No-one has made more money from workfare than A4e Chef Executive Emma Harrison, who recently paid herself almost £9 million of tax payer’s cash in a bumper dividend. A4e derive all of their UK income from government contracts. Many of these contracts, such as the Work Programme, involve forcing people to work, sometimes for up to six months, with no pay.
A4e boast on their website that they can offer private sector companies candidates for ‘Work trials and placements’. This is the kind of corporate workfare that both Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling have dishonestly claimed doesn’t exist.
Four people have been arrested following fraud allegations at A4e’s Slough offices. All are former employees and it is believed the allegations centre around Job Outcome payments being pocketed for jobs that lasted just one day.
A4e are attempting to abrogate responsibility and are blaming the help. However since this isn’t the first time A4e staff have been caught cooking the books then it raises the question of why A4e employees feel the need to fraudulently claim job outcomes. No-one but Harrison is getting rich at A4e, she’s far too tight to allow it. So with little financial gain why on earth would four people, from the same office, risk prosecution in this way?
The truth is the organisation is rotten from the top down. Huge amounts of pressure is heaped on employees, and it’s not inconceivable that a blind eye has occasionally been turned. The entire culture of the company is to deliver as little as possible at the highest possible cost to the tax payer. Much of A4e’s current cash is made from simply sub-contracting out government schemes and picking up a fat fee in the process. Much of the rest is made from forcing unemployed people onto shoddy workfare schemes. They aren’t even very good at that. For over ten years there have been reports of people forced to sit around in A4e’s offices, for 30 hours a week, sometimes for months, because A4e can’t find them anything to do. Any training offered is scant and rarely leads to a qualification. Job search facilities are massively under-resourced, with inmates complaining of lack of basic IT facilities and out of date newspapers.
A4e claim they don’t cherry pick claimants to pick up fat job outcome fees, but in fact their business model means it’s almost impossible for them not to. If you are faced with a recently unemployed skilled worker, or a heroin dependent ex-offender, then in a target driven environment of course it’s good business to ensure the skilled worker finds employment. With huge bonuses on offer available on the new Work Programme if people who get jobs stay in them, then it’s just not profitable to devote too much time to the hardest to help. The fact that the skilled worker would no doubt have got a job without A4e’s help does not matter. They get paid anyway, possibly up to £13 grand now, for each long term job they claim to have secured. Vulnerable claimants can be fobbed off on workfare or left to rot in A4e’s offices. They still get paid for that as well after all, just not as much.
A4e came to prominence with Blair’s New Deal, the first large scale workfare programme which began in the late 90’s. Unemployed worker’s centres and community organisations, who had previously carried out then largely voluntary back to work schemes, were muscled out of the way by the corporate weight of companies like REED and A4e. The entire sector changed, as the demands of profit increasingly replaced the ethic of actually providing genuine help and support for people. One former A4e worker has previously written on this blog about their experience at A4e at the turn of the century. Back then Blair and his minions gushed about how the New Deal would contain individually tailored support, ensuring that all young people would reach their potential. Not once A4e got their hands on it. In the light of recent fraud allegations it’s worth repeating what was said:
Every client was supposed to have an ‘Individual Training Plan’ which was specifically tailored to their needs. I was therefore shocked when I was handed a photocopied hand written training plan and told to copy it out for every single client.
As far as I could tell, every A4E client in the country, thousands of them, had the exact same ‘Individual Training Plan’.
This paperwork probably still exists should some DWP sleuth want to have a look and find out. Another account of A4e’s dreadful provision was provided by a former inmate:
“After discussing my circumstances yet again I was told that I should go into private rented accommodation so I could get a job now. They didn’t take into account that I had been advised by my key worker (at the hostel) that to move into private rented accommodation at this time would have been detrimental to my life and that I would have probably have ended up back in the hostel and that I needed a secure and safe environment because I was feeling very vulnerable at the time.
He also told me that he didn’t think university was a good idea for me as I obviously wasn’t stable (as I kept on getting upset because I was never listened to and was hating my experience at A4e) I was also told that I should really try to find work fast as if I had to come back to the 13 week course I wouldn’t handle it and he then went on to tell me of fully grown men that broke down because they could not handle that course (I really felt I was being bullied into accepting any job).
After he had asked me whether I felt I was vulnerable and I had replied yes, he continued to make jokes saying I could come and live with him and that he could be my sugar daddy and that he had a big house and plenty of room. I felt very vulnerable then, I had stayed late to have this chat and there was only a couple of people still in the building and none were we were sat in his tiny office which was literally a cupboard.”
A4e’s Emma Harrison has been well rewarded for fleecing the tax payer by both Labour and the Tories alike. Of course as ever, the kick backs have gone both ways. David Blunkett received a lucrative position as an advisor to A4e after leaving office. Emma Harrison meanwhile has been given an CBE to go with her money and her Derbyshire mansion, and more recently was made David Cameron’s ‘Back to Work Tsar’.
With resistance to workfare spreading and increasing scrutiny of A4e, it’s possible the wheels may be coming off the gravy train. Perhaps it would be cynical to suggest she knew the game was up and recently paid herself nearly £9 million to trouser as much money as possible before the whole shoddy racket falls apart. The truth is she’s probably not that clever.
Anyway she can always fall back on her international contracts, such as A4e’s possibly illegal operations in Israel. Having a former Home Secretary on the books has done wonders for A4e’s attempt to build a ‘global social movement’.
A4e like to style themselves as a charity, who’s primary aim is to help people. In fact they are a ruthless corporate operation who’s primary aim is to line Emma Harrison’s pockets and massage her fragile ego. It is time this criminal company was brought to account. Don’t expect this government to do much about it though. It’s down to us. Protests have already taken place outside A4e’s offices across the UK and are not likely to stop. Groups such as Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty have done some heroic work ensuring people victimised by A4e can have proper representation. Bloggers such as watchinga4e have done more to scrutinise the activities of this company than two successive governments and the DWP (despite A4e’s repeated attempts to censor any criticism of them). Pressure needs to be maintained and escalated against this company that have made millions from inflicting misery on the unemployed and vulnerable.
Other companies who have made huge sums from workfare contracts include Serco, REED, Ingeus Deloitte and BEST. Prison company and former national joke (until it stopped being funny when they killed somebody) Group 4 Security, now G4S, have also got their snouts in the trough. A4e aren’t the only ones getting rich from forced labour. They are just probably the worst.
Emma’s on twitter, why not chat with her: @emmachat or you can visit A4e’s facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/A4eofficial
(the above pic, and lots more, can be found at: http://a4eprotest.blogspot.com/2011/02/a4e-work-programme-say-no-slavery.html)