Archives For A4E

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

In the second part of our interview with housing support officer Jane Walters* (Read the first part here)we talk about how welfare reform has affected the lives of her clients and her job…

How have the changes to welfare and benefit cuts affected your clients?  

“We haven’t seen the worst of it. I think there’s going to be a huge impact from the benefit cuts. People think it’s just the bedroom tax but it’s not. Obviously we know that’s a huge impact, a lot of families and older people who have had their families now have to move out into the private rented sector.

“For our tenants, for one there’s limited move on.  The main route out of support accommodation is into the private rented sector. What’s the average rent in London, about £200-250 a week?

“Private landlords are being asked what the rent is and some will take whatever housing benefit will pay. What we are talking about now is the old style Rachmanism, in particular. He was famous in the sixties for being a slum landlord who made huge profits but did absolutely nothing to the private rented accommodation that he owned. And he could chuck people out willy-nilly. What came out of that was all the fair rent campaigns and huge changes to the housing sector.

Image: The Telegraph Peter Rachman (1919-1962), a landlord from the Notting Hill area of  London who became notorious for unethical practices including driving out tenants to maximise revenue from his rental properties.

Image: The Telegraph Peter Rachman (1919-1962), a landlord from the Notting Hill area of London who became notorious for unethical practices including driving out tenants to maximise revenue from his rental properties.

“They have brought in the benefit cap and now landlords are putting rents at the top of the benefit cap. So for single homeless people, a majority have very few skills, they are now stuck in a cycle of poverty because they cannot afford to pay £200-250 a week, and these are rooms – these are not studio flats. These are very depressing environments where people will either relapse or fall into depression. I certainly would.

“The problem is there has been no housing built since Margaret Thatcher came to power. That was 1979. Neither Tory nor Labour government have reversed that trend. It’s minimal, the amount of housing stock. And even what they do build, even under Tories, and actually under the last Labour government, it’s not affordable accommodation. It’s part-buy part-share and that’s completely out of most people’s league.

“For other client groups, the Tories got rid of the Community Care Grant. It’s a one-off grant to help people who have had an unsettled way of life and are part of a re-settlement programme moving onto independent accommodation. It would be about £800-900 to buy the right goods and furniture. Just furnish the flat, so they can keep their tenancy. If you put someone in an empty flat they’re not going to stay there very long, even if it’s a beautiful flat. They’ll become de-moralised and they’re not able to function if they don’t have the basic, essential items. It is a huge boost and I think it really helped people maintain their tenancies. I think there’s going to be less of that. Some tenants have no one at all. And that is an absolute fact. They will be rattling around in an empty flat. So that’s the risk.”

How has competitive tendering affected your job? 

“Across the country there’s huge pressure with A4E and the private companies that do all the work connections and stuff – they are exerting a lot of power over people. So if they don’t get their workbook right, there’s huge increases in sanctions for people on JSA.

Image: BBC News

Image: BBC News

“I think there’s an increase in disciplinaries – people’s frustration or lack of training. Even organisations who promote themselves as highly professional are being affected by it and they’re saying they can’t get quality staff, because people like me who came through nursing or community education, so it was a transition. And all that sort of stuff has gone. There’s poorer quality – they focus on graduates but they have no experience. You see them move quite quickly up the scale, away from frontline work because a lot of them just couldn’t cope with that. But I can understand because they have been jettisoned from university, but they’d go into things like fundraising or client liason – the softer stuff.

“Because of this bidding thing everyone is fragmented, services will deteriorate so much, to such an extent there will just be a skeleton service.  I don’t think it will be anything like it used to be and we’ve seen already this with a few community centres. But I think it’ll coincide with all the tax in the welfare reforms and the cuts in services. It’s going to be very difficult. I think we’re going to see, over the next couple of years, a huge increase in homelessness. I mean they’re talking about the number people applying to food banks is almost like a tsunami. I think the suffering is going to get great and it’s whether the workers can kind of support these issues, but they’re very intimidated and frightened to speak up because they can be sanctioned or put their job at risk.

“A lot of us are saying we can’t wait two years for a general election thank you very much. Otherwise in two years, half of us won’t have a bloody job.”

Have your clients been affected by the rhetoric that has been in the media and used by politicians against those on benefits or out of work? The ‘scrounger’ and ‘skiver’ rhetoric? 

“They are not even dealing with that. What they’re doing is struggling on a day-to-day basis.

“They are jumping through hoops every week, to make sure they sign on in time, go to their work connexions and they’re being made to sit in places for hours on computers, learning nothing. I am having to chase claims more. I have never accompanied clients to the job centre before but I have started doing that since April. I have never had to go to the job centre before. Maybe once or twice to drop something off, but now I’m doing it every week, accompanying somebody or having to chase the benefits up. A lot of people are already facing sanctions, so your benefit could be cut for two weeks, some of them are for months. It will put people at risk of re-offending or going into offending behaviour. It must be a huge temptation because if you don’t pay your service charge you risk getting evicted.”

KS

*name has been changed

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In another blow to the coalition’s efforts to streamline welfare spending and increase employment, figures released on Thursday suggest that the Work Programme, brought in during 2011, isn’t working.

Image: Parliament Uk

Image: Parliament Uk

The Work Programme, now two years into practice, was a coalition initiative which aimed to get 1.2 million long-term unemployed people living in the UK, back into a job.

The programme runs by using private contractors such as A4E and G4S, to help lift the long-term unemployed, those who have been out of a job for more than a year, into employment. These contractors operate on payment-by-result basis, meaning that the more people they move into employment lasting 6 months or more, the more money they are awarded by the government.

However, the latest figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions show that just 1 in 10 people have been helped back to work by the £5 billion scheme in the last two years, meaning that so far, each job has cost the taxpayer around £40,000 to secure.

Despite the seemingly obvious shortfalls of the scheme, on Thursday after the release of the government’s latest figures, Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: “The improvement in performance over the past year has been profound and the scheme is getting better and better. And because providers are rewarded for success, the Work Programme is designed to give taxpayers a far better deal than previous schemes.”

Crisis Homeless Charity accuses government of spin on Work Programme figures.

Crisis Homeless Charity accuses government of spin on Work Programme figures.

Although the figures do suggest that the scheme is improving, many have still accused the government of “spin”, with homelessness charity Crisis pointing out that statistics also showed just 1 in 20 sick and disabled people on the scheme have managed to find lasting employment.Despite improvements in its overall employment numbers since last year, which saw just 9,000 people finding a job lasting 6 months or more, the programme has missed government targets across the board. The most alarming of these missed targets is the Work Programmes effectiveness to get those who receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) back in to work.

ESA is the benefit for those who are ill or disabled and therefore find it hard to find a job – the very people that the programme was supposed to be helping the most, as invariably, those who receive ESA have been unemployed for the longest terms. From March 2012 to March 2013, just 5.3 per cent of those who received ESA found a job that lasted 6 months or more – well below the governments own minimum target of 16.5%.

When asked about the effectiveness of the Work Programme, Crisis Chief executive Leslie Morphy said: “The Work Programme was set up to help those furthest from work back into employment. On that measure, it has been a miserable failure. The Government’s own statistics, our research, charities and thinktanks are unanimous: homeless people and others who need more support have been left parked without meaningful help.”

The DWP has issued ‘improvement notices’ for 12 contractors who are “lagging behind” their contracted levels for helping claimants in to jobs, in an effort to try and boost numbers by the end of this year, with the threat of termination of the contracts if the companies do not show “significant” changes with their job success figures.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne has also waded in to the debate over government spin, saying: “The Work Programme is still failing and failing badly.

“The government missed every single one of its minimum targets and in nearly half the country, the Work Programme is literally worse than doing nothing.”

Careers Development Group in East London, Pertemps in Solihull, Newcastle College Group in Solihull, Rehab Job Fit in Wales and Newcastle College Group in Yorkshire have the worst conversion rates for getting those who receive ESA into work, managing to help just 2% of those who are on the Work Programme as – opposed to the minimum set target of 16.5%.

According to the Independent, the Government was warned by the private contractors that the cost of helping those on ESA could not be met by the scheme.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said: “It will inevitably take longer to help those on ESA into sustained jobs as many are a long way from the labour market. Over 25 per cent of people on ESA have been out of work for at least 11 years and therefore we’re going to need to pool skills and local health budgets with Work Programme cash to help more of this group into work.”

If this is indeed the case then why have the government not already started looking into other ways in which they can help those on ESA? Well, the answer, as always, seems to be money.

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

In his budget speech this week Chancellor George Osborne announced that as part of a bid to save £11.5bn in 2015, the DWP will have to find a further 9.5% of savings in the department’s running costs.

He warned that this will require a “difficult drive for efficiency” and a “hard-headed assessment of under-performing programmes”.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, agrees: “These figures will confirm what many disabled already know about the Work Programme – it’s not working for them. A one-size-fits-all approach means disabled people aren’t getting the individual, tailored support they need.”

Head of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg has also warned that change is needed if the government want to get the Work Programme working: “We remain deeply concerned that the Work Programme, as currently designed, is insufficient to tackle the problems faced by more disadvantaged jobseekers. Doing nothing and hoping things improve is no longer an option.”

Let’s hope that this means there will now be a re-assessment of how contractors can help those who are furthest away from securing jobs, such as recipients of ESA, as opposed to just focusing on those that will yield the contractors the easiest and fastest payment securements.

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Welfare To Work Words

The image above illustrates the large network of what policy academics call ‘active labour market policies’ (ALMPs); or what politicians refer to, in the increasingly Americanised language of social security, ‘welfare-to-work’.

ALMPs are big business.  They are in large part carried out by huge private sector providers, such as A4E and G4S, as well as a ‘supply chain’ that consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller organisations and companies. According to the BBC, the Work Programme alone is expected to cost up to £5bn.

But as well as being big business, ALMPs are an integral component of the social security ‘contract’ that exists between the state, the public and benefit claimants.  The contract, so it goes, is that unemployed people agree to a wide range of – often stringent – work-related conditions: this in return for (a) benefits and (b) the provision of back-to-work ALMPs.

The state then, like the unemployed, has rights and responsibilities: the right to expect benefit claimants to take certain steps to get back into the labour market, but also the responsibility to provide good services that enable a transition back to work.  So this raises an important question: how well do we actually provide for the unemployed in terms of labour market programmes?

A simple but effective way to answer this is to look at what other countries do.  The OECD is a useful resource here, as they collect statistics on how much countries spend on ALMPs.  The graph below shows how much other European countries spent in the most recent year of data collection, as a percentage of GDP.

Spending on ALMPs in the OECD (% GDP)

SpendingonALMPsintheOECD

As is obvious, we don’t do very well: spending on ALMPs is just 0.38% of our national income.  In fact, the only countries that spend less than us on ALMPs are the former communist states of Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Estonia.  What’s far more normal for countries like us, in terms of GDP, is for over 1 per cent on all spending to go on welfare-to-work, such as in the Netherlands (1.2%), France (1.1%) and Belgium (1.5%).  Denmark, meanwhile, spends a whopping five times more than the UK does on back-to-work schemes.

Our poor record on ALMPs is reflected even more intensely in what the EU calls ‘the activation rate’.  This is the number of unemployed people, per 100, who are enrolled onto welfare-to-work programmes.  The image below shows the pitiful coverage of UK provision: for every hundred unemployed people, just over one person is participating in activating schemes.  This compares to rates of over a fifth in other major West European economies, such as Italy, Sweden, Spain and Belgium.

The ‘activation rate’ in EU countries

Activation Rate in EU

In fact, the UK is bottom of this league table across the entire EU.  This means there are a higher proportion of unemployed people on ALMPs in countries like Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania.  Even tiny Malta has a higher activation rate than the UK.

So, whilst the state asks a lot from the unemployed, it simultaneously fails to provide them with a relatively high standard of labour market programmes.  The key point here is not that it’s unfair to ask – or even compel – unemployed people to take steps back to work.  Rather, it’s unfair that we ask so much of the unemployed yet do so little, compared to other countries, to help them.

David Cameron and George Osborne like to talk about the ‘Global Race’ that the UK is in: a race where we must compete more effectively and efficiently against our economic competitors.  Yet if we really are in a ‘Global Race’, then surely a test of how where we stand is by how much our government invests in reskilling the unemployed.  And on this test, we are miserably failing.

Daniel Sage

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