Monday, February 27, 2012

Can "Mad Mel" restore order at the Mail and ride to the rescue of Workfare

Arbeit macht frei

"This is not wartime Nazi Germany and Cameron's attacks on the vulnerable and needy must be stopped" - SONIA POULTON in the 'Mail'. But that was a week ago. Can Melanie Phillips whip them all back in line?

SO far on the subject of Workfare we've mainly considered the young people being pushed into unpaid menial work with the spurious claim that this is helping them gain valuable work experience. Some firms that had been taking advantage are pulling out now, after bad publicity and protest demonstrations, which some people in government are trying to ban, after blaming them on a left-wing conspiracy.

But there's more to the government's Workfare racket than that.

Here's what a blogger writing under the meaningful rubric "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" has to say:

"Which brings us neatly round to workfare. A system where people on job seekers allowance - £66.50 - or who are disabled - people who have a terminal illness and are likely to live longer than 6 months are made to work for their benefits.

After an introductory week, if said person leaves their placement with Tesco’s, Asda, Mind (who’d have believed it?), Argos….the list goes on…then they are threatened with sanctions - such as losing between 10- 100% of their benefits for between 6 an 13 weeks.

No money for 13 weeks? What would you do?"

The people with terminal illnesss have to be likely to live more than six months, mind. Maybe they should turn up on the first day with a guarantee note attached to their collars. No firm likes to risk people dying in the shafts, it can disrupt production and disturb the others.

That was a blogger but here is a comment from old-fashioned conventional print media:

"Some long-term sick and disabled people face being forced to work unpaid for an unlimited amount of time or have their benefits cut under plans being drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Mental health professionals and charities have said they fear those deemed fit to undertake limited amounts of work under a controversial assessment process could suffer further harm to their health if the plans go ahead.

The new policy, outlined by DWP officials in meetings with disabilities groups, is due to be announced after legal changes contained in clause 54 of the welfare reform bill have made their way through parliament".

The Guardian article goes on to say:

"The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) fears that managers in jobcentres and private companies who specialise in getting people back to work have inadequate health expertise and will push those with mental health issues into inappropriate placements. In a consultation response sent to the DWP, the RCP said one of its key concerns was around "the capacity of relevant members of staff in Jobcentre Plus and work programme providers to make appropriate decisions about what type of work-related activity is suitable for claimants with mental health problems".

The college also said it would prefer the placements to be optional".

There again, that was the liberal Guardian, and yet another of those Royal Colleges who are most disloyally refusing to cover up the dirty work of the government these days. I see two of them, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Gynaecologists are holding extraordinary general meetings to reconsider their acquiescence in Andrew Lansley's Health Reform.

But as far as 2010 when Ian Duncan Smith was proclaiming his work for your dole plan there were warnings. "Benefits reforms which would force the unemployed to undertake unpaid manual labour will send claimants into a ‘downward spiral of despair’, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned". Dr.Rowan Williams' fears and criticism were fairly reported in the Tory Daily Mail among other places.

Come to that, it was the Mail which drew our attention to the case of Cait Reilly, the university graduate who was working as an unpaid volunteer in her local museum and presumably gaining relevant experience to go with her geology degree, before the job centre sent her to work for her dole sweeping and stacking shelves in Poundland.

Even if it didn't take long for one of the Mail's sisterly columnists to weigh in, slagging off Cait as "off her trolley" for suing for an infringement of her rights, and demanding to know what was wrong with shelf stacking? Having done some, I can tell her plenty, and its bad enough having to do it for wages!

To be fair, it was another writer in the Daily Mail who recently had this to say:

"As a result of Cameron's spurious recent behaviour in pushing through crippling, quite literally for some, amendments to disability benefits, it has become clear that the attached issues are even more heinous that the blueprint of the Welfare Reform Bill, itself.

And it is this: disabled people will now face the prospect of unlimited unpaid work or they will be subject to cuts in their benefits. For millions that is nothing more than a line on a page but for many terrified and suicidal others, it is anything but."

The writer Sonia Poulton went on to say:
"This is not wartime Nazi Germany and Cameron's attacks on the vulnerable and needy must be stopped"

That's a pretty emotive reference, Sonia, and not in some lefty redtop but in the Mail!

It was a week ago, mind, and a week is a long time in politics, as they say. Long enough for a newspaper to trust its readers to forget, as it falls in line behind government?

This is not Nazi Germany, as Sonia Poulton said, or an article like hers would have been banned, anyone opposing the Arbeit Macht Frei promise of Workfare would be denounced as a red, and police would be ordered to crack down on anyone who dared to demonstrate.

The Tories are trying to rectify the omissions. Tory MP Priti Patel has complained that the BBC has boosted left-wing opposition to Workfare, Ian Duncan Smith has said that stores must have more protection from protesters, and Home Secretary Teresa May has ordered the police to stop people demonstrating.

Meanwhile in the Mail an old favourite is back denouncing the BBC, and assuring us the protests are only the Socialist Workers Party at work trying to bring down capitalism. Yes it's dashing Melanie Phillips, of the cavalry, riding to the rescue, and extolling the virtues of workfare. To be fair she not only denounces the Bolshie reds of the SWP, but shows the white feather to those firms that have backed out of the scheme, accusing them of cowardice and treachery.

I hear the firm smack of discipline. But can 'Mad Mel' restore order at the Mail, before riding to the rescue of the government?

The campaign against workfare is continuing, and much as the SWP must be enjoying the publicity it has been getting, I'm sure it won't claim sole credit for what is happening. What's more, the protesters feel angry enough and know they are in the right, for the threats from the government to use police not to have much deterrent effect.

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