A Heart of Stone: The DWP’s Diary of Disaster

Could I say, having banged on about this subject for a while, how delighted I am that the government’s workfare programme is now in complete disarray? It’s been a hell of a week for the DWP, with companies pulling out of its forced labour schemes and Cameron’s personal adviser, welfare reform tycoon and hard working family tsar forced out in a clusterfuck of multiple fraud allegations. Disability campaigner Sue Marsh pretty much sums up my feeling here:

[This is] a department used to getting their own way with absolutely everything – sending cancer patients to the jobcentre, halving support for disabled children and conducting a programme of disability denial… Watching them stamp their feet in a frenzy of entitlement has given me much pleasure.

Minister Chris Grayling has been telling everyone that his great empowering scheme has been undermined by, er, the SWP. Seriously: ‘What’s happened in the last week is we’ve got a lot of companies who are very jumping, they’re coming under pressure from a big internet campaign that is being run by an organisation that is a front for the Socialist Workers Party.’ Grayling went on to claim, with a straight face and in all apparent seriousness, that his emails had been hacked by the SWP. He told BBC Radio 4 that ‘Let me give you an example, my own e-mail address was hacked by this organisation and used to lodge a complaint with Tesco so I don’t accept the scale of the campaign is very large.’ Could I also ask who is running the DWP’s rapid rebuttal operation these days?

If you don’t follow far left politics, and why would you, let me tell you something. The SWP is a tiny sectarian cult. Big corporations are not afraid of it. The idea that its activists could get into ministerial email accounts is laughable. The SWP idea of web-based activism is an abacus and a couple of tin cans on a string. The ‘hard left militant’ line was backed up by a plant at Question Time but not even the government’s courtier media could bring themselves to repeat it. Falling back on standard political prolier-than-thou rhetoric, the Secretary of State said people objecting to the scheme are ‘job snobs’. For the DWP the principle of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is now a sign of elitist thinking. (And couldn’t the press officers there find even a few token satisfied ‘customers’ to parade in front of the cameras and tell Cait Reilly she was wrong?)

The workfare coverage shows a disconnect between the political class and the public. Big companies backed out of the scheme because their customers were against it. There was a hilarious thread on the Tesco Facebook page, about Shrove Tuesday, with loads of deleted workfare comments and plaintive reminders from the poor beleaguered moderator that the discussion was supposed to be about pancakes. Question Time panellists and newspaper blog pundits were united in trilling pro-government complacency, but they will never have to do a workfare scheme and their children will never have to.

Outside the Westminster village, what is it about workfare that makes people angry? It’s not just the hours of labour and wasted time, just to keep your JSA. It’s the DWP rhetoric that we are doing you a favour. The Secretary of State says that ‘The thinking behind the initiative is the recognition that when considering whether to take a young person on, employers will highly value any relevant work experience.’ Not only do you have to lick my boots, you should say thanks afterwards, and say it with a smile.

The fact is that opposition to workfare need not be leftwing. The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon, in a knockabout political sketch, remarked that ‘it doesn’t seem very Conservative or capitalist to spend taxpayers’ money on free labour for huge corporations.’

Let me say it again. There is no justification for spending your money or mine on expensive work programme schemes run by companies that derive their entire income from public sector contracts, that failed to get results on the previous government’s workfare schemes, and that do nothing that could not be replicated by JC+ advisers. If I want a job at Poundland I can walk into an outlet and get one. I don’t need a publicly funded third party to help me do that and neither do you.

There have always been recruitment consultancies that feed the call centre mills but at least they could get you paid work. Workfare providers add yet another layer of bureaucracy onto the process and take their cut. (And, by the way, we are talking mainly retail and call centre placements here; as Sue Marsh also said, try walking into your local WP provider and asking for a voluntary placement in engineering or law.) We now know that providers use unpaid labour to displace actual jobs. The workfare programme is not just parasitical, it actively harms our economy, costs us money, and chokes off recovery.

I don’t want to be too gloomy. The welfare reform industry has been a good racket for a long time. Emma Harrison built a sixteen-bedroom Derbyshire mansion off these contracts. It is fantastic that these people are finally coming under serious public scrutiny, and from the most unlikely quarters. Perhaps more will come out. Perhaps the whole charabanc will be derailed. In the meantime, and as the man said, you would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the DWP’s troubles. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving little cabal.

Update: Just after publishing this post, I read an excellent piece by Red on the workfare programme. I can talk policy all day, but Red absolutely nails what this policy actually means in human terms. Recommended.

(Image via Daily Mail)

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8 Responses to “A Heart of Stone: The DWP’s Diary of Disaster”

  1. Sarah AB Says:

    Thanks – bizarre about the SWP! I thought the article from the Guardian about real jobs being displaced was particularly telling.

  2. paul murdoch Says:

    Michael Portillo was trotting out the same line about the SWP on Radio 4 this morning; all down to 5 or 6 activists apparently. He wasn’t challenged. The BBC’s become a toothless lapdog.

    I was in the SWP once. They couldn’t organise a piss-up if you laid on transport to the brewery and handed out pint pots.

  3. paul murdoch Says:

    Also, Emma Harrison is possibly the most loathsome woman I’ve heard about in some time…but that husband of hers…if there was ever a face more begging for a fist…

  4. paul murdoch Says:

    Never thought of you as an SWPer, Paul!

    This is more than twenty tears back…before they went ‘RESPECTable” etc…had an idea they were vaguely trotskyist back then…and there was a ‘love interest’ which is what you say at my age when you try and deny the fact that in your sordid youth, your dick did most of your thinking for you…even the dialectical stuff -after a few pints and a spliff.
    I was Militant Tendency for a while as well.

  5. Andy Says:

    The Workfare and CAP schemes are simply a return to the workhouse, certainly not as bad but well on the road to it. Conscripted of forced work is bad on so many levels. Firstly and in no particular order of wrongness it discplces actual paid for jobs, secondly it may be a persons first experience of work that will stay with them forever, thirdly it is labour paid for by the tax payer rather than from the company profits. and another point there is no choice but to take part. The unemployment contract states that no reasnable offer of work can be refused. workfare therefore cannot be refused and you have to volunteer. I can’t shake the feeling that these pilot schemes are an attempt to compete with low paid laobour from abroad. I can hear the great and good convincing themselves that it is the only way to survive and is a nescessary sacrifice. Already many businesses are run as work and training centres and make quite a good profit. Lastly I would be amazed if the SWP was not getting itself involved in this debate it’s just what they claim to be interested in. they are a small party and absoloutly no threat to any corporation. It’s just an attempt to scare people. There will however probably be shifts to the right and left by many people.

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