As revealed by @refuted, a commercial competition has been launched for companies wishing to carry out George Osborne’s mass workfare scheme. Companies from the fraud ridden welfare-to-work industry will be handed yet more tax payer’s money to arrange six month workfare placements in community organisations. These will be inflicted on the hundreds of thousands of long term unemployed people leaving the Work Programme and start from April next year.
This new scheme represents 780 hours unpaid work, over two and a half times higher than the maximum community service penalty that can be handed out by the courts. And this is just for the crime of being unable to find a job.
It is likely to be the most marginalised who will suffer as a result of this regime. The sad truth is that there are some long term claimants who just cannot compete in the modern capitalist economy due to chaotic lifestyles, homelessness, drink or drug problems, or long criminal pasts – even if they no longer offend. Many others face significant disadvantages, not least because of employer prejudice towards disabled people or people with mental health conditions.
Even the official unemployment figures show that there are two and a half million unemployed people and just half a million vacancies. Those vacancies are also being chased by people in work who are looking to change jobs. In such a highly competitive market, there will be some people – and the number is very small, and tend to be older claimants – who simply have no realistic chance of working again. For many more it may take years of steady support before people are stable enough to even consider a full time job.
Many of these people have lived horrific lives, often traumatised by childhood abuse,domestic violence, homelessness or even war. They are the people the system has failed, and now they are to be punished for that failure.
Charities and welfare-to-work companies involved in the Work Programme know all of this all too well. In the trial for the six month Community Action Programme, which Osborne’s scheme is based on, welfare-to-work companies couldn’t find many of the so-called hardest to help even an unpaid work placement. The third of a billion pounds being spent on the latest scheme however will ensure that no-one attempts to talk any sense about the true nature of unemployment and the reality for marginalised people.
That cash will be spent on forcing people to work unpaid for the pittance of Jobseeker’s Allowance, which increasingly barely pays enough for people to eat and stay warm. Those who refuse will have this benefit stopped, for up to three years in some cases. For those living in hostels or supported housing this will mean they are unlikely to be able to pay service charges. The end result will be eviction, and quite likely street homelessness.
Both this Government and the last have shared an out of touch belief that everyone could find a job if they just tried hard enough. Government ministers cannot understand what it is like to be homeless, unemployed or destitute but still feel confident that if it happened to them they would handle it magnificently. This leads to the belief that people can be fixed, with the most trivial of interventions by private sector companies like A4e or charities working on the cheap. And then when they are fixed the job market will magically open up to them as kindly employers rush out to hire former street drinkers over, for example, people who aren’t former street drinkers.
Rejecting this fantasy doesn’t mean that some people should be abandoned to a weekly cash hand out and nothing else, although it must always be one option for those that need it in a civilised society. The money being spent on workfare schemes could be spent on better social services providing genuine help, quality training for those that want it or user led community projects that people can become involved in at all levels – because they want to.
Imagine if the welfare-to-work companies and charities had to do what every other business does and satisfy their customers by providing services people choose to use. Instead we have a punitive system, geared towards satisfying the whims of the DWP and whichever clown is in charge at the time. It is capitalism at its very worst, a marketplace in cheap punishments for people who are falling behind in the rat race. And as the Work Programme has shown, even when they fail miserably, ministers still pretend how wonderfully their latest crazy scheme is performing.
Because the alternative, to admit that unemployed people do not cause unemployment, and that capitalism will not provide jobs for many of the victims it creates, would blow the entire grubby welfare-to-work scam right out of the water. And there’s good money to be made in making unemployed, sick and disabled people suffer.
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