Monday, 5 January 2015

You Pay Your Money and Take Your Choice

Seeing as the General Election campaign starts in earnest today and responding to suggestions that I broaden the scope of the blog a bit, lets take a look at one aspect of life under the 'nasty' party in austerity Britain and that particularly affects many of our probation clients: benefit sanctions.

I was interested to see that the issue came top of Guerilla Policy's most read blogs of 2014 and that the Tory faithful are really proud of Iain Duncan Smith's 'tough' approach at the DWP. Here's Peter Oborne writing on Christmas Eve in the Torygraph:-
The sheer scope and audacity of its ambition take the breath away. Cameron and Clegg have reshaped the relationship between individual and state in a way which neither Margaret Thatcher nor Tony Blair ever dared to do. Iain Duncan Smith’s achievement at the Department for Work and Pensions, in particular, has been monumental. He is returning social security to the arrangement envisaged by Sir William Beveridge in his famous 1944 White Paper.

Mr Duncan Smith has liberated hundreds of thousands of people from the humiliation of state dependency and given them the opportunity to live independent, responsible and fulfilling lives. His historic reforms, as evidence is now showing, have changed the dynamics of the British job market, removing many of the obstacles which used to prevent men and women from moving from benefits into work and thus reducing the long-term rate of unemployment.
The economic significance of this is profound, but the human importance in terms of restored dignity and self-worth is beyond calculation.
But by way of astonishing contrast, the Observer highlights the cost:-
Suicides highlight the grim toll of benefits sanctions in austerity Britain
Less than two years ago, 50-year-old David tried to take his own life in a council house in Salford. You can still see the scars when he stretches out his arm to light a roll-up cigarette.
“Everything just builds up after a while. I was walking around thinking where I was going to get money from, what [was] I going to do about the kids, how was I going to survive?” says David, as his two daughters sit quietly next to him on the sofa. “I’ve been through the bins and all sorts, trying to make ends meet. I’m not proud of it, but needs must at times.”
David’s story is not uncommon in austerity Britain. In July 2013, David Clapson, 59, was found dead in his flat in Stevenage from diabetic ketoacidosis, two weeks after his benefits were cut. And new information provided by the Disability News Service via a freedom of information request has uncovered that the Department for Work and Pensions has carried out 60 peer reviews following the deaths of customers. A peer review, according to the DWP guidance for employees, must be undertaken when suicide is associated with DWP activity to ensure that any DWP action or involvement with the person was appropriate and procedurally correct.
This week the work and pensions select committee will hold its first oral evidence session for its inquiry into benefits sanctions policy following last year’s limited Oakley review.
Many of those visiting Salford Central food bank, run by the Trussell Trust, have experienced benefits sanctions. The refuge provides half a tonne of food each week to Salford’s residents and was expected to have fed more than 3,500 individuals by the end of 2014. More than 60% of those who come there have had their benefits sanctioned, according to an internal report by Salford city council. The report concluded that sanctioning could lead to extreme hardship, reliance on loan sharks, shoplifting and depression.
“A lot of people at the moment are just struggling to make ends meet. We’re here in a moment of crisis,” says 41-year-old Scott Tulloch, the local food bank coordinator. “We had a gentleman walk seven miles for three days’ worth of food and then walk seven miles back. Another family who came through the doors couldn’t even afford nappies for their child and were actually using a carrier bag and kitchen paper. Things are tough.”
Peter Oborne's proud reference to IDS returning to the principles of the Beveridge era are nicely unpicked in this blog:- 
This may illicit hollow laughs all round, but it highlights something I have heard a lot over the last four years from people who like to talk about ‘something for nothing culture’ or ‘dependency’. These people say the welfare state should come with responsibilities – the responsibility to look for work (or jump through whatever hoops some bright spark at Policy Exchange or whichever the latest fashionable Thinktank may be can come up with). To ‘get back to Beveridge’ then we need more conditions attached, workfare, sanctions and jobseeker ‘contracts’ to ensure those responsibilities are enshrined.
What these people forget though is that alongside his proposals for the welfare state and the responsibility on individuals – or social service state as Beveridge himself preferred – he also set out the responsibilities on government with regard to the economy which would ensure this social service state could function as designed. A prerequisite was full employment. Beveridge actually wrote three reports, although we only ever really talk about the first.
His second was entitled “Full Employment in a Free Society”. A summary of the report written by Beveridge himself has been reproduced here, and is quite an interesting read. His recommendations on economic policy are pretty far removed from those asking for a return to the principals of Beveridge today. He writes:

“The first condition of full employment is that total outlay [spending] should always be high enough to set up a demand for products of industry which cannot be satisfied without using the whole man-power of the country; only so can the number of vacant jobs be always as high or higher than the number of men looking for jobs…
…Who is to ensure that the first condition, or adequate total outlay at all time, is satisfied? The answer is that it must be made a responsibility of the State. No one else has the requisite powers; the condition will not get satisfied automatically. It must be a function of the State in future to ensure adequate total outlay and by consequence to protect its citizens against mass-unemployment, as definitely as it is now the function of the State to defend the citizens against attack from abroad and against robbery and violence at home.”
He then goes on to write about how governments should budget, rejecting balanced budget mantras by saying:

“What is the essence of the new budgetary policy required for full employment? It is, first, that the Budget becomes in the fullest sense a National Budget, designed to guide and influence and guide the activities of the whole nation, and not simply to raise taxes and spend them on the purposes of the Central Government. It is, second, that the Budget is made with reference to available man-power, not to money; that it becomes, in Mr Bevin’s phrase, a “human budget”.”
He then writes, which chimes quite strongly with some things we see today:

“To submit to unemployment or slums, or want, to let children grow hungry or the sick and old untended, for fear of increasing the internal national debt is to lose all sense of proportion”
Much as the Conservatives boast of ‘creating’ 1.75m new jobs and of returning the welfare state to the principals of Beveridge, the truth is they (and let’s face it the other parties too), have abandoned one of Beveridge’s key messages and full employment and where responsibility for its achievement and maintenance lie. Left to the market, the quality of job creation has been poor and still vastly short of what’s required.
But according to Peter Oborne in the Telegraph:- 
David Cameron has an impressive story to tell as the election approaches. He has led a remarkable government with some outstanding achievements to its credit. Its historic talk of reform and consolidation is not yet complete. He and his colleagues deserve the chance to finish the social revolution they launched five years ago.
Especially in election year, 'you pays your money and takes your choice'. 


  1. The former Teesside Probation Service ( prior to becoming a Trust, so two incarnations ago) was part of the initial benefit sanctions pilot which ran for many years . It was really the pilot that was forgotten and seen by many Teesside officers as a punishment for being poor and perhaps the area's allegiance to Labour.
    The "pilot" was left to run on for many years and then incorporated under Sections 62 to 66 of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 allowing specific benefits to be reduced or withdrawn from community sentence "defaulters".
    Both probation officers and criminal lawyers could see the impact upon reoffending rates when inevitably it was focussed upon those with addictions and the predictable outcome was an increase in shoplifting and then responsive short term custodial sentences which in turn dealt the final blow of loss of accommodation.

    1. Thanks for that. I'd completely forgotten about Probation having been involved in the pilots. It must have been quite a professional dilemma for many officers.

  2. Peter Oborne should check the 'use by' dates on his mince pies, as the delusional, partisan outpourings in that article suggest that he may be rather unwell.

    I saw somewhere last week (if I can track it down again I'll post a link) that there was an answer to a parliamentary question that confirmed that the Government counts anyone on the Work Programme as 'employed' for the purpose of its statistics. So out of that 1.75m increase in employment, how many are not actually in paid employment, but rather in coercive 'work' placements that are little more than providing free labour for rich, powerful corporations?

    1. The drop in unemployment figures is an equally misleading statistic as it excludes anyone subject to benefits sanction. I don't know what statistical vacuum those subject to sanction fall into because they aren't unemployed nor are they employed.

  3. It's been said before, and never been bettered. They are "lower than vermin". It's time they and their apologists were treated as such.


    interesting graph

  5. "Cameron and Clegg have reshaped the relationship between individual and state in a way which neither Margaret Thatcher nor Tony Blair ever dared to do." well, yes indeed. On another day, Jim, I look forward to discussing the anniversary of the Magna Carta on this forum, as we approach its 800th anniversary. Tories are also working hard to reshape the relationship between the law and the governing class. In a previous blog you commented that we -NAPO and Probation- shouldnt beat ourselves up so much at the defeats of last year, given that we are all part of the seismic rearrangement of the structure of society under the Tories, and I would concurr.

  6. And despite everything it seems they are still in with a shout of being elected again. How come?

    1. Possibly because the electorate are more concerned with Strictly Come Fuckwit and Dunderhead Abbey? So much easier than having to think.

    2. Now that's funny! Thanks.

  7. re 8 08 comment- by the later years of the first decade of the 21C, Probation was being equally devious in demanding that we fiddle statistics on CELs and the termination Oasys to enable it demonstrate its success in meeting often unrealistic targets, and thereby being financially rewarded. - When keeping monthly records of employment, we had to include any old 'training' on a govt scheme, as having employment, whether it be 5 days or 5 hours.-or a few days of 'money in the hand' from a local 'business', with no health and safety protection, sometimes not even received, thereby working for nothing. Or helping out somewhere on a voluntary basis. Disgusting.

    Also - we HAD to show progress in accommodation at the final Oasys assessment, even if they were just sleeping on a mate's floor for a couple of nights a week, or had temp accom in a disgusting 'hostel' - and Sunderland had a few of those. The old style PO's, including me, and some of the more compassionate newer staff, refused to do that, recording it like it was, and stuff the threats of the implications of the loss of vast amounts of financial rewards from MoJ. .

    I'm sure you all can also remember other unsavoury examples of the desperation of the Trusts to look good. Yes, the 21c was not Probation's most honourable period.

    1. Ditto, ML, I refused to be part of any of these schemes, which in our area entailed claiming money from (I think) the European Social Fund if a person had been found employment by probation. All fine and dandy, yet we were instructed to sign up anyone with a job, regardless of whether they got it themselves or not, or already had it before being put on probation. To cap it all, the probationer then had to sign an employment declaration that was bullying in tone and threatened them with breach/recall if they were lying!. Yet, who was lying here? I would just remind my Manager of the individual A4E staff members who were prosecuted for fiddling the stats and it would all go quiet.
      As for fiddling Oasys, I once received a bullying email from an ACO, pointing out a missed termination deadline, reminding me of the missed KPI etc etc and demanding to know what I intended to do about it. I replied that I'd been told by IT that it was possible to fiddle the dates in one of the sections that would bring the Oasys back in line to meet the KPI. Said I was quite happy to fiddle the dates if this was what she wanted, please just let me know. Never did get a reply to that email - funny that.

    2. to 21 34 - yes, we had to identify that they had got a job, (with the implication of the wording being that Probation had helped), even if they already had one when supervision commenced. And yes, the probationer had to sign a declaration form on pain of death if it were found to be untrue!

      I loved my work but I hated what management were doing to it, wounding Probation, before privatisation comes along and kills it off altogether.

  8. Lets not forget either that many of the polcies in operation within our welfare system were infact introduced by Chris Grayling! Hardly a wonder its such a mess.

    C4 News confronts Grayling with proof of mandator…:

  9. Jim this is a very interesting blog. The return of Full Employment should be the first policy of any social democratic government but it isn't. All social democrats are tied into the neoliberal project in all nations. Our Labour Party would not consider full employment,sadly they listen to Price Waterhouse Cooper more than the unions and any radicalism died when the Bennite project failed in the early 70s.

    But in reality we could create millions of jobs (British New Deal) quickly and paying them a living wage would drive demand for products made in the locality, the nation state, or in Europe; this would depend on how we re-arrange society after ending global capitalism, which we must, because its killing the planet. I await a radical movement that puts similar ideas back on the political agenda. People have been frightened into defeatism there are a million ways to run society almost all of them better than the current way.



    2. In a guest post for OJB, Help Me Investigate contributor Natalie Leal talks about how statistics on benefit claimants, migrants and A&E admissions reflect organisations’ priorities – and can be skewed as a result.

      I recently witnessed an unemployed woman at a job centre shouting that she would “never ever” set foot in there again.

      The woman, who had just been told that her benefits would be cut off for thirteen weeks, stormed past two security guards on her way out.

      They turned to each other and joked: “That’s another one off the books.”

      As she left the job centre and walked out of sight, she dropped off the claimant count, vanished from official statistics and became one of more than a million invisible unemployed people in the UK.

      Or she may find a job. We will never know.

      Trying to find out the fate of jobseekers after they are sanctioned is almost impossible: the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) only count how many people stop claiming benefits.

      Nobody in government seems to have wondered what happens after someone is cut off from all their money, so there are no figures showing how many sanctioned people continue to sign on, how many get jobs, or how many simply disappear.

    3. or how many go on to offend in order to survive. There is not one government department that has joined up thinking - each work in silo and don't care how it may impact on another. The more benefit sanctions, the more offending - yes I would steal to feed my kids if I had no benefits and unable to get employment.


    1. The Manchester Evening News (MEN) has reported a ‘massive’ rise in street homelessness with benefit sanctions singled out as one of the main causes.

      The paper carried out an investigation into rough sleeping in the region claiming that people are living in ‘caves, old air raid shelters and under a supermarket.’ Two charities working on the frontline told the MEN that benefit sanctions are to blame for the rise in homelessness, with one citing the case of a man who had been sanctioned seven times and left unable to pay his rent. One charity worker told the paper: “Whereas before, most homeless people had benefits, now they have nothing.”

      Officially the number of people sleeping rough in Greater Manchester is just 24. One local charity however claims there are around 60 street homeless people in Stockport alone, whilst local councillor Daniel Gillard told the MEN he believed around 150 people were now sleeping rough in Manchester City Centre.

      National statistics on street homelessness are based on little more than a guess and the government is determined to keep things that way. Previously local authorities who believed they had more than ten rough sleepers in their jurisdiction were required to carry out an annual ‘street count’ and report their findings back to the Department of Communities or Local Government (DCLG). Following changes made last year they are now only required to provide an ‘estimate’ of the number of street homeless people.

      The DCLG used to provide some monitoring of the procedure for recording rough sleeping figures however that responsibility has now been passed onto the charity Homeless Link who will rely on volunteers to do the work from their “member agencies and interested faith groups”.

      Even when councils can still be bothered to carry out a street count the true number of homeless people is likely to be woefully underestimated – sometimes perhaps even deliberately. When the first street counts were carried out in London they were largely believed to have been fixed with widespread stories of the police clearing the streets of homeless people before the count took place.

      Street counters are warned not to venture anywhere they feel unsafe and not to record people living in squats, on camp sites, organised protest sites or travellers. Unlike homeless people, street counters do no break into parks or other areas which may be closed to the public at night and therefore safer to sleep in then on the High Street. Only those spotted asleep, or in the process of ‘bedding down’ are included in the count, ignoring the large number of homeless people who wander the streets at night and try to sleep in the day time. Few street counts extend far out of city centres and therefore miss the people hidden away in local communties, or camping, or sleeping in cars and other vehicles because they have nowhere else to go.

      Despite all of this, the number of street homeless people that do get recorded in the figures has still soared under this Government, by around a third between 2010 and 2013. The figures for last year are set to be publised next month and are unlikely to be worth the paper they are written on. But as the Manchester Evenings News found, and we can see all around us, this most damaging form of homelessness is becoming much worse and it is far from just a London problem.

  11. Ha-Joon Chang is one of the most enlightened economists we have and if there is a message that he hammers home, it's that any economy is a function of political choices. There are many ways of doing capitalism – and the neo-liberal ideology is just one of these. We have seen in recent years and at other times in history, how this particular ideology had led to market failure – and then been bailed out by the taxpayers. As has been said before: private profits and socialised risks.

    Ha-Joon Chang: 'Singapore is usually touted as the model student of free-market capitalism, given its free-trade policy and welcoming attitude towards multinational companies. Yet in other ways it is a very socialist country. All land is owned by the government, 85% of housing is supplied by the government-owned housing corporation, and a staggering 22% of national output is produced by state-owned enterprises. (The international average is around 10%.) Would you say that Singapore is capitalist or socialist?'

    Oborne bangs on about job creation under the Tories, but so many of these jobs are part-time or zero-hours which require state subsidies through tax credits and housing benefits. These are not real job – jobs that pay a living wage and enable workers to plan for the future.

    1. I agree with Netnipper and have been forcing Ha-Joon Chang on my eldest son who is doing Economics A'level, with rather worryingly right wing teachers. Thatcher, apparently, was the first to deliberately keep unemployment at a certain rate so that there would be the right level of disincentive to complain about wages as there were enough unemployed to show how easy it would be to lose your job. The current zero-hours and part-time jobs, along with enough unemployment, carry on serving the same purpose by suppressing opposition and keeping people enslaved.

  12. When talking to family and friends many don't realise they are being fed propaganda by the main seream media. I had a discussion with my brother over boxing day lunch about the fire service strikes. Why should they get a better pension than me he says. A few points well made about why they are actually striking and he says "oh erm well if that's what's going on why aren't the media reporting it?". I told him I ask myself the same but the truth is out there if he can be bothered to look. He has promised to start looking. I hope he does as he currently thinks UKIP are " probably OK". My mother said yesterday that she gets annoyed when she hears about all these false sex abuyse accusations or "minor" offences where there was something minor 30 years ago being brought up again now. When asked for some examples she couldn't give any. I encouraged her to consider why she thought there were examples as she had described - is the media encouraging this erroneous view point? Should she question why she - and many others - think this. My Dad is even now defending the privatisation of probation, despite the risks because they must be saving money on the paying pensions in the long term...

    1. And as for the prince and the alleged sexual abuse (sorry, 'under-age' sex) well, that's quite enough for the festivities! It's all about having the argument, as that's how we all learn.

    2. I once had my head bit off for saying 'please tell the girls on reception, I'm leaving by the back door'. 'Are they under 14?!' was the shrieked rebuke I got for using the word 'girls'. So...was the 17 year old, Virginia Roberts, a girl, a victim, or a woman?. I'm not a royalist. I just think its a moot point.

    3. I don't think it's a moot point, it's a legal one. Across Europe, for example, the age of consent ranges from 13 to 18. In Florida it happens to be 18. So, in matters of sexual relations, Virginia Roberts was a minor at the time the alleged sexual activities occurred. It's not a balanced picture around Europe, but it's a case of when in Rome...

  13. I just heard Greece is still in trouble over massive debts, hundreds of billions of euros'. It occurred to me that most countries are taking about debts, deficits and I wondered who lent all this money out? I'm a complete economy novice, but I have always had sympathy with third world countries who have relied on loans from the propserous West, who have conditionally made those loans - which have been harmful to the borrowing countries ability to become self sufficient. So given the world seems to be indebt, even those lending the money are in debt to some they are lending money too,,its all nonsense, We should agree to reduce all debt in individual countries to 5% of what it currently is and give everyone a fighting chance to blossom under their own steam..unless there is some selfish bastard somewhere who is doing all the lending.

  14. Ils frightening to think what will happen if the tories get another term in government. Especially as some of us could soon be unemployed and facing the dole queue and everything that goes with It.

  15. Off topic, but dont forget Grayling faces another JR loss in just over 10 days time.

  16. Having read this article I'm left in no doubt that not only do the voluntary sector have no idea of what they're getting into with TR, but there can be be no other outcome then huge reputational damage.

    1. The UK General Election is only four months away. This will be a very significant general election with potentially major implications for the future of the state, the economy, society and consequently for the charity and voluntary and community sector.

      The last five years have been challenging ones for the sector and for very many of its beneficiaries and their communities. Public expenditure pressures have not helped and these are certainly going to continue whatever the result on 7th May. However, the challenges have arisen from more that cuts to expenditure, public services and support for the sector. They have also been as result of public policy choices in areas such as 'welfare reform', housing, and criminal justice made by the Government.
      Political rhetoric has not often been matched by policies and political action. There has even been legislation to curtail the sector's freedom to speak out on behalf of beneficiaries and to challenge government policy through the Lobbying Act or, as it has better become known to some as "the Gagging Act".

      The political parties are already off the starting blocks. The campaign has begun. The voluntary and community sector and charities more generally cannot afford not to engage with the campaign.

      The next four months are going to be very important for charities and wider voluntary and community sector. There is a real opportunity to influence policy commitments and to generate public debate on issues that will impact deeply on beneficiaries and communities. This is not a call for charities to become involved in partisan politics but rather as desire for them to fulfil their natural role as the voice of the disadvantaged, the marginalised and those who society and more particularly politicians too easily ignore or even worse, inflict hardship on.

      My advice to the sector is to focus primarily on the needs, aspirations and choices of their beneficiaries and their communities rather than on the sector's more internal concerns. That said, the latter should not be ignored, for only a strong and independent sector will be able to deliver its mission on behalf of its beneficiaries.

      If my advice is heeded, for many smaller voluntary and community organisations and their local and national infrastructure bodies, I would expect the focus of their pre-election engagement to be on:

      the promotion of social justice, fairness and greater equality
      the protection of core public services especially in health, social care, child care and education
      social housing
      the need to align social growth and investment in social capacity with economic growth and capital investment
      employment and skills/talent development
      localism and democratic renewal, which includes community organisations, voluntary social action, and the sector's core role in civil society.