Thursday, February 28, 2008

Full Circle

In the dying days of John Major's administration, the UK government was in discussions about giving a contract to a company called 'America Works' to get more lone parents into work. Labour came to power, cancelled the contract, and over the following ten years helped more lone parents than ever before in British history find jobs, through a mixture of good management of the economy, more help with childcare, and direct cash support through tax credits. Meanwhile, many 'customers' of America Works found it harder to find work once the American economy got worse after 2000, and discovered that even if they got a job, they still didn't have enough money to pay all the bills and support themselves and their families.

But why build on success or look at the evidence when there is the option of giving public money to private companies in the dogmatic belief that they can do things better. Our government has just announced how they are going to open up what their adviser calls the 'multi-billion pound welfare to work market' to companies like America Works. They've released the strategy which explains how to bid for the contracts to run the services for the long term unemployed, which has been written in such a way to ensure that small, community and voluntary organisations have no chance whatsoever in being able to compete for the core contracts with large multinationals, no matter how much experience or proven effectiveness the small, local group might have. It's a similar kind of arrangement to the one which worked so well with the railways.

So while sick and disabled people, and those with children, will be threatened with sanctions if they don't find work, an ever increasing proportion of the welfare bill will go to large foreign companies, which are already making preparations to grab their share of the handouts, on long term contracts.

If James Purnell had to disinter a policy from the John Major era, couldn't he have picked the cones hotline or something?


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