The Work Programme has begun. Across the land the DWP press release is being regurgitated in the mainstream media, the same outlets who came so very late to the far advanced debate on welfare reform. Scrutiny has been small and confined to Comment pieces, with their limited influence on public awareness and opinion. There are so many Facts that should have been reported as News long ago but haven't. The Work Programme is presented as revolutionary, as new and by extension: well-intentioned.
I wrote a piece for Comment is Free, angrily rebutting these notions. The Work Programme is not new, it has no innovative ideas behind it, just tired old ones and it most certainly is not built upon goodwill towards those seeking work. It is little different to the model the Labour government used for the Flexible New Deal, which Chris Grayling vaguely but passionately criticised and I emphasise the 'vague' here because if he had gone into specifics they would have equally applied to the design of the Work Programme.
The Work Programme is very much designed for the benefit and enrichment of a few of the largest prime contractors. Sub-contractors should very much beware what they are getting themselves into. The press release is also the second one to claim that the Citizens Advice Bureau is going to be involved in the Work Programme. I can say with more than the usual confidence that they most certainly are not. When the first DWP press release that claimed they were involved came out I was sure it must have been an April Fool's and all the Coalition cheerleading newspapers were falling for it. I asked my boss at CAB the next day about it and she gave me the whole story.
A4E had approached CAB about the Work Programme. For years jobcentres have used propriety programs to calculate how much a client would be better off working than on benefits. A4E wanted to do this too but they were either unwilling to buy the program licenses or didn't have anyone on the payroll with a Math A-level (and it would be an unacceptable overhead to have one in every A4E branch). So they wanted to sub-contract CAB to do it for A4E clients in the Work Programme. CAB told them they would think about it but weren't promising anything and A4E should let them know when they want to meet formally to discuss it. Sounds like CAB were obviously cautious and expected A4E to over-step the mark if they agreed to anything substantial. Little did they know A4E don't need anything substantial; any positive feedback no matter how small was sufficient enough for them to go running to Chris Grayling and tell him to add CAB to his list, which he did without checking it was ok with CAB first. Seeing as the press release is unchanged and they've been included yet again a second time, I guess he ignored their complaints afterwards.
My boss had got the story from the Director of Citizens Advice at a meeting in York the day before where the April 1st DWP press release was brought up. Apparently she was furious and this was already causing an administrative headache and worried clients asking CAB if it was true. The sentiment was that if they had reservations about doing work for A4E before, there was not a chance in hell of working with them now. They couldn't be trusted even with the smallest thing. Neither can Chris Grayling.
Given my experience on Flexible New Deal, the jobcentre are pulling out the stops to keep me off the Work Programme. If I don't turn into an unreachable vegetable this time, I could end up tearing the provider to pieces over the quality of their provision and their motives. Last October the government came up with 'Work Choice' which has limited places, for disabled people with complex issues that need specialist support. I hadn't heard of it and there are no press releases on the DWP website. In fact there isn't much at all, this was done very quietly in contrast to the noise of the Work Programme trumpet. If I were a cynical man ("No Mr Dixon, we can't say it's the first thing that comes to mind about you") I'd say that Labour ministers were quite aware of how Pathways to Work and Flexible New Deal harmed clients like myself and Coalition ministers are going ahead with it because it gets us out of the statistics for the pet project.
I'd say I would do more reading up on it, but there really doesn't appear to be anything.
Edit: just spotted that I'd already said most of this in a new case file a while ago, but I can get away with it if the DWP can get away with re-hashing inaccurate press releases.