Inside nasty ‘benefit busters’ private firms
Channel 4’s recent Benefit Busters programme (» Benefit Busters, 22 August) highlighted the appalling role of private companies employed to push disabled people, the long-term unemployed, and lone parents into work.
I was employed by one such firm in the north east of England and found that clients were harassed into taking any job, no matter how demeaning, just so the company could meet its targets.
The jobs often didn’t last and the client was back in no time at all.
One Pakistani client in his 50s with a doctorate in toxicology and experience in a highly regarded research post was humiliated by a member of staff at the company.
He was accused of being unable to speak proper English and offered training to qualify in manual labour on a construction site.
The jobs that clients were persuaded to apply for were low paid and low skilled, such as cleaning. These are the jobs that few want as they are not sustainable or financially viable for most people.
The training placements clients were offered were low skilled, such as shop work in a charity store where most clients complained that they received no training.
For the most part they were told to sort out stock or sweep the floor.
The clients who did complain about the company were the more educated, skilled ones. Those most vulnerable such as the low skilled clients were terrified of having their benefits stopped – which was a constant threat by staff members – and therefore dared not speak out.
Indeed, the lower skilled were herded together into one classroom which was heavily over-subscribed, often with clients sitting on desks or the floor due to a lack of provision. There was no air conditioning so clients sweltered during the hot summer days.
There was a severe lack of computers. The practice of making lots of clients share facilities was marketed as “peer-to-peer job searches”.
Other facilities in very short supply included basic utensils such as pens and paper.
The public relations of the company I worked for were based on what was termed as “good news stories” written by clients about their positive experiences. In reality, staff were coerced and harassed by managers into acquiring “good news stories” from clients.
The staff then coerced clients to tell a story that was given a positive spin by the company.
The majority of clients’ stories were negative, but they were never written about.
When I protested about what was going on, I was told that I was a poor performer and unprofessional. I was then sacked.
It is outrageous that taxpayers’ money is funding this shambles while the bosses of these companies rake in huge profits.
Former employment trainer
Defend the vital NHS
After hearing Tory MP Daniel Hannan talking about our NHS as a “60 year mistake” I felt angry enough to write to you for the first time.
While his own party is declaring Mr Hannan “eccentric”, I think he is either completely ignorant and out of touch, or perhaps just a downright liar.
For 60 years our health service has provided fully comprehensive free healthcare to whoever needed it. This is very different to the US system, which Mr Hannan holds up as a better model.
For the vast majority of working class Americans the bottom line is – no insurance, no healthcare.
Health workers in Britain are fed up of the continual criticisms rounded on us by the media – dirty hospitals, overpaid staff, inefficiencies in services.
The truth is that there are still hospital porters being paid less than £13,000 a year and hundreds of admin, professional clerical and clinical staff working extra unpaid hours to cover unfilled posts, who still find the time to be a friend to the patients.
The Tories wanted to sell off the NHS years ago, but we have held back the threat of wholesale privatisation.
However New Labour has craftily introduced the patchwork privatisation of services.
Billions of pounds have gone into the pockets of big business through private consultancies, the private finance initiative and the as yet undeliverable NHS computer system. This money could have paid for more nurses, secretaries and ancillary staff – and it amounts to a huge misappropriation of public funds.
With a general election looming, most Tories have been quick to defend the NHS and so has New Labour – but I don’t think people will be fooled.
We still have an NHS today because the public, side by side with the trade unions, has taken to the streets to defend it.
That’s why my union branch has supported a coach to the demonstration at the Labour Party conference on 27 September in Brighton.
I urge all those who care about the NHS to do the same.
Health worker and Unite union member, Bristol (pc)
Left must stand with radical Basque groups
Tom Woodcock and Paula Champion make some valid comments about the Basque question (» Letters, 15 August). But I have some disagreements.
The Spanish constitution was not accepted in the Basque Country. Both conservative and “socialist” governments have denied the Basque people the right of self-determination.
This demand is championed not only by ETA, a small armed group, but also by the broader social and political movement of radical Basque nationalism. They take the fight against the effects of the economic crisis very seriously, organising a Basque general strike last May.
The Spanish state has responded to this movement by closing down newspapers, imprisoning and torturing their editors and banning a succession of political parties.
It is true that ETA’s tactics – recently revived in a bombing campaign – are a dead end.
But the relative isolation of the Basque left is largely the fault of the Spanish left.
The United Left electoral alliance regularly joins the parties responsible for bombing Afghan villages in “condemning the violence of ETA”.
And any project for a new Spanish or European anti-capitalist left will have to recognise that we have thousands of brothers and sisters in the Basque Country who deserve our solidarity.
Seize the time to take on capitalism
I’m a 16 year old student and I am scared about the abuse humanity has received and will receive under capitalism.
The political right is greedy and proud of it. There is a lot else you can call them, but that’s the simple shorthand.
A lot of good work is being done, but so much more needs to happen.
I talk to fellow students, and to them socialism is discredited.
Most people do not understand socialism – they think it unrealistic or unworkable.
It is the duty of all of us that know otherwise to show that what is really unrealistic is the idea that a capitalist system allowing the exploitation of billions is somehow moral and fair.
Now is the best time for a renewed attack on capitalist ideology.
Let us republish Karl Marx, hold meetings and discussions all through the country and the world.
We have to remind people that we live in a world where there are 246 million child slaves.
Protests and rallies have their place, but nothing can replace talking to ordinary people.
We will miss Andy Abel
Southampton Socialist Workers Party branch would like to add its deep sorrow and shock at Andy Abel’s untimely death (» Obituary, 22 August).
Andy came to Southampton in the mid-1980s and from the start he enlivened and enriched the political life of the branch.
It was here that he met his partner Lorraine. He was indeed an outstanding revolutionary and a warm and generous man. Our thoughts are with Lorraine and Andy’s family.
We cannot take in that we shall never again be greeted on demos and at Marxism by Andy’s cheery “Hello Commies!”
New Labour’s target culture
A friend of mine works for the Department for Work and Pensions.
He spends all day on the phone dealing with requests for emergency payments for essentials such as bed linen, crockery or mattresses.
The office management say that the workers must insist to all clients that their claims will be dealt with on their merits and in the order that they were received.
This is a lie!
Every so often the management call on the workers to process as many recent claims as they can, as quickly as they can.
Why? To reduce the “average” waiting time for a claim. Another triumph of New Labour.
Pakistani poll shows mood
For predictable reasons the British media have ignored a poll carried out on behalf of Al Jazeera in Pakistan.
Asked what they considered the biggest threat the country, 11 percent of those asked said the Taliban, 18 percent said India and 59 percent said the US.
The poll showed an even split over how to deal with the “Pakistan Taliban” – 42 percent supported military action and 43 percent favoured dialogue.
But when it came to US attacks inside Pakistan, 67 percent were opposed. President Asif Zardari’s approval rating was just 9 percent.
The message is clear. US attempts to extend the Afghan war into Pakistan, supported by Gordon Brown, are a disaster that threaten to become a catastrophe.
Crime keeps getting verse
I was astonished to read that the police in the Vale of White Horse are delivering cake and birthday cards to “known criminals” in the area.
The card reads:
“On your birthday we wish you well. We would hate to see you in a cell. Time to change your ways, go straight. If you don’t, you know your fate.”
I wonder if this constitutes harassment? Or just bad poetry?
Behind the atomic threat
With all of the hypocrisy about North Korea in the press lately, I would like to recommend The Hidden History Of The Korean War by I F Stone.
It was published in 1952 – at the height of the McCarthy anti-communist witch-hunts in the US.
Before reading this I thought I was unshockable.
The book looks at more than just Korea.
The author discusses the effect of events in Japan, China, Formosa – now Taiwan – and much more.
US president Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur threatened to use atomic weapons against Korea.
It makes me wonder why North Korea might want a nuclear deterrent.
This is brilliant journalism.