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Undoing New Labour’s Legacy: Start with Welfare ‘Reform’.

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Image result for Welfare reform tony Blair

Blair’s Welfare Legacy.

Before people get bogged down in the rows over the Labour leadership election, it’s perhaps better to look again at some of the policy legacies of New Labour which need challenging.

This is not just economic strategy (the acceptance of austerity post 2009), foreign policy, or internal party organisation.

It’s bedrock issues about the ‘Third Way’, a politics “in favour of growth, entrepreneurship, enterprise and wealth creation but it is also in favour of greater social justice and it sees the state playing a major role in bringing this about” (Anthony Giddens).

A key aspect of the Third Way, for both Blair and Brown, was reform of the Welfare State.

In the area of unemployment it was important to equip people with the means to compete on the labour, ‘global’  market, to ‘encourage’ them to  so in return for benefits. There would be no rights to social security  without ‘obligations’. That is to follow what the out-of-work were obliged to do what the state, or rather the private companies and Third Sector bodies contracted to ‘train’ them, told them they needed to do. In other words, the state claimed rights over the unemployed.

In January 1998 Tony Blair, Prime Minister, outlined the basis for the approach (Independent).

The reform of our welfare state is not to betray our core principles of social justice and solidarity. It is to make them live, breathe and work again for the modern age. Over the last 18 years we have become two nations – one trapped on benefits, the other paying for them. One nation in growing poverty, shut out from society’s mainstream, the other watching social security spending rise and rise, until it costs more than health, education, law and order and employment put together.

“When I look at the welfare state, I don’t see a pathway out of poverty, a route into work or a gateway to dignity in retirement. I see a dead end for too many people. I do not believe this is how Attlee or Beveridge intended things to be. I want to clear the way to a new system. Long-term, thought-out, principled reform is the way forward.

Case for Welfare Reform.

This was one of the 5 Pillars of Blair’s government repeated in 2002.

A welfare state based on rights and responsibility where we gave opportunity to people on benefit to get into work; but demanded responsibility in return; where we came down hard on crime; but offered ways out to those committing crime..

These were the schemes to “Get people into work” introduced by New Labour, under Blair, and then, Gordon Brown,

The New Deal (renamed Flexible New Deal from October 2009) was a workfare programme introduced in the United Kingdom by the first New Labour government in 1998, initially funded by a one-off £5 billion windfall tax on privatised utility companies.[1] The stated purpose was to reduce unemployment by providing training, subsidised employment and voluntary work to the unemployed. Spending on the New Deal was £1.3 billion in 2001.

The New Deal was a cornerstone of New Labour and devised mainly by LSE Professor Richard Layard, who has since been elevated to the House of Lords as a Labour peer. It was based on similar workfare models in Sweden, which Layard has spent much of his academic career studying.

The schemes were delivered by private companies and the ‘voluntary sector’.

After some ‘training’ and endless ‘job search’ (sitting in a room with a computer endlessly applying for posts) most people were sent on ‘placements’ in companies, the public and charitable sector. This was nominally set at 30 hours a week, but in many cases the hours went to a full 40.

They were (initially) given an extra £15 a week on top of their dole, and their travel expenses. It would be needless to add that this meant their work was paid well under anything approaching the minimum wage. There were none of the labour rights given to the employed, and obviously cases of bullying and exploitation were quickly signaled. A more common result was that some people proved ‘unsuitable’ for placements, or, in some cases, simply did not turn up for their placement.

Many examples of work experience were much more positive, but it was extremely rare for anybody to find a job in the place where they were sent, or for it to help directly anybody getting work. Indeed some felt that the fact that you had participated in the scheme functioned on your CV  as a mark against you. It became part of the way people were trapped in a “dead end”.

We have a lot recently about ‘sanctions‘ against claimants. These happened under the New Deal for, amongst others, the reasons just given.

Well this, during the New Deal,  was the position under New Labour (2009) just before the Coalition (2010) came to power.

So, we are always hearing about the millions of people who New Deal has supposedly helped get such jobseekers back in to work off benefits. You have also heard about how poorly New Deal participants are treated and perhaps you have your own experiences to back up this, but Ipswich Unemployed Action can reveal that over 679,820 sanctions have been awarded to lucky New Deal participants since the year 2000.

Here is one case study of the system worked (2010).

A4e: Reed in Partnership

A4e don’t have premises in Ipswich – they wholly subcontract out to Reed in Partnership who lease space inside Crown House (near Tower Ramparts). Initial comments on A4e/Reed in Partnership:

  • A4e were the biggest New Deal Prime Contractor – in the spotlight for fraud and overcrowding
  • A4e tried to shut down sites giving criticism such as sister site New Deal Scandal (including for reporting their finance director resigned/got demoted after fraud allegations) and also closed the original Watching A4e website
  • Reed in Partnership were the first to deliver New Deal in 1998 – they were caught in a £3 million fraud
  • Looking at past history – A4e and Reed in Partnership seem a good match
  • Reed in Partnership are accused of harassing past participants impersonating the DWP Fraud team (*)
  • Emma Harrison (A4e not the model/actress) has refused to acknowledge or talk about a4e’s failings
  • Reed in Partnership and Reed etc. are also part of the same group yet they are pretty much isolated from each other (no website links to each other etc. or mention about parent company).
  • A4e promised a cafe like environment and a chill-out lounge – neither exist in Ipswich
  • You can’t make a Tea or Coffee – participants are advised to ask staff for one
  • Flexible New Deal participants have to pick FIVE (5) job areas – 2 more than a Jobseeker’s Agreement (3 job areas)
  • Reed in Partnership staff have to have at least 6 months experience in high pressured sales environment
  • Reed in Partnership Ipswich is TOO SMALL – OVERCROWDING – Ofsted apparently have raised concerns – rumours have speculated that someone was sanctioned for being a few minutes late (bus came late) solely because the room was too full for the person to join
  • Reed in Partnership uses profiling – AVOID GIVING TOO MUCH INFORMATION AWAY!
  • Reed in Partnership forces participants to sign a disclaimer giving them the ability to apply for jobs on your behalf etc. and to contact future employers (probably pretending to be DWP)
  • Ask for a 7 journey supersaver card – if you don’t ask you wont get – this is easier then finding the cash to get on the bus and waiting for it to be reimbursed later
  • Reed in Partnership offers “decoy training courses” under various different names such as “JOURNEY” – these wont help you secure employment – waste of time – consists of asking questions about the person next to you, what famous people you would like to meet/have dinner with, and the usual shit (interview modules, CV modules).
  • Reed in Partnership contradicts themselves and will stab you in the back. Advisers have noted about a) travel costs to work b) budgeting the minimum money you require etc. and provided modules in their courses regarding “making sure you are better off, in work” HOWEVER the next moment all participants are TOLD to apply for any job – NMW – few hours from home etc. Seems like they are trying to prepare people for sanctions. Its not fair to advise people not to spend half your wages on travel to and from work, yet the next moment sanction them for 6 months money for refusing a job which matches this entirely.
  • Reed in Partnership have an ongoing legal dispute with Yell (Yellow Pages) – and Flexible New Deal participants are banned from accessing yell.com – rather an important resource for speculative applications. Whether this is an injunction preventing yell being accessed or not is unknown at this stage.

To put it simply, the ‘training’ courses and all the rest were, in many people’s eyes, worthless.

Then there was this: A4e Fraud.

The document A4E doesn’t want you to see. (Left Foot Forward. March 2012).

On Thursday, the website Ipswich Unemployment Action provided a link to an internal A4e document (pdf), that appeared to indicate poor performance on behalf of the embattled welfare-to work company, which has won more than £200million in contracts with the department of work and pensions.

And this,

A4e boss Emma Harrison paid herself £8.6m last year. Nothing unusual for a top banker perhaps. But her company is funded by the government to find jobs for unemployed people. And it’s being investigated for fraud

The article contains this paragraph,

Just lately, you may have seen some of the slightly more negative coverage of Harrison and the company she founded in Sheffield, 21 years ago: A4e (it means “Action For Employment”), who were decisively glued into the heart of the welfare state by New Labour, and have seen their importance increase thanks to the coalition. They specialise in that very modern practice known as “welfare to work”, and their only income in the UK comes from public contracts. The company’s promotional blurb characterises what it does as the simple business of “improving people’s lives”.

And there was this,

When New Labour was in power, A4e forged close links to its ministers. One of A4e’s consultants is David Blunkett, the former work and pensions secretary who advocated private involvement in welfare reform.

Mr Blunkett declares on the register of MPs’ interests that he is paid up to £30,000 a year by A4e. There is no suggestion of impropriety by Mr Blunkett, but he may be embarrassed by the probe.

It is the widespread view amongst activists that New Labour paved the way for the present punitive social security system, the shambles of Workfare (now being abandoned) and full-flown sanction-regime, not to mention the blatant profiteering by private companies now running substantial sections of the welfare state.

A root and branch challenge to this legacy is needed.

One Response

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  1. Good piece Andrew. It’s important not to forget that Blair was not only a moralising warmonger and errand boy for George W Bush. He also had a profound disdain for the lower orders. Under him Labour shifted from seeing poverty as a problem to seeing the poor as the problem. And problems always needed to be dealt with using ‘toughness’, especially if they couldn’t fight back… The legacy of Blair/Brown was a Labour Party so adrift from any ideological moorings that it adopted a secondhand Tory catchphrase as Ed M’s big idea (one nation) and issued mugs promising to cut immigration. Corbyn’s detractors always seem to overlook the extent of Labour’s pre-Corbyn political bankruptcy. They should be reminded at every turn.

    Francis

    September 19, 2016 at 10:51 pm


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