Sunday, 27 October 2013

What About Clients?

I suspect there's a danger in all this TR omnishambles to sometimes forget how things are for our clients. By the way I use the description deliberately and regular readers will appreciate I remain rather old-fashioned with regard to such matters, for instance having never abandoned the title probation officer in favour of 'offender manager'.

On this topic, it amused me greatly to read a twitter exchange recently with a manager castigating someone for referring to a 'hostel', rather than 'Approved Premises'. They were told in no uncertain terms that "the Salvation Army does hostels - we do Approved Premises!" It's all so arcane and pointless - as the expression goes, 'if it walks like a duck; quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck', in my humble opinion.

Anyway, I digress. There is absolutely no getting away from the fact that life for most of our clients has become considerably more difficult during this period of austerity. They are suffering the triple whammy of benefit cuts, rising prices for food and utilities and a stagnating employment market. Whether it's the bedroom tax, Atos health assessments, Job Centre harassment or crap minimum wage jobs, it's basically a shit situation and getting worse all the time for this group.

Now I know that this is true for lots of people, but for many of our clients this all comes on top of probably an unhappy and troubled childhood, failure by state education, poor health, an addiction to either drink or drugs and a criminal record. Despite what might be said to the contrary, the climate has become ever less tolerant for our clients, a situation encouraged by many of our politicians wishing to garner votes by pandering to the populist notion of the distinction between the deserving and undeserving within society.

Have you any idea how difficult it is for a person coming out of prison with literacy and numeracy problems and only the £46 made famous by Chris Grayling and you can't sign on for benefits until you've provided a CV at the Job Centre? Claims have to be made online, not in person any more and appointments arranged via phone when you haven't got one. After several weeks living on thin air and you are lucky enough to have got your benefits sorted, it can only be paid via a bank account you haven't got and often proves difficult to get. And the payments are moving from fortnightly to monthly, a move almost deliberately designed to make it impossible for our clients to budget.

If you had a drink or drug problem and used to get Sickness Benefit, that's no longer available due to the Atos work assessment tests and the Job Centre or Work Programme provider will want to see evidence of jobs applied for on a regular basis, or daily attendance will be required. Fail any more than a couple of appointments due to certain chaotic aspects of your life, learning disability or mental health problems and your benefit will be 'sanctioned', ultimately for periods up to 3 years.

Despite all the rhetoric and supposed aspirations contained in the TR omnishambles, I think most people can readily see how the system of 'welfare reforms' is creating a perfect environment whereby rehabilitation is made as difficult as possible and how many clients will simply give up and resign themselves to a return to prison. Others are sadly going to take more drastic action and the arrival of the Samaritans in Job Centres will eventually see them appearing in probation offices I fear.        

It's precisely this troubled group within society that the Probation Service was set up to deal with over 100 years ago. It's never been easy, but all those outfits who are at this moment considering whether to bid for our work or not, you must understand that the government is making the task that much more difficult year on year. The task of encouraging a person to change their thinking and behaviour is hardly being assisted by current government policies bearing down most heavily on those most disadvantaged within society. 

The fact that, despite this, the probation service has been able to demonstrate reductions in reoffending rates for those under our supervision in recent years is nothing short of amazing and a testimony to our skill, dedication and resourcefulness. I refuse to accept that putting the work out to tender by the lowest bidder will help the situation one jot. Life for our clientele is about to get a whole lot worse and potential bidders hoping to gain from a Payment by Results contract had better understand this. 'Transforming Rehabilitation' it will not be. Scandalously, I hear the 'project' has cost £60 million already. 

Despite all the odds outlined, even those clients that obtain work are facing impossible challenges and it's not encouraging news from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission as reported here:-

For millions of families, work no longer pays enough to provide a route out of poverty, the government's social mobility tsar is expected to warn. A report headed up by one-time Labour minister Alan Milburn will highlight stagnating incomes and rising prices. He is due to call on employers to do more to support low-paid families earning less than a living wage.
Real-terms incomes have stagnated since 2003 but prices are continuing to rise, the commission will point out, meaning employment may not enable a low-income family to escape poverty. The report is likely to suggest that, in the current economic climate, it is unrealistic to expect the government to continue topping up low pay using working tax credits. It is thought the commission may argue that employers need to do more - paying higher minimum wages and offering better training and career development.  



    1. Speaking during a question and answer session with students at NEW College in Redditch last Thursday (October 17), Mr Grayling also branded overcrowding figures “nonsense”. He said it was not unreasonable to ask two people to share a cell.

      “My view is it’s a prison it’s not meant to be comfortable,” he said.

      “The environment is purely humane it’s not like in some European countries who have ten people sharing a cell, it’s a totally different ball game.”

      He said there was a renewed focus on cutting re-offending rates including making it easier to prepare and support people on their release by moving them to a prison closer to their home towards the end of their sentence.

      “There is some good work being done but it’s not nearly good enough,” he said.

      “No one is even asking have you got anywhere to live and that’s got to change.”

      He added: “There are some Mr Bigs in our prisons but also some people whose lives have gone off the rails because of a lousy upbringing and we need to try and help them turn it around.”

    2. “No one is even asking have you got anywhere to live and that’s got to change.”

      That's just a flat-out lie, Mr Grayling. I've allowed you lots because of ignorance, but that's a blatant falsehood.

  2. Most 'clients' (I'm with Jim on that one), may have social problems, and many obstacles to overcome in their everyday lives. But my experience is that most are pretty smart when it comes to getting through those daily obstacles, and many use those circumstances to their advantage when necessary or to assist them get what they need. Being 'street wise' I guess many would call it.
    I wonder then if the 'client' will be able to feel a bit empowered when they realise that they are a commodity?
    I mean once you realise you are actually the product that a company is trading on, you must also realise that you have an enhanced relationship with that company. They need you more then you need them so to speak.
    I feel the vast majority of offenders will reach that conclusion very quickly, and as a consequence much more changing in offender management in the future the can currently be percieved by the MoJ.

    1. An interesting point - it's already been suggested, lightheartedly I suspect, that there might be some mileage in 'proxies' reporting in place of clients due to the expected lack of agency involvement/interest - could be call centre's remember lol.

    2. from Anon @ 11:26 - "I wonder then if the 'client' will be able to feel a bit empowered when they realise that they are a commodity?
      I mean once you realise you are actually the product that a company is trading on, you must also realise that you have an enhanced relationship with that company. They need you more then you need them so to speak."

      I'm starting to love this pbr idea - and to expand (apologies if it has been already) - I've managed to stay offence-free for 11 of my 12 months supervision. Who's got the most to lose if I commit another offence now? How much is it worth to the CRC? What ongoing incentive might I be offered NOT to commit an offence? And until the two year CRC pbr bonus is due? I might not have to sign on for JSA if the price is right - and that'll keep the unemployment figures down. Once the target period is finished, new offence, another year's supervision, two more years' cash bonus, etc etc etc.

      So, an alternative economy funded by the taxpayer, only this time via private business - everyone takes their cut - G4S (or whoever), Tory politicians, G4S client - public purse gets shafted, but the magic-bean-counters present it as valid costs associated with achieving targets - a bit like MoJ celebratory parties, but a lot more like fraud and corruption.

    3. "I am a commodity, not a number" (with apologies to Patrick McGoohan)

  3. Well said - and not a moment too soon.

    As a young probation officer in my first year after qualifying (1975) I quickly learnt that my knowledge of the Welfare Benefits system as it then was, was inadequate to help clients with anything but the absolute basics and even then it sometimes meant repeated and lengthy phone calls to either the Social Security Office or the Unemployment Benefits payment people as well as local authority and other agencies.

    Fortunately being in God's Holy City of Liverpool where many social advances have occurred (because the situation for the most vulnerable was so bad) I found there was a Welfare Rights evening class running at one of the education institutes of the fine city. Armed with that knowledge and my regularly updated CPAG (Child Poverty Action Group) handbook - the organisation that spawned the public career of Birkenhead's Current MP Frank Field - I at least had a good reference and could find out who to contact in emergency, which mostly was sufficient until about the mid 80s)

    Then there was always the Client Befriending Fund and Fares fund - that could stand folk with a £1 or £2 to get them a feed or power the fuel meter at home for a short while.

    As time went on it became more complicated and I was simply not able to keep up. I remember the introduction of the Child Support Agency in 1991 - as a particularly very difficult time.

    Fortunately there was a growth of specialist agencies to help folk in financial difficulty, though such are much harder to access in the relatively isolated parts of Britain. Then I was able to refer clients to such agencies and perhaps it is little wonder that as a young probation officer I got involved with a local citizens advice bureau as did other colleagues. It was particularly difficult in the semi-rural part of Essex; I worked in the mid 80s as despite being only 45 miles from central London many, many clients lived 4 or 5 miles from a small town with either expensive & irregular bus services or no public transport at all.

    To be continued….

    1. Continuing…

      Once I started working in central London again at the end of the eighties, it became easier as a probation practitioner because specialist agencies came right into the office and were on hand on reporting days, even at the satellite centre we ran in one district.

      Now with me not being a proficient computer operator (a factor that contributed to the stress that ultimately ended my career 7 years prematurely) I don't see how I could effectively do the job which primarily is about engaging with disaffected people and getting alongside them so they reduce their disaffection and are less likely to offend against the rest of us.

      That 'getting alongside' means very different things client by client but at times of absolute crisis helping sort out financial difficulties by phoning or occasionally going places with them or family members (We must always remember that stimulating good family relationships and helping repair damaged one's is a vital part of social/probation work) as families are the people who ultimately do or don't give the most valuable support to disaffected folk - which can be critical to rehabilitation and lessening the vulnerability of a person to offend.

      Presumably, CRCs will either need to buy in these services or directly employ specialist workers – that was often the role of the first ‘ancillaries’ – now probation service officers – who I understand are often required to be the stupidly and oxymoronically titled; offender managers.

      Well done Jim – for highlighting these kinds of practical issues, that vary client by client, area by area depending on what local services are available and how accessible they are by probation clients who all too frequently are ‘damaged’ by the time they get to a probation *service, by their engagement (or lack of it) with public agencies that people in difficulty turn to

      (I think we should stop referring to ‘the’ probation service – because it never has been a singular service and will only become that in the event of the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation becoming a reality alongside 35 other organisations who will do the bulk of traditional probation work – though they will have meaningless and publicly confusing names like ‘Co:Here’ or whatever the Sussex, Surrey and Kent organisation has already chosen (presumably in consultation with its future members – prospective employees, prospective clients and prospective financial investors!)

      Andrew Hatton

  4. Would you take leave at a time like this?

    The Independent on SundayABSENT UK BOSS ADDS TO SERCO'S WOESThe head of Serco's scandal-scarred division responsible for UK government contracts is currently absent from work, adding to the group's leadership crisis.

  5. Sorry Jim, this is off topic.
    I've just watched Sunday Politics and during the section where it went to the Midlands region they were discussing TR.

    There was a Tory and Labour MP in the studio, along with a guy from The Howard League. He did an OK job with the questions he was asked.

    Where was NAPO? Well, Tania Bassett represented us. But unfortunately she must have agreed to a pre-recorded interview. This was cut to less than 3 seconds. Seriously, that's all it was. The bit they showed had her stating NAPOs view that profit shouldn't be made from criminal justice.

    Now I'm confident she said more than that, and she probably gave a robust defence of Probation and also in rebutting the spin peddled by Grayling. The trouble is, we don't know as she wasn't in the studio to challenge the Tory MPs misuse of re-offending rates.

    My point is really this; if the BBC required a spokesperson, and obviously went for The Howard League, how is that Tanya Bassett with her 'Press, Parliamentary & Campaigning' role, can't get to be on the main live interview? Was she asked? Did she offer? Or maybe the BBC thought The Howard League would be seen as more independent.
    If not, maybe this a reflection on how poor the press campaign is in NAPO at the moment? Or maybe NAPO don't work on a Sunday?

    1. Oh dear - it doesn't look good does it? Maybe Napo don't work on Sunday's, The strange thing is that twat Grant Shapps is sounding off today in the Sunday Torygraph making threats about the BBC and their bias! If the Beeb were biased, we'd be getting a better hearing I'd have thought.

    2. From Twitter


      #Napo on Sunday politics West mids for a whole 2 secs. What happened to the other 15 mins of interview?"

      Andrew Hatton

    3. It's a bit naive - got to be live really.

  6. NAPO - this is just not good enough ! Whenever members raise concerns about media coverage, or rather lack of it, directly with officers we are treated to 'flounce by email ' with officers responding by implying disloyalty on the part of those of us who have tried to speak out. Not only is NAPO not talking it is not LISTENING. Please ask Harry Fletcher to help because we really need him now!

    1. Off topic but this article I think may be of interest, or food for thought.

    2. Paywall! What was it about? Bit of cut paste please if poss - just the jist.



    3. Departures add to fears for UK outsourcing
      By Gill Plimmer
      Plans to hand billions of pounds of UK government services to private companies have been thrown into doubt after two leading figures in the outsourcing industry fell on their swords amid an ongoing investigation into overcharging on electronic monitoring contracts.
      Chris Hyman, the chief executive of Serco, resigned on Friday citing the need for the group to repair relations with government. Less than 24 hours earlier rival G4S parted company with the head of its UK and Irish operations, Richard Morris. Nick Buckles, the G4S chief executive, left in May.
      The management changes raise questions over the government’s flagship outsourcing policy, as well as the strategic direction of the two companies, which run prisons, welfare and asylum services for the government.
      Both have expanded along with the outsourcing of both government and private-sector services; and globalisation, which allowed the groups to export techniques pioneered mainly in the UK.
      Although the coalition’s cuts have led to a renewed drive to increase the private sector’s involvement in public services, radical plans to part-privatise British defence procurement are at risk of collapse as a result of the troubles surrounding Serco – as is the award of South Yorkshire prisons and £450m of work supervising the rehabilitation of offenders.
      Both companies have come under fire over contracts to house asylum seekers in Australia, but they continue to win lucrative contracts elsewhere.
      In Britain, though, analysts believe the reputational damage may last until the next election.
      “[The government is] going to find it very hard to proceed with any outsourcing,” said Joe Brent, analyst at Liberum Capital, the investment bank. “There was already a narrow window for the government before the traditional pre-election hiatus. But this will make it even more difficult.
      “Even if the government wants to award contracts to these companies, it will be worried by the political fallout from more bad headlines.”
      Both multinationals are in turmoil as they try to restructure their businesses in an attempt to restore their reputations, people close to the companies say.
      G4S is to announce a further shake-up on November 5 while Serco is midway through a process of “corporate renewal”, with senior job losses expected at both companies.
      Both face the prospect of being stripped of central government work as a result of allegations that they overcharged the government for electronic tagging of offenders, some of whom had left the country, returned to prison or even died.
      The two companies maintain that there was no dishonesty and are willing to repay any arrears, but they are urgently trying to make peace with the government – a valuable customer – which is poised to complete its own investigation into the tagging fiasco within weeks.
      Analysts are divided as to whether G4S and Serco are likely to receive a clean bill of health in four separate inquiries due to report before Christmas. But they point out that the Cabinet Office welcomed Mr Hyman’s departure on Friday as a sign of progress.


    4. Continuing....

      Serco has told analysts that nine of the 19 government contracts under review by the Cabinet Office have been given a clean bill of health. Kean Marden, analyst at Jefferies, the investment bank, said this supported its belief that both companies would be permitted to bid for public sector contracts again.
      “We suspect government reviews in late November/early December will call for actions that have already been implemented,” he said.
      One problem though is that the government is reliant on a few suppliers, rendering them “too big too fail”. Just three companies run prisons in the UK – Serco, G4S and French multinational Sodexo – and three escort prisoners – Serco, G4S and GEOAmey. Although the UK government has repeatedly announced its intention to diversify its suppliers, the hefty bidding costs and complex nature of the contracts have so far proved a barrier to entry.
      Even if the government wants to award contracts to these companies, it will be worried by the political fallout from more bad headlines
      - Joe Brent, Liberum Capital
      Instead, the larger outsourcers including G4S and Serco have acted as consolidators, bringing in a number of smaller subcontractors on work such as housing asylum seekers. Although Serco has been trying to bolster its higher-margin finance and accounting operations, many of its contracts – such as the Docklands Light Rail or the Dubai Metro, on which it last week had its contract extended – still largely involve blue-collar work.
      “Serco’s roots are in blue-collar outsourcing, rather than business process outsourcing and IT which raises the likelihood of more [reputational] issues,” said Mr Brent. “We still believe that four reviews of around 20 contracts could identify other issues at Serco or elsewhere. Our most likely scenario is more delays.”
      Within the industry there is some surprise that the government has taken such an aggressive stance on the electronic monitoring contracts held by Serco and G4S, given that officials knew in 2008 that there were problems with how both companies were billing for tagging.
      Stephen Rawlinson, analyst at Whitman Howard, said: “It remains odd that the government has homed in on [G4S and Serco] when it has many more outsourcers who have not been subject to similar pressures – or at least not in public. The fact that they have not done so probably means the others are ‘safe’ this side of the election.”



  8. Some interesting extracts from:

    By the end of the 1970s the general strategy of the Keynesian Welfare State was in the grip of a severe ideological and political crisis. Firstly it was clear that it had failed to eliminate poverty and social inequality. But more important perhaps, from the standpoint of an increasingly enfeebled British capitalism which nevertheless desired to keep its global military commitments in place, the welfare state came to be seen by the political elite as something that could no longer be afforded, at least in its existing form. As if to illustrate the general impotence of the welfare state and the strategy of ‘social engineering’ of which it was part, crime rates had been continually rising since the end of the 1950s quite irrespective of the levels of poverty, unemployment, or spending on welfare and social services.

    The central task of the Thatcher governments was, then, the political, economic and ideological management of the destruction of the old Keynesian Welfare State by disconnecting the social problems of poor communities from the responsibility of the state and reclassifying them as the responsibility of the victims themselves.

    Crime is unique among social problems in that, unlike perhaps unemployment or poverty, it presents itself as the activity of a responsible individual who could have chosen to act otherwise. Public concern with rising crime, particularly the petty criminality of young people in the poorer urban areas was therefore a very appropriate vehicle for the elaboration of the new ideology of individual responsibility. The older welfare-oriented notions of crime as a product of poverty were now met with the response: "there are plenty of poor people who are not criminals!" Traditional preoccupations with diversion and non-punitive treatment for young offenders were now joined and partially displaced by a renewed emphasis on juridical punishment and ‘just deserts’.

    As far as I can make out Grayling seems determined to take the ideology even closer to its Imperial roots and make money out of it for the political and financial elite; but instead of trading slaves he’s trading those who have fallen foul of the law: “What am I bid for these naughty, but low risk, boys and girls? Who fancies taking them away and teaching them how to be good? Do I hear four hundred million pounds?”

  9. A Call To Arms

    I've spent quite a bit of time this evening trying to get a sense of the client-centric "Desistance" movement's view on TR. As they used to chant on the terraces, "Its all gone quiet over there".

    Come on, Fergus et al, where's the support please? Numerous (if not all) Trusts forked out for your copyrighted desistance material; you've dined well on it - why not tell the MoJ what a load of crap they're spouting, about how it aint going to work, about labelling theory & lack of continuity - you guys have their ears - you're the experts, the revered academics, people that MoJ might just listen to. We're just bid fodder, represented by a national official who was aired for a matter of seconds on a programme supposedly discussing the future of our profession.