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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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Desperate Times, Desperate Lies and Diversions

WORKFARE protest in Brighton. One of many around country, it was oganised by local campaigners, and took place before Westminster demo that got Grayling and media excited.

DESPERATE times for the government and its grand scheme for making unemployment profitable by making people work for their dole or benefits. Another of the companies that was meant to make use of buckshee labour has decided it was not worth the bad publicity.

"Burger King has announced it has pulled out of the government's controversial work experience scheme. The fast food giant said it had decided to cease its involvement in the Get Britain Working programme because of recent concerns expressed by the public.

Meanwhile, more information about the boss of A4E, the company which has been doing so well out of helping to run the scheme.

"Emma Harrison, the prime minister's former family tsar who quit amid allegations of 'fat cat' pay and fraud, received around £1.7m over two years from leasing out properties, including her family stately home, to the firm she built on the back of state-funded welfare-to-work programmes.

"Records show that money was funnelled into two companies and a pension fund in which Harrison or her husband has a controlling interest.

"The couple were paid £316,000 for allowing A4e to use their country home for board meetings and other events. Emma and James Harrison were paid another £1.4m for leasing out two other properties to Emma Harrison's own firm, including its Sheffield headquarters.

"The payments were in addition to Emma Harrison's £365,000 annual salary and the payment of an £8.6m shares dividend, bringing the total earnings of the Harrisons, who share their 20-bedroom home, Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire, with 11 friends, to some £11m between 2009 and 2011.

"The revelations will be a considerable embarrassment to the government, which still has £478m worth of Work Programme contracts with A4e.

"The firm, which earned around £180m last year wholly from providing public services, was handed responsibility for getting the long-term unemployed back into work in five parts of the country, under the coalition government's scheme. It is also the preferred bidder for a £15m prisoner rehabilitation contract, although last night government sources suggested it could backtrack on the proposed deal."

Surely Harrison deserves an award as businesswoman of the year, for not only showing how to turn the economic crisis to good use and setting an example of how to help someone -herself -into a good job, but also for enterprise in supplementing the family income by letting off those spare rooms?

Some of A4e's staff also seem to have found enterprising ways of supplementing their income, and are being interviewed by DCI Plod about such means reportedly as converting clothing vouchers intended to help the unemployed to cash.

Perhaps they figured you would not need a suit for an interview at MacDonalds, or to become an unpaid cleaner or skivvy in someone's house. You see this scheme really has been providing a service.

With A4e attracting such attention from the constabulary and some unsympathetic press, one newspaper group whose minions have belatedly been visited over such achievements as hacking Milly Dowler's mobile has celebrated its new appearance on Sundays by pointing to the "Villain of the Week", while displaying its caring side for the young unemployed:

"A scruffy rag-bag of adolescent politicos, you normally only see Socialist Workers hawking their firebrand newspaper outside university unions. But this week they have stumbled into centre-stage with a vicious campaign against plans to give work experience to jobless youngsters. Astonishingly, the BBC and some newspapers have breathlessly recounted their hate-filled crusade against the businesses who have dared to give young people a chance. National TV news even broadcast pictures of half a dozen ranting militants staging a protest in a Tesco in Westminster. No doubt the comrades will be slapping themselves on the back at the next meeting of the SWP. But spare a thought for the true victims of this preposterous campaign - the youngsters who might now miss out on the chance of getting some valuable experience... and maybe even a job".

Love thar "maybe".

It was employment minister Chris Grayling who unleashed the dogs, saying companies were being nervous because of protests, and even claiming the SWP was hacking his e-mails, though this feeble attempt at the sympathy vote appears to have been dropped.

The hunt was loyally taken up by the media, with the Torygraph even naming four individuals whom it claimed were leading the campaign, and giving information about their past background and employment status. Smart work by the reporters or were they given a hand? The BBC on the other hand seems to have got mixed up, Life of Brian style, between its Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party. Never mind, eh?

Meanwhile the story about these High Street giants becoming terrified of a group of lefties has been highly gratifying for supporters of the SWP and the Right to Work campaign it initiated. It has been annoying for other groups and campaigns, some of which point out they have not only been out on the streets protesting workfare lately but were taking up the issue before this government even took over from the New Labourites.

Tesco in Westminster were targetted after the company advertised a vacancy for someone "at JSA" (job seekers allowance) but there have been demonstrations at various stores around the country.

Incidentally, the ever so 'balanced' Beeb or at least its Panorama team were evidently convinced workfare was a good thing long before we were talking about it.

But what the minister and the pro-government media alike prefer to ignore is that the "tiny bunch of radicals" protesting on the street outside Tesco are only the merest tip of an iceberg of popular resentment, whichever label those in power choose to stick on them.

Lots of people desperately want to see themselves or their family members off the dole and into a job - not kept on the dole but expected to work for it. Many can figure out that an employer
provided with free labour by the state will not feel pushed to create new jobs. Quite the opposite.

The shopworkers' union USDAW, not noted for militancy, has taken up the workfare issue with firms like Tesco. And Brendan Barber the general secretary of the TUC recently had this to say:
"While unemployed people may benefit from short periods of work experience, forcing them to work effectively for free for up to six months is not the way to solve the UK's jobs crisis.
"Not only are the high street names involved […] in danger of exploiting participants, the scheme also poses a very real threat to the jobs and pay of existing workers. It is also far from clear whether the placements actually involve any genuine degree of training or work experience that will be of any use to the unemployed taking part.

"The danger is that [this] is simply encouraging employers to continue using unpaid labour when what they should be doing is recruiting unemployed people into properly paid jobs."

The campaign against workfare and for real, decent and worthwhile paid jobs is continuing, and so is the exposure of minister Grayling's lies, diversions and attempts to cover his tracks.


I'd counsel the SWP and Right to Work against getting big headed because they were singled out for blame, and against showing too much conceit or bravado. But bravo to them or anyone else who is taking the issue up. The anti-workfare campaign is coming to a High Street near you on March 3. Support them!

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