Aspects of Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal benefit sanctioning regime are bonkers according to an astonishing diatribe from the workfare industry’s top spokesperson Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA).
ERSA are the trade body established to lie on behalf of the welfare-to-work companies like A4e and G4S who hold lucrative contracts to run workfare and forced training schemes. In a frank statement on their website McHugh says that the use of sanctions is based on sending political messages rather than evidence of what works and that a more humane system is needed.
According to McHugh, current rules which mean welfare-to-work companies have no choice but to refer people for a benefit sanction for not carrying ‘mandated activity’ are ‘bonkers’ and that this causes inappropriate sanctions to be applied. She also backs the recent call for an urgent review of the sanctions regime made by the Work and Pension Committee saying that current policies have been introduced “without a huge amount of reflection”. This is about as close as an industry spokesperson can come to calling Iain Duncan Smith a fucking idiot without losing their job.
Claimants should not be fooled, ERSA have not suddenly developed a conscience, this is about money. According to McHugh, ERSA still believe sanctions “play an important role” although this is based on a “hunch”. What the welfare-to-work industry wants is the power to make sanction decisions themselves, along with new rights to snoop on medical information the DWP hold on those in receipt of sickness or disability benefits. This is a cynical power grab from an industry that has realised the more adminstrative roles they can seize from Jobcentres then the greater the prospect of the entire social security system ending up in private hands. Their hands.
There is another reason however why these companies are now lobbying for a less draconian system – and McHugh even suggests a voluntary approach might be more appropriate for some claimants. Welfare-to-work companies get paid when someone finds a job. People who are hungry, anxious, or can’t afford to maintain personal hygeine do not perform well at job interviews. McHugh’s comments are an admission that sanctions harm rather than help people’s prospects of finding work, something that has long been obvious to claimants themselves. That it is now being said by workfare companies, who were previously Iain Duncan Smith’s best friends, is a damning condemnation of the coalition government’s bungled welfare reforms.
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