New Labour has unveiled plans to attack some of the most vulnerable people in Britain.
James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, recently announced that private companies will be handed millions of pounds to harass people back to work.
Multinational companies are licking their lips at the juicy profits to be made from the £360 million a year “welfare to work” market.
Purnell has announced a four-fold increase in the market for private companies and voluntary organisations to get the long term unemployed off benefits.
He said, “The private and voluntary sectors already play a role in delivering our work programmes. I want to take this to the next level, free them from central control and allow them to innovate. Their involvement is here to stay and set to grow.
“For the providers the rewards will be high, with longer contracts and a growing market.”
This follows housing minister Caroline Flint arguing that council housing should be made conditional on people actively seeking work.
New Labour’s authoritarian agenda is based on the idea that the unemployed are faking it. It blames the poor for their predicament.
It also assumes that there are decent jobs available. But in December last year there were 1.61 million officially unemployed people in Britain and only 677,400 job vacancies.
Ministers are targeting the 2.6 million people in Britain on incapacity benefit and single parents on benefits.
At the moment single parents aren’t told to look for paid work until their youngest child is 16. From October this will be lowered to 12 years of age, and then from 2010 to seven.
Meanwhile the government is also attacking the workers who deliver welfare services.
It has announced plans to close 200 offices and cut another 12,000 jobs in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), on top of 30,000 other job cuts. It wants to impose a three-year pay deal on workers that will mean a zero percent pay rise for many this year.
Some 80,000 members of the PCS civil service workers’ union are set to strike on Monday 17 March and Tuesday 18 March over pay. Many also see the strike as being about opposing Gordon Brown’s neoliberal agenda in the public sector.
Kate Douglas, a DWP worker and PCS union rep in Oxford, told Socialist Worker,
“The government’s proposals will not help the unemployed – they are a way of transferring more services from the public to the private sector.
“From 1 April it will become compulsory for new claimants on incapacity benefits to attend a ‘work focused interview’. The first interview they attend will be conducted by DWP staff, but the consecutive ones will be conducted by private companies.
“Private companies and charities who win these contracts will get 30 percent of the fee for providing the service and 50 percent for getting people into work.
“So if they put a disabled person in unsuitable work for one week they will get 80 percent of the money. They will get the remaining 20 percent if the person stays in work for a certain period. But the point is they can get the majority of the money by shoving people into unsuitable work.
“I feel sorry for the workers in the private companies who will be doing this work. They will have little training, and will be visiting vulnerable people with the purpose, not of helping the individual, but of getting them into work.”
Dave Owens, a member of the PCS’s DWP group executive, said, “The idea that private companies can make a profit out of the poor is immoral and appalling.
“This follows the model they have in the US where people are forced into jobs they otherwise wouldn’t take. People who face poverty in unemployment will now be forced into low paid jobs and working poverty. It is totally unacceptable.
“In areas that have faced mass unemployment in the past, there will be a lot of anger about these plans.”
New Labour has introduced the private sector into welfare services through the Working Links programme. This organisation is a public-private-voluntary partnership between the government’s shareholder executive, Manpower, Capgemini and the charity Mission Australia.
One sign of the potential disaster of outsourcing was seen recently when the Instant Muscle company, which won the £11 million Pathways to Work contract for Sussex, went into administration. Instant Muscle became a company in 2005 but retained its previous charitable registration.
Some 250 staff will be made redundant. Workers only found out when they discovered their February wages hadn’t been paid. People who turned up for training were advised to go home and await further information or to report to their local job centre.