Tag Archives: in-work conditionality

How Consent Has Been Manufactured For In Work Benefit Sanctions

frank-field-mp-008

Same old Labour, committee headed by Frank Field says DWP should be congratulated for in-work benefit sanctions.

There are many thing which could be done to tackle in-work poverty.  The most obvious being to raise in-work benefit levels.  Other measures such as rent caps or free public transport would make an immediate difference whilst longer term solutions could include a mass social house-building programme and the recreation of a militant trade union movement that was prepared to strike for better wages.  The restoration of student grants or free training in bankable qualifications that are currently only available at huge cost would also make a huge change in how people choose to develop their working lives.

More radical ideas might include the collectivisation of private (profit-making) property and a seizing of the wealth of the rich.  There’s plenty of stuff, and space, for everybody to live well.  The problem is some people are greedy and have too much.  There’s more of us than them.  We could just take it.  That’s what they did.

None of these ideas were mentioned in the recent inquiry by the Work and Pensions Commitee into ‘in-work progression’, the latest DWP initiative designed to force part time workers to constantly strive for more pay or more hours or face benefit sanctions.  From the radical to the mundane, these concepts are outside of current acceptable, neo-liberal conversation.  Even calling for a reverse to recent reforms such as the Bedroom Tax, or the restoration of full council tax benefit, have now slipped outside of the acceptable agenda.  Instead all solutions must be market based, individualised, and place the blame for poverty squarely at the feet of the poor.  And austerity and cutting government spending have now become aims in themselves, as if they were a moral force.

With a couple of exceptions, this ideology informs every single response to the Work and Pensions Committee’s recent inquiry.  This has allowed the committee’s final report to call the reforms potentially ‘revolutionary’.  Which they don’t mean in a good way.

The depressing truth is that consent had been manufactured invisibly before the committee even began, simply by the type of people they involved, and the narrow spectrum of beliefs they represent.  If you don’t share these views you will not become one of those people, the listened to people.  As such the submissions by Boycott Workfare, and even the PCS Union whose members will be expected to implement any changes, are completely ignored in the committee’s final report.    Instead it was the likes of Matthew Oakley who were called to give evidence in person, the chinless knobend who began his barely working life at the hard right Policy Exchange think tank.  Oakley has made a lucrative career out of pretending to be an independent expert whilst telling the government exactly what they want to hear.

Of course it helps that there was a financial incentive for most of those who responded to the consultation to support the DWP’s plans in the form of juicy government contracts to run the scheme.  And it does no harm that of the eleven people who sit on the Work and Pensions Commitee, six of them are Tories and one of the others is Frank fucking Field.  This is no doubt how they came to the appalling conclusion that the current government should be congratulated for these sweeping changes to the benefit’s system that will see low paid workers consigned to desperate poverty if they fail to meet the endless humiliating demands imposed on them by Jobcentres.  The committee even suggests that in-work progression could be extended to those further up the earnings scale, although it is unclear whether they support this on a voluntary or mandatory basis.  How to sanction people’s benefit when they aren’t on benefits is likely to prove a challenge.

There were two issues really that were being examined by the commission – that of in work ‘progression’ and also in work ‘conditionality’.  The first simply means mild harassment masquerading as help from Jobcentres or welfare to work companies to encourage claimants to look around for better paid work or be confident enough to ask for a pay rise.  Almost all of the organsations who responded said yes, we’d like some money to do that.  In-work conditionality however means benefit sanctions for not complying with demands placed on claimants to improve their earnings, which under current legislation could even include workfare or mandatory job search sessions in the hours people aren’t working.

This conditionality was rejected by some organisations who called for a purely voluntary scheme whilst many others warned that so-called vulnerable people should be excluded.  None of the responses were enthusiastic about sanctions, although one, from welfare-to-work company Prospects, did say they believed people should “not be allowed to settle for working only a few hours each week indefinitely”.  This was probably the most extreme statement out of all the responses to the committee and was duly included in the final report to help demonstrate ‘strong support’ for an ‘in-work service’.

A fair analysis of the evidence would be that there was support for a voluntary service, although it was not unanimous and largely came from organisations with a vested financial interest.  And there was opposition to and wide ranging concerns about sanctioning claimant’s benefit for non-compliance.  The committee’s report acknowledges some of these concerns and even agrees that inflicting a financial penalty on someone could, in some cases, work against the aim to increase their earnings.   But even this doesn’t mean they oppose sanctions.  In conclusion the report merely calls for people to be sanctioned less often than those currently on unemployment benefits.

The DWP’s attitude to sanctions for part time workers is already clear.  Evidence submitted to the enquiry included a training document for Work Coaches currently carrying out pilot schemes into in-work conditionality.  They inform Jobcentre workers that “Conditionality is an important element in driving greater independence and ensuring that claimants take greater accountability to earn and work more” and that “sanctions play a vital role in supporting the conditionality regime”.  The committee do not comment on this overt encouragement of enforcing strict conditionality on working claimants, despite it being current practice already for those unlucky enough to be selected for the pilot.

In-work sanctions may have been dreamed up in the feverish mind of Iain Duncan Smith, but everyone has played their part.  From the charities too greedy or spineless to condemn these plans and say they will take no part in the scheme to the grasping welfare-to-work sector who are facing huge funding cuts and are desperate to rinse yet more money from the tax payer.  From the think tank’s fake experts who’ve never had a proper job to Frank Field’s committee and their skewing of the evidence in favour of the government’s demands.  The DWP have now been given a green light to carry on as they always intended and launch an onslaught on the low paid which will cause the same devastation in the lives of the poorest workers that has already been inflicted on the unemployed.  Everyone, who they consider important, has said it’s a good idea after all.

There has been no demand from the electorate for these measures, in fact most are horrified when they hear of it.  There have been no calls from part time workers, or the unions that represent them, for a Jobcentre run in-work service, whether mandatory or otherwise.  As the committee’s final report points out, there is no evidence that this scheme will be effective and nothing similar to it has ever been tried anywhere in the world.  That is probably because it’s such a shit idea.  But this shit idea is now going ahead as support has been gently fabricated at every stage to ensure that there is no serious, or even visible opposition to the DWP’s plans.

In a few years, even criticising the concept that in-work benefits should be conditional will be outside of acceptable thought for the listened to people.  This is how neoliberalism marches on.  The long, great theft of our labour and the demolition of our living standards is decided in committees, by reasonable people, who do not even notice the political agenda they are pursuing.  They barely even know they are doing politics.  Their cut-throat capitalist ideology is so entrenched that it is all that they can see or imagine.

You can read the committee’s report at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2015/in-work-progression-report-published-15-16/

h/t Noam Chomsky who first used the phrase manufacturing consent in an analysis of the US media, there’s a film about it here.

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Like Feeding Time At The Fucking Zoo – Workfare Industry Hijacks In-Work Sanctions Inquiry

snouts“ERSA believes it would be more appropriate to utilise the skills and experience which exists in the employment provider community”  The Employment Related Service Association (ERSA – the trade body established to lie on behalf of the employment provider community – better known as the workfare industry)

“We strongly believe that such in-work support should be contracted out, and would suggest that the existing work-based learning infrastructure would be in a prime position to achieve the results required.”  Association of Employment and Learning Providers (also ERSA, more or less).

“Stronger alignment and integration of housing associations into Universal Support and in-work employment support would help engage those facing complex barriers and improve outcomes” – National Housing Federation who represent housing associations.

“The Government should take a holistic approach to in-work progression, ensuring that employers, skills providers and employment support organisations are all involved.” Remploy, better known as Maximus, who can handily claim to be an employer, a skills provider and an employment support organisation.

“National Numeracy can help identify, assess and address poor numeracy …  among job seekers …” – National Numeracy

“The Department for Work and Pensions should therefore look to other organisations who deliver specialist job retention and in-work services with a strong track record.” Mental health charity MIND (hint, hint)

“If Universal Credit is to be truly ‘universal’ then no claimant groups should be exempt.” – Workfare company Learn Direct

“We think that charities could play an important role in the delivery of in-work progression.”   –  lone parent charity Gingerbread

“Specialist organisations already providing support to vulnerable claimants are a key resource. “ Homelessness charity Centrepoint .

“Delivery of pilots, research, consultation and communication could be achieved in partnership with BITC and its business membership base.”  BITC (Business in the Community)

It’s like feeding time at the fucking zoo.  The above quotes come from submissions to the recent government inquiry into changes to the social security system which will see benefit sanctions for part time workers.  This means that when Universal Credit is finally introdeced then claimants without a full time job will face payments being stopped or reduced for non-compliance with Jobcentre demands to  constantly look for more or better paid work.  They could even be sent on workfare in the hours they are not working.   The Work and Pensions Select Committee, a group of MPs who scrutinise DWP policy, carried out the enquiry into these measures which are already being piloted in some parts of the UK.

The responses to the inquiry from the welfare-to-work industry  – the toxic mixture of private companies and so-called charities involved in mandatory workfare and training programmes – were united in one demand.  They all want some money in the form of juicy government contracts to run any future scheme.

This is despite them almost all acknowledging that introducing benefit conditionality for part time workers has never been tried anywhere in the world and that there is no evidence it will be effective.  It is also despite the fact that the proposed system is to be backed by a horrifying benefit sanctions regimes which will see even those with jobs living in unprecedented poverty if they are sanctioned.  And of course it ignores the stark reality that it is near certain that no part-time worker in history has ever wished they could be sent on an unpaid work scheme or mandatory CV workshop in the hours they are not working.

It is true that many charities say they are opposed to sanctions for part-time workers whilst even the more naked profiteers such as private companies like Maximus raise concerns.  ERSA, who represent the industry, have used the enquiry to lobby for all in-work conditionality to be managed outside of Jobcentres – a long standing aim from an organisation which seeks to place all DWP services in private hands.  Others call for sanctions to be fair, or to not affect those they call vulnerable too badly.

Some are transparent in their self-interest such as the National Housing Federation who want ‘stronger integration of housing associations’ into any future scheme suggesting they could act as formal contractors and sub-contractors..  Their only concerns about benefit sanctions are focussed on those with rent arrears or special rent payment arrangements who they say should be excluded from conditionality.

A few submissions call for any in-work conditionality to be voluntary such as the one from Gingerbread, who want working lone parents to be exempt from sanctions.  They also insist however that charities should be involved in running the scheme and it is this that reveals the cynicism that now exists within the voluntary sector.  Gingerbread also oppose benefit sanctions for unemployed single parents.  That didn’t stop them running a lucrative Work Programme scheme where they were contractullay required to report lone parents to the Jobcentre for sanctions in cases of non-compliance.  We hate this, they say, it is unethical and counter to our charity’s objectives.  So we want a lot of money for doing it is the real message.

Of course some submissions to the inquiry were harsh in their criticism.  Boycott Workfare say no claimants should face sanctions whether in work or not and that the record of organisations running mandatory schemes is “a catalogue of corruption, violation of work and safety standards, and abuse.”  Oxfam warn that in-work sanctions are overly punitive, fail to take into account employer behaviour and could drive people into poverty. Parkinson’s UK say that neither the voluntary or the private sector should be involved in any future scheme and slam the ‘systemic failure’ of current benefit related health assessments.  The University of York who have a team studying benefit sanctions say “in practice, in-work conditionality can be counterproductive – undermining work incentives and opportunities rather than reinforcing them.”  And the PCS Union demand that “under no circumstances would it be appropriate to sanction an in-work claimant”, adding “but don’t expect us to do anything about it”.  Actually I added that bit.

The difference between these organisation, and those mentioned previously, is that none of them have been involved in welfare-to-work programmes.  As such there is no financial incentive for them to modify their demands. They have no need or desire to sell out their principles for thirty pieces of silver from the DWP.  So they are rightly damning of these proposals which are based on some horseshit Iain Duncan Smith scribbled down on the back of an envelope one day and new Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb is too cowardly to scrap.

In-work benefit sanctions could leave those working part time abandoned to survive on just a few pounds a day, for months, or even years at a time.  They are perhaps the most vicious social security legislation yet, from this or any previous government.  Those sanctioned will face a desperate choice between eating, or paying to get to work.  Homelessness, destitution and unemployment will be the likely outcome for many.  All of the organisations that responded to this enquiry know this.  Some don’t care.  A few oppose it outright and are prepared to say so.  But most are content to whinge a bit and then use the enquiry to make sure that if this system is to be widely introduced then at least they will make some money from it.  Those whopping charity chief executive salaries won’t pay themselves after all.

You can read all the submissions to the inquiry at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/universal-credit-15-16/publications/

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