Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Best Things In Life Are Legal

This is going to be another one of those posts...

It's said that the case against Al Capone rested not on his boot-legging, racketeering or murder; there's no direct evidence that could have been used in court to prove his obvious involvement in all of them. Everyone knew, but no one could prove. So the case targeted something far more mundane and would at that time lead to the longest sentence ever passed at that time- for tax evasion.

Now Al Capone is an illustrative tale used by bad writers when they want to highlight that the wrongs someone is caught doing pale next to the wrongs they get away with. In fact, I think I'm the first non-bad writer to use Al Capone in this way. I must be.

Not sure why this is here
This week there have been some developments which come at a bad time for the Coalition and they are desperately trying to put the fires out. I'm not here to fan those flames, but start some new ones, because on the issue of welfare to work; there are far bigger things than what has been talked about. Talk has been about illegal things allegedly(I have to use that word, sorry) at some A4e branches and then some other more personalised stuff about the founder and owner Emma Harrison. There are lots of things that can be said to be wrong with A4e and the dear leader; the thing is that the alleged fraud does not come high on that list. The crime- is not at the crime scene, where everyone is looking.

Midway through writing this, some other things were uncovered which you should check out at A Latent Existence. Keep them in mind while I give my take on what's been happening.

The Scene of The (Alleged) Crime:

Reports surfaced three years ago of suspected shenanigans at the welfare to work company A4e. During that time the Flexible New Deal and Pathways To Work were introduced alongside all the existing New Deal schemes. Like every New Deal the previous government came up with, they were promoted on the nebulous basis of being 'more flexible' so much so that they even stuck that word in the name for the headline project. But why now? The welfare to work plans had been running for a decade and there had been no reports before, maybe there had been some dodgy paperwork here and there but never anything serious enough that it would flag up. This was different and it was new and came following a recession and politicians needing to cut costs, fast. Contracts for government employment programmes went less to local organisations and charities, instead they went towards more big companies who bid low and leveraged others out.

A4e induction pamphlet
Costs cut, money tight, pressure rising. The expectation to get results put on work coaches in the industry would have burned a hole in any fire-resistant tortured metaphor. Maybe it was inevitable that some sheets would be filled in that shouldn't have, for jobs not found, for remuneration unearned. Whatever happened, they are no longer 'with the company'.

The (Alleged) Victim:

We found the British taxpayer sobbing in an ally, being comforted by their Secretary(of State for Work and Pensions). What had happened to them according to the Secretary was they were attacked and having their money stolen and so the Secretary ran to their aid, killing the attacker in doing so. It was about fairness, said the Secretary. A man's life in exchange for money, which the Secretary wouldn't return to the taxpayer anyway- fairness. The only provocation was that the taxpayer approached the man,  now laying motionless face down in his own giro, and asked him why he didn't get a job and stop shirking. A fight broke out and philanthropic by-stander Emma Harrison by-stepped in to calm things down, offering the man believed to be one 'Doal Scrounger' support in finding work and saving the taxpayer some money. The taxpayer was thrilled but asked no questions, their Secretary assuring them it would mean Scrounger would be out of their hair(which the Secretary was very jealous of) and even if Harrison's intervention was not all happy adventures, Scrounger deserved what ever was coming to him. But I knew Doal Scrounger, everyone did; he lived practically on every street sometimes in five or more houses. The rest of the story didn't add up next to this hoodlum's usual MO.

The (Alleged) Crook:

Harrison assigned the guy to 'a positive personal journey to re-build his confidence' or something, but he had to turn up and speak with one of her lackeys every two weeks and sit through 'training' that involved talking about everything that was wrong with him and the other attendees.

An A4e job coach begins work on the client's case
Early on, allegations of corruption surfaced but were buried, dealt with by Harrison. The foot-soldiers accused had to get the hell out of town, as far away from that mad Joker grin as they could. Journalists on the scene turned a blind eye and the law didn't even turn up. Scrounger failed to live up to his name on this welfare to work thing; applied for everything going once Harrison's people made him a proper CV, the one helpful thing they did do as it turned out Scrounger didn't have a computer, but I'm sure he was busted weeks earlier shifting computer parts without declaring it to the Jobcentre so he would have had loads of them. Something told me Scrounger wasn't who the Secretary had been telling everyone he was. That and the fact that Scrounger was a healthy and fit man but the guy dead on the floor had a prosthetic leg, which the Secretary had pulled off and beaten him to death with.

Down At The Station:

I wanted to know why CSI had taken the Secretary's word for it about the man's identity despite the missing leg, which was found on the Secretary's person caked in human strawberry jam. And brains. Desk Sergeant Paul Dacre, pausing from his routine of daily checking his mail looked up at me and said tests confirmed it was Scrounger. I asked what tests, he said the PCA, the WCA and a guy down the pub all said he was 'fit for work' so he was definitely Doal Scrounger. I asked why his medical records weren't looked at and got a laugh out of everyone; nothing Doal Scrounger told a doctor could be trusted and his own GP was too close to him personally. Pathologist report came back saying it wasn't the injuries that killed him though but a heart attack probably from the stress of it all of which the beating from the Secretary was just the last straw. He had high blood pressure and Angina. There was no mention of these in any of Scrounger's records, they weren't even the ailments he claimed to have and especially not a missing leg; this had been a case of mistaken identity. I stopped on the way out to ask why the body of the John Doe was now sitting at a desk, flies swarming around it. An officer told me that another WCA was ordered now that 'Scrounger' was no longer in a position to lodge an appeal against the result; it had found him fit for work of course and the Secretary had stopped by to 'volunteer' him into some unpaid work experience there. So far, he was meeting the same productivity targets as everyone else, just by sitting there and never taking lunch or cigarette breaks, but it probably still wouldn't be enough to get him a job offer at the end of it.

Witnesses And Alibis:

I had the gall to rifle through the dead man's pockets: medications with nasty rather than nice side-effects but also an address of a landlady. Before going though I caught up to the Secretary and wanted to know exactly how this all came to blows. He was evasive and kept saying that what ever he did, he had the support of the British taxpayer. But he kept them in the dark just as much as me, how could they support something they knew next to nothing about? Politics. The landlady responded to the description I gave and burst into tears, she must have been close to the John Doe. Not so, she would lose out on his Housing Benefit until she filled the vacancy again, she was happy to let me look around his place and go through his stuff seeing as she would have to throw it out anyway. She also gave me a real name: Benny. Benny Fitzclaimant had been a hard-working man until an industrial accident took his right leg. He re-trained and went into an IT customer phone support role. Not what he would have liked but he stuck at it, though it was stressful and when the cardiologist diagnosed Angina he was finished. Had to take it easy from now on but he was just six years from retirement. Once he was over that finish line he'd be fine. But conditionality requirements for out-of-work disability benefits had only ever gotten tighter. He didn't manage to claim for Incapacity Benefit until after new claims were closed when Employment Support Allowance was introduced to replace it, using of course the Work Capability Assessment or WCA to assess eligibility. Of course, Fitzclaimant was declared 'fit for work' and made to jump through all the loop-holes. Apparently the assessor had misheard his name; someone talking to him at the reception addressed him, he thought, as 'fit claimant'. "Are you Fitzclaimant?", "Yes" he replied and the deal was sealed for Benny.

His ability to change from a fish to an ape also contributed to him being found 'fit for work'
I went to see the taxpayer next and put it to him that the Secretary was dumping it all on them. Also told them the guy's real name and that the real Doal Scrounger was still out there somewhere. They insisted they didn't know what the Secretary was going to do, they didn't mean for a man to die, especially not genuine Ben Fitzclaimant. The Secretary was insistent it was what the taxpayer wanted. Then I got the call: Harrison was leaving the Coalition. She'd served as an advisor to the Don himself, but now there were signs that the family had turned on her even if the inner circle themselves didn't show it. I think I knew why, it was already a case I had been working on when I first got the call about the alleyway attack. Harrison had been protected; the press wouldn't touch her, let alone the police or the politicians. She was made. Not exactly sure what of(spiders?), but suddenly sometimes years after the fact, they were now all paying attention to things which had only been discussed by former clients of hers, independent investigators and vigilante pamphleteers like myself. Public domain but not widely known, though certainly not fresh revelations. What happened? Well after her failure with the man everyone believed to be Daol Scrounger(apart from all the evidence everyone ignored, Benny was a dead-ringer for the low-life), the Secretary decided some 'reforms' were needed. So he reformed Benny's face with his own prosthetic leg and told Harrison to keep on doing what ever it was she did, she'd still get contracts with payment as usual.

Harrison was pictured among Mail journalists yesterday
But Harrison wasn't always distracted with interviews, parties and tedium. She made the mistake of doing what the British taxpayer knew better than to do: she watched the Secretary do it. Whatever her faults, she couldn't stand by and do nothing so she stepped out the shadows and spoke out. She didn't say much, but just enough about the Secretary's 'reforms' to Ben Fitzclaimant's welfare for the family to turn on her. The Coalition don't like squealers and neither do their underlings. The machine kicked in almost immediately, people barely had any time to acknowledge Harrison's objection existed at all so didn't have a cause to ascribe this sudden backlash to. Few seem to realise what Harrison said came before any of the current controversy over A4e or the government work experience schemes, even the police investigation and what ever supposedly instigated that came out of the blue. Harrison's intervention is the only event with any explanatory power for where all this started.

The Coalition Makes Their Play:

Something stuck out: Harrison was being pursued for alleged wrongs by people in her company which if true were illegal and Harrison herself was targeted for what were personal failings like greed. These were small-fry: the worst she had done were the things the Coalition wanted her to do. If she was targeted for them though she would be finished for good, but the Coalition would take damage. So they were left alone. As long as it's legal and the Coalition expressly approved it, there's no going there no matter the extent of the harm to those targeted by them. But the incident had spiraled because A4e were the best-known face of the Work Programme. Reports were also coming out of Jobcentres advertising vacancies which paid only Jobseekers Allowance and expenses; purely work experience placements on schemes. The Work Programme placements were mandatory, they were always mandatory and were sold to the taxpayer by the Secretary as always being mandatory. Ministers also made a lot of noise about the work experience programme also being mandatory, but they said one thing to some folk and something else to others. In the end they technically were voluntary for the first week but with so much conditionality attached it was a mockery of the word. The Coalition had a plan to make the controversy work for them and they're doing it right now. It really hit the fan though after it was discovered a Jobcentre had a Tesco advertisement for a work experience placement, but which they claim mistakenly said the position was 'permanent'.

The Coalition began putting out statements conflating the Work Programme and work experience scheme, they also began defining who their enemies were. Not campaigners, not the charities, not us who have been working on these matters for months: they said it was some rag-tag Leftists protesting: the Right To Work group who I'd never heard of before. The accusations became ludicrous very quickly. Naturally these people who were only moderately informed about the matter had the disinformation stuck to them and they carelessly allowed themselves to be portrayed as confusing the Work Programme and work experience schemes. The Coalition started springing the traps: their critics were making things up and confusing the Work Programme and the work experience. The goal clearly was to get the British taxpayer back on their side as the Welfare Reform bill was at a critical moment and the Health and Social Care Bill was also in danger. With Harrison being neutralised by a complacent media and the long-time effective critics being ignored, the controversy is being molded into something which the government can point to after their reforms are through and say "look, look how unreasonable, radical and extreme our critics were".

The harm caused to clients of the Work Programme through legitimate, lawful and officially sanctioned activity is huge next to that of the harm that would be caused to the taxpayer by the alleged fraud by former employees. The taxpayer doesn't want to know and the Coalition doesn't want the taxpayer to know enough to change their mind. The taxpayer was curious about plans for the NHS, so the media was forced to feed that demand and this has led to massive public opposition of it. This is something which ministers do not want to be repeated for welfare reform, something which the taxpayer has never really been curious about and is happy to be misinformed or have their prejudices reinforced indefinitely. But when faced with the actual consequences, my experience is that the public find their conscience. I believe the vitriol directed at Emma Harrison is for all the wrong reasons; it started by incredible coincidence just as she began wading into the Welfare Reform debate. 

Criticism against both the Work Programme and government-run work experience schemes have been building for a while. What makes them stand out from other areas of welfare policy is their potential to affect the lives of working people: some kinds of work placement might substitute real jobs and lower wages. The government wanted the Welfare Reform bill to give them political capital which they were hemorrhaging with the Health and Social Care Bill. The thing is certain sections of the media finally started taking an investigative interest and reporting facts swimming for a long time in the public domain as News. There is no stopping the bill now but the popularity of it could be shot to pieces in a single week if its contents and implications were reported properly. The government has moved to blank the long-term opposition to these from the public memory and make out that the weekend warriors we keep hearing about were the opposition all along and were spreading misinformation. That could actually work if people don't realise what prompted the reaction to Emma Harrison and that the government were conflating the Work Programme with other schemes first. 

They did the same thing with Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit. The public were led to believe that DLA was an out of work benefit and then ministers justified reforms on the basis that the benefit was widely misunderstood; presenting themselves as the solution to the problem they had actually caused. They will wipe out opposition here on the basis that the said opposition they have characterised has fudged the issue of work placements.


  1. I just enjoy the way you right Mason,

  2. Luckily Channel 4 News appear to be doing what the rest of the media should also be doing: they're actively looking for examples of young people being put on explicitly mandatory work experience with the threat of sanctions from the outset.

    A Latent Existence has the details:

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Sorry posted in error-

  5. I've been sent some material asking for my input about the complaints system at the BBC since they decided it needed an overhaul. Not too soon honestly. Some more details will come soon on my appeal to the BBC Trust; I've seen a draft of the document that will be given to them when they meet at the end of this month and will be submitting my comments this week clarifying points about my appeal I think they've misinterpreted.

  6. Maybe of interst tomorrow morning-*&lday=15&lmonth=3&lyear=2012&uday=15&umonth=3&uyear=2012&theme=&source-agency=Work+and+Pensions&pagetype=calendar-entry

  7. You may very well know this and it might not be significant but if you look at the following list-the "renaming" and presumably separating of statistics(as regards ESA) is stated "from FebruarY"-

  8. Hi Mason.

    I think I understand now why you and other readers were so angry about Peter Singer's 'Ashley Treatment' article. Because you don't want to be accorded less worth than people without disabilities; nor be treated as we see fit. That's the closest I can put it into words.

    I won't be around much for a while, so keep well. It's not quite 'Godwin's Law: The Musical', but it's not too far off:




  12. Still got the "savings" from removal of DLA mobility for residents,cannot see any amending to figures to suggest announced change.

    1. Mentioned in text and appending documents.