Today's news: the Public Accounts Committee have delivered their report on four years of the Pathways to Work programme for people on ESA/IB. It’s, to say the least, damning. You can read the text here, but the sentence most indicative of the whole is:
“Private providers have seriously underperformed against their contracts and their success rates worse than Jobcentre Plus even though private contractors work in easier areas with fewer incapacity claimants and higher demand for labour.”
Yes - even when carefully assigned the lowest hanging fruit, they couldn't get much picking done. The data of the report shows that the two providers involved with the scheme around the country managed to achieve between a third and a half of their target outcomes. As some 70% of their payments are determined by results, the poor dears have been struggling to get by financially. Still, five years on, with the benefit of good ol’ 20.20 hindsight, the powers that be have managed to identify the crux of the problem:
“Providers started from a low knowledge base with little direct experience of working with incapacity benefits claimants.”
Well, fuck, who could have guessed that that might turn out to be an issue? Could it be that maybe, just maybe, carrying out public sector services is a little more difficult than it looked when you were slagging off the public sector for not delivering them cheaply enough? Could it be that getting results in this area requires people with actual skills, and not the bunch of desperate, untrained, badly paid, couldn’t-get-jobs-as-recruitment-consultants chancers that comprise your staff at the moment?
“In 2008-09, £94 million (38% of Pathways expenditure) was spent on employment support that did not deliver additional jobs.”
Yeah, no fucking shit.
This shocking realisation that difficult jobs are difficult is obviously having repercussions up and down the country. CDG and A4e, two of the largest providers, find themselves in a bind - as long as they get paid by results, they won’t make profits, and so won’t be able to hire decent staff. They’ve attempted to square the circle by advertising for highly skilled volunteers. Perhaps you’re wondering why highly skilled people would volunteer for companies like this when they could, eg, earn a wage. Well - there are going to be a whole lot of DWP and local authority employees heading for the dole queue soon, with a whole wealth of knowledge and experience to share, and nobody left in the country (private or public sector) who’s able or willing to pay for it…
One press release (hat tip) begins:
“Ensuring Britain continues to be a civilised and harmonious society means attracting 50,000 expert volunteers to sign up to the fight in supporting the unemployed back into work, according to the charity Careers Development Group’s (CDG) position paper launched today.”
See? This is about the future of the civilised world. Not about a bunch of mean, thieving bastards realising that the pie has almost run out and guarding their remaining slices with murderously paranoid zeal. No sir. Anyone thinking that they could have saved time by writing a press release along the lines of ‘Darling Dave, we really love the Big Society idea, please renew our contracts, luv CDG xxx’ had best keep their dangerous Bolshevik ideas to themselves.
If you’re having trouble following all of this, it’s really quite simple. We can’t afford to pay teachers, carers, mentors, and social workers to do their jobs anymore. Instead, they’re going to do their jobs for free, and pass everything they know onto the next generation while scraping by on the dole. Half of Britain as unpaid tutors for the other half. Once the lucky young ‘uns have drunk deep of the well of knowledge, they’ll be more employable, and employers will suddenly have enough money to hire them after all, and will naturally choose the less experienced people with no work history over the people who have a lifetime's experience doing real work, and have recently been busy volunteering (which always looks good on a CV).
Meanwhile, there aren't going to be any substantial consequences for the providers' failures - for fans of throwing good money after bad, Ian Duncan Smith is all over a European A4e scheme for ‘strengthening families’. He’s ‘examining a German approach where long-term unemployed families have been encouraged to create a "household culture" with trips to the cinema and evening classes.’
In other words, IDS spends time sitting at his desk, chewing on his pencil, wondering ‘Why don’t these workless households ever take trips together? Why don’t they go to the cinema? Why don’t they go to Center Parcs? Or Umbria? Don’t they realise they could have valuable family bonding experiences that way?,’ before clapping his hands together in a businesslike manner and forging ahead with plans to cut benefits.
He's certainly the finest mind in the Department since we all enjoyed the paradigm-altering thought of James Purnell. Is it something particular about DWP that attracts people of this calibre? I can’t think of a word that fits better than gormlessness.