell to a five-year low of 6.8%, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said”.

I am very concerned about the accuracy of these claims, and should like to challenge both the validity and reliability of them, given the current methodological problems with measurement, which the ONS have acknowledged in part, previously.

To count as unemployed, people have to say they are not working, are available for work and have either looked for work in the past four weeks or are waiting to start a new job they have already obtained. Someone who is out of work but doesn’t meet these criteria counts as “economically inactive”. The results from a selected sample, based on narrow criteria, are then weighted to give an estimate that reflects the entire population.

The other measure of joblessness – the claimant count – is published for each single month. It doesn’t suffer from the limitations of sample size and sampling frame, because it derives from the numbers of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants recorded by Jobcentre Plus, so a monthly figure is possible right down to local level. But because many people who are out of work won’t be eligible for JSA, it’s an  even narrower measure.

I draw your attention to the following, taken from the Summary of recommendations: Response from the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into Jobcentre Plus, dated May, 2013:

Jobcentre Plus performance metrics:

  • The effectiveness of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) should be measured by sustained job outcomes rather than off-benefit flows to create greater incentives to support jobseekers into employment and provide a more accurate picture of success rates. This would address potential perverse incentives to sanction claimants inappropriately, plus ensure greater comparability between JCP provision and contracted out provision.
  •   Such a change could help to provide greater transparency in order to identify those who would benefit from intensive employment support. Such a performance metric would prevent the phenomenon of ‘cycling’, jobseekers moving between short term jobs and unemployment for many years, but not building up the length of time of continual unemployment to qualify them for specialist support.

In particular, I wish to draw your attention to this from the same document – Response from ERSA to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into JCP, 2013:

4.1. JCP is measured by off-benefit flows rather than sustained job outcomes. This can create perverse incentives to move jobseekers into short term employment outcomes, rather than refer them to long term contracted out support. It can also create a perverse incentive to sanction claimants as discussed below.

ERSA recommends that whilst off-benefit checks are monitored for national statistical purposes, job outcome and sustainment measure, comparable to the Work Programme, should be introduced for Jobcentre Plus. This would enable analysis between the performance of JCP and contracted out provision and provide accurate value for money comparisons.

5.1. DWP point to off-benefit flows as an indication of the effectiveness of pre-Work Programme support. However, analysis undertaken by Policy Exchange calls into question the validity of off-benefit figures as a success measure given that many do not go into sustainable employment or simply move on to another type of benefit.

8.1 As identified by the Committee in its report into the experience of different user groups on the Work Programme, the use of sanctions is inconsistent. 

Providers are obliged to notify Jobcentre Plus if a jobseeker fails to undertake an activity, for example if they miss an appointment. The decision as to whether to actually enact sanctions rests with Jobcentre Plus though. This means that sanctions are not applied even though a provider may think there is a clear case to do so. Conversely, a provider may be satisfied with the progress made by a participant but may be overruled by Jobcentre Plus who have a case for applying conditionality.

For example, one ERSA member reported that Jobcentre Plus decided to sanction a Work Programme participant for insufficient use of the Universal Jobmatch website, despite the fact that the provider had explicitly asked the participant to focus on resolving some other issues ahead of any formal job search activity. Sanctioning represented a great setback in the trust and progress made up to that point. ERSA agrees with the recommendation put forward by the Committee in its most recent report into the Work Programme for DWP to conduct a review of sanctioning activity with a view to ensuring that the processes are clearly understood by participants and consistently applied.

8.2 Part of the problem lies in the fact that Jobcentre Plus is measured by off-benefit flows rather than sustained job outcomes. This therefore means that a situation in which a Personal Advisor applies a sanction that may in fact damage an individual’s progress to employment, would register as a success according to the off-benefit flow measure. ERSA believes that measuring Jobcentre Plus success by sustained job outcomes would remove any perverse incentives to sanction individuals.

So, in summary, simply measuring how many people end their claims for benefits does not reveal the true impact of jobcentre services, nor does it accurately reflect the numbers of those moving into employment.

Let’s not forget that in 1996, the Conservative government introduced the jobseeker’s allowance that cut benefits to young people up to 18 years old – the new allowance was designed to replace unemployment benefit and income support. Young people excluded from eligibility for benefit are therefore absent from unemployment statistics.

The Department has simplified its performance measures and now primarily targets the move by claimants away from benefits, or “off-flow”, as a simple and intuitive measure of performance. However, this gives no information about how individual jobcentres perform in supporting claimants to work. Some may have found work but, in more than 40 per cent of cases, the reason for moving off benefits is not actually recorded.

I am also concerned that underemployment continues to remain very high, despite a small fall of 7,000 in the number in involuntary part time work, the total still stands at 1.42m. This is an increase of a 100 per cent beyond the pre-recession level of 701,000. The rise in employment also continued to be driven by self-employment, which is extraordinary as self-employment is a relatively small part of the UK jobs market. But although just one in seven workers are self-employed, over half of all jobs growth over the year has been in this type of employment. The TUC share this concern, and have said that some people have been forced in to self-employment as they have no alternative.

Previous TUC’s analysis  suggests that rising self-employment is part of a wider shift towards insecure employment, rather than as a result of a growing number of people starting up new companies as ministers have claimed. Analysis shows that self-employed workers are often earning less, underemployed, and have less job security than employees.

One very important issue not currently considered is that since the government does not track or follow up the destination of all those leaving the benefit system, as discussed, the off-flow figures will inevitably include many having their claim ended for reasons other than securing employment, including sanctions, awaiting mandatory review, appeal, death, hospitalisation, imprisonment, on a government “training scheme” (see consent.me.uk  and the Telegraph – those on workfare are counted as employed by the Labour Force Survey.)

Furthermore, last week Iain Duncan Smith met a whistle-blower who has worked for his Department for Work and Pensions for more than 20 years. Giving the Secretary of State a dossier of evidence, the former Jobcentre Plus adviser told him of a “brutal and bullying” culture of “setting claimants up to fail”.

“The pressure to sanction customers was constant,” he said. “It led to people being stitched-up on a daily basis.”

The whistle-blower wishes to be anonymous but gave his details to Iain Duncan Smith, DWP minister Esther McVey and Neil Couling, Head of Jobcentre Plus, who also attended the meeting. He said:

“We were constantly told ‘agitate the customer’ and that ‘any engagement with the customer is an opportunity to ­sanction.”

Iain Duncan Smith and his department have repeatedly denied there are targets for sanctions. However, the whistle-blower says:

“They don’t always call them targets, they call them ‘expectations’ that you will refer people’s benefits to the decision maker. It’s the same thing.”

He claimed managers fraudulently altered claimants’ records, adding: “Managers would change people’s appointments without telling them. The appointment wouldn’t arrive in time in the post so they would miss it and have to be sanctioned. That’s fraud. The customer fails to attend. Their claim is closed. It’s called ‘off-flow’ – they come off the statistics. Unemployment has dropped. They are being stitched up.”

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, the member of the DWP Select Committee who set up the meeting, has renewed her call for an inquiry into inappropriate sanctioning. Debbie said:

“I am deeply concerned that sanctions are being used to create the illusion the Government is bringing down unemployment.

It is my belief that the claims made by David Cameron and his ministers are an unwarranted, far-fetched inferential leap from methodological premises that don’t stand up to scrutiny, for all of the reasons I have outlined. I felt obliged to draw your attention to this matter, not least because I am not alone in my concerns, and I feel very strongly that it is immoral of any government to mislead the public to which it is meant to be accountable.

Yours sincerely
Ms Susan Jones.

Related article: Austerity, socio-economic entropy and being conservative with the truth

Petition to Stop DWP Minsters Spinning Statistics 

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Thanks to  Robert Livingstone for the pictures.