The government’s new back to work scheme, “Welfare to Work” came into operation on Friday. The idea is a simple one: get as many people off benefit and back into work by using private ‘providers’ who get paid by results.
Not a bad idea, some would say except that in reality, the whole system is a complex mess of ill-defined economic and financial aspiration which has very little hope of being successful.
For many years now and until the end of last week, the unemployed were being helped, theoretically at least, by something called the New Deal which had recently been transformed into the Flexible New Deal.
Those seeking employment and claiming the unemployment benefit known as Job Seekers Allowance were put onto meaningless training courses, given useless mentoring or forced into working for nothing for unscrupulous employers whilst notionally taking part in ‘work experience’.
Most of the so-called training on offer consisted of the unemployed sitting in a room for seven hours a day learning how to write a CV and wading through out of date newspapers looking for jobs that had long since disappeared.
The personal mentoring on offer, which was far from cheap, enabled an individual to meet with a personal advisor with whom they would talk about their own particular problems encountered whilst trying to find employment. Regrettably, the advisor was more than likely to do very little to help, other than to make some supportive statements.
Millions upon millions of pounds were put into these schemes which on the face of it appeared to be full of good intentions but which in reality were simply a means of reducing the number of people unemployed whilst claiming benefit and transferring them instead to a growing list of those undertaking training.
Thus the unemployment figures fell and the training figures increased, which is what any governing party wants to see. Unfortunately, the whole system was a fraud and it looks as if the new system isn’t going to be much better.
The fact that the new, privately-funded ‘providers’ only get paid a small amount of money up means that they are likely to be very selective indeed as to who they do and do not accept. In particular, providers will at all costs avoid taking on anybody whose circumstances or personal history is likely to make things difficult when trying to find an employer who will accept them; in other words, people with a criminal record or who have failed a CRB check together with those on the expensive and largely useless Sex Offender Register.
Those with a drug problem, alcohol addiction or personality problems are unlikely to be at the top of any providers potential client list either. In short, anyone whom employers may be reluctant to accept for social reasons is likely to be ignored by the providers.
The absurdity of the situation is, certainly in the case of sex offenders, that many who fall into that category are not only capable and well educated but would probably also be loyal to their new employer as it is so difficult for them to find any form of employment in the first place.
On the other hand, those with petty offences or antisocial behaviour orders probably don’t want to work and whilst a small fortune will be spent on trying to find them a job, the chances are that they won’t keep it very long anyway.
This is bad news for the providers too as they only get paid in full if somebody stays in work for up to 2 years. This is quite a smart move on the part of the government because it puts the financial burden on the privately funded provider whilst at the same time protecting the government from having to pay anything at all if the newly employed person decides not to continue in their new job.
The government is also penalising those who for whatever reason cannot continue with their employment by threatening them with the removal of any access to benefits for up to 3 years.
There is a problem for the government however because under the current law it is strongly arguable that the government’s proposals are not lawful. It is almost certain that as the wheels begin to fall off and as the providers begin to drop out through lack of profit, someone somewhere will also challenge the whole policy in court.
This is nothing new of course. Since that awful day when Tony Blair first came to power, successive administrations have brought in measures designed to popularise the government and to carry favour with the tabloid newspapers, these measures eventually being challenged and overturned in expensive and time-consuming litigation.
All governments are arrogant and think they are beyond the law but none have been more arrogant than those we have seen over the last 13 years.
The biggest problem though for David Cameron’s administration and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith is that there simply aren’t the jobs out there to fulfil the government requirements. o put it plainly, it is a pointless exercise training people and mentoring those who need particular help if in the last analysis there are little or no employment opportunities available for them.
More and more employers are offering part-time positions rather than full-time posts which means that even if the new providers are able to secure employment for their clients, it is unlikely that this will be any form of ‘real’ job and is instead likely to be a part-time position that may not last very long anyway.
This is another disincentive for the providers to do anything with those who have the most difficult histories, particularly ex-offenders.
The fact that there are 15 well qualified applicants for every single position that is currently available means that employers are hardly ever likely to look at somebody with a criminal record, let alone someone with a history of violent or sexual offending.
Yet it is these people, those who are the most difficult place, that should be receiving the most help. This is true not least because many sex offenders are for example ex-teachers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals who have a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of experience, all of which would be exceedingly useful and valuable to any potential employer.
Nevertheless, the vitriol and public hatred of sex offenders, usually stirred up by the tabloids and publicity seeking politicians who should know better, makes it almost impossible for an employer to take on somebody with that kind of history, even if the person would be the most suitable candidate for the job. Employers cannot be expected to deal with such difficult circumstances and it is therefore unlikely that the new providers of employment training are going to be interested very much either.
If one reads the current contract for providers, two of which (SERCO and G4S) are also involved in the lucrative business of running private prisons and providing transport facilities for moving prisoners around, it seems that the providers are able to do pretty much anything they want whilst being subject to very little oversight from government.
This is not a good thing at all as it means that the providers will be able to take advantage of those least able to defend themselves against what is likely to become a very unfair system of selection.
The government argues that because these measures are so new and so radical, it is likely to take some time to “fine tune” the system. TheOpinionSite.org believes that this is simply political speak for “We have absolutely no idea how all this is going to turn out.”
In truth, all these measures are actually about saving money and trying to force people into work whilst not giving them the protection to ensure that they get real jobs that pay a real living wage. Instead, those with no defence against the system will be forced into poorly paid, part-time positions that will produce so little income that they will still be unable to pay their bills or live to an acceptable standard.
This appalling state of affairs will not worry Cameron’s government. The new system will no doubt be hailed as a great success and there will be much publicity regarding falling unemployment figures.
For the individuals concerned however and for those with a criminal record, have failed a CRB check or who are on the Sex Offenders Register, life will simply become more and more difficult, despite the fact that many of these people would be only too happy to work – and work hard.
When it comes to unemployment, British governments fail miserably. Instead of giving people real training and real opportunities, as with so much else now, they follow the utterly discredited American model and try and force people into make-believe jobs that pay next to nothing.
The new system of Welfare to Work may eventually and after much experimentation become a better alternative to that which currently exists. In the meantime however, this new system, like the last one will fail to help those who whilst being the most willing to work, have not been and will not be given an opportunity to do so.
The government should be utterly ashamed of itself for not helping the tens of thousands of highly capable and willing ex-offenders who cannot currently find employment and who probably never will.