Saturday, 22 March 2008

GPTU/DWP and Remploy: a response from Alan Wheatley, BA, (London Federation of GPs' Disability Spokesperson).

Government makes disabled people subjects in welfare state for the ultra-rich.

I was amused by the DWP respondent's comment about Remploy in relation to the Government's more wide-ranging plans for getting disabled people into work:
"Without modernisation, Remploy deficits would financially undermine our other programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work. With no change, in five years’ time Remploy. Would require £171 million a year on current trends. That would be £60 million over the £111 million funding envelope, which represents the entire annual current WORKSTEP budget. The trade unions and the company are both in agreement on the overall funding envelope £555 [million?] over five years. Remploy’s new five-year funding will begin on 1 April this year. "

First off, there is that word 'modernisation'. As the writer of a recent Community Care magazine print copy letter of the week noted, 'modernisation' is one of the words put about by managerialist government. Its usage in implies that anyone who disagrees with what government — along with, in this context, its PriceWaterhouseCooper accountants, National Audit Office and private sector workfare companies — declares to be 'modernisation' belongs to the age of the dinosaurs. I wonder whether Pwc and the NAO have had proper Disability Equality Training? How 'low cost' must 'reasonable adjustments' in the workplace be? Is the current Chinese factory society — with its attendant pollution and human rights implications — their image of a 'modern workplace'?

In that recent Community Care magazine print copy 'letter of the week', the writer's main focus for attacking the use of government-led 'managerialist' language in social care was the use of the term 'delivering social care'. The writer noted appropriately that social care is a two-way process. Recipients of social care are not passive objects, and neither are highly skilled Remploy workers and ex-Remploy workers whose livelihoods and workplace communities have been destroyed by 'modernisation'.

'Getting disabled jobseekers into work'?

Bringing modern equalities legislation into the accountancy processes, would not real progress modernisation involve government taking more of a lead from disabled workers and disabled jobseekers themselves/ourselves? The DWP respondent is concerned that, unchanged,
"... Remploy deficits would financially undermine our other programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work. "

Obviously, the focus of the government's "other [existing and proposed] programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work" focus on getting disabled people off Incapacity Benefit and into jobseeking. What of existing government programmes for getting disabled Jobseekers Allowance claimants into paid work? As a disabled jobseeker on JSA and competent Web Design Teaching Assistant, I currently volunteer on a Permitted Work Placement [PWP] because it is less hassle for me to claim expenses and a training allowance. In my 4 hours per week PWP role, I could earn £5 per hour — with only a £5 earnings disregard as a JSA claimant. Thus I would need JSA top-up on £20 PWP earnings; and my experience of JSA melt-down screw-up on part-time earnings, I prefer to claim expenses and focus more on a training allowance. (In my time as a 'bank' Support Worker to adults with learning difficulties in 2005-2006 — and the immediate months following my resignation — the repercussions of JSA melt-down screw-ups were my main stressors.)

As a Web Design Teaching Assistant, I make excellent use of my own experience as a slower learner with considerable self-management skills and 'endless patience for slower learners'. My students have mental health problems that can impinge on their ability to take in new skills in whole class tuition — especially if they are under medication. They benefit from my sitting with them responsively and demonstrating keystroke sequences, etc. in slow motion action replay mode. My main 'pay-off' is observing how the learner — however slow initially — benefits from observation and a two-way process. The charity with which I do this focuses on trainee needs more than New Deal or Pathways to Work bonuses for getting disabled jobseekers into paid work.

I am also on a part-time Certificate in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector training course toward becoming a paid and professionally accredited teacher. The accreditation process has a large focus on promoting Equality & Diversity, including reasonable adjustments to lesson planning that incorporate the involvement of people with learning difficulties and different learning styles. By contrast, in a recent [mandatory] New Deal 'Individual Action Planning' session with workfare broker A4e, I was horrified to note that there was no space on the registration form regarding disabilities! When I objected to this omission, the 'interviewer' — who noted my mention of disability in relation to my cumulative experience of decades of jobseeker benefits status — advised me to apply for Incapacity Benefit toward entering "a different programme." As I told him in response, a benefits adviser from Disability in Camden has advised me already regarding a claim for IB, that the amount of volunteering that I have done competently as a volunteer — which currently includes one-and-a-half days per week — would operate as evidence against an IB claim.

So, despite the progress that I have made through mainly self-directed learning in the last 30 years, I have hardly been rewarded for the progress I have made since the Social Worker of a Manpower Services run 'Employment Rehabilitation Centre' [sic] told my parents in April 1978, "Yes, Alan's got an academic brain, but he's too slow to benefit from any government-funded education or training. He's too slow; it just would not be worth it. He'll just have to learn to lower his sights."

Clearly, the policy of companies like A4e to discount disability equality issues in its paperwork indicates that the government awards contracts to companies that disregard equalities legislation. And while New Deal is now mandatory [since 1 June 2007] and New Deal franchises are awarded by Jobcentres, I have little 'consumer choice'. My initial involvement in the Web Design course with SJH Web Designs arose from my being a service user of Jobs in Mind <> — thus a "mental health service user." Although I have never discussed my mental health issues with my GP, Jobs in Mind agreed with me that my mental health problems were a natural reaction to a statutory lack of genuine support in my jobseeking since leaving compulsory education. Surely, do not companies like A4e need 'modernisation' in their recruitment processes to bring them into line with current equalities legislation. And what does my experience of A4e's adherence to equalities processes say of its corporate suitability to provide legal advice paid for by the government purse?

The Remploy company's refocusing into the Pathways to Work programme needs to be mentioned in relation to whether Remploy management — as an intermediary between Remploy workers and government — were more attentive to the 'Pathways to Work' agenda than disabled workers' needs?

The government's figures for expenditure of Remploy factories fade into near insignificance compared to the prospective financial outlay of bonuses to private sector companies for getting disabled people into [however poorly] paid work at a time of deepening global recession:
Using [Pathways to Work architect David] Freud's calculation that the state could pay £62,000 for each of the two million plus people on incapacity benefit they put into work, it would amount to anything up to £120bn going from public funds and into the private sector in the space of three years.

As incapacity benefit costs the country £12bn a year, and claimants who move into low-paid work may still qualify for working tax credit and housing and council tax benefit, Freud's sums do not appear to add up. All of which is rather worrying for someone with a background in merchant banking. But it certainly explains why he believes private sector firms can make their fortune from this kind of contract.

Community Care blog writer Keith Sellick has written: " I want to be a citizen not a subject" Citizenship should be about liberty, fraternity and equality but the government wants to turn it into its opposite: an idea about lack of freedoms, state dominance and reinforcing inequality and deference all wrapped up in a national flag." — Community Care [print copy], 20-26 March 2008, p 14

Clearly, the Government's Welfare Reform agenda is really about creating a welfare state for the workfare brokers in which disabled people are subjects. (For more on Pathways to Work deliverer WorkDirections background, see "Thérèse Rein is an Australian businesswoman and the wife of the 26th Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd. She is the founder of the Australian employment agency Ingeus. She will be the first Australian Prime Minister's wife to keep working while her husband is in office.")

Your comrade
Alan Wheatley, BA

PS: At this time of writing, I await delivery of a stamped Student Loan Repayment Deferment form from the DWP office in Glasgow. On receipt of that, I shall slip it into the Student Loans Company envelope for delivery to Glasgow. Is this humiliating ritual of waiting how government rewards me for getting my BA eleven years ago? Last year, I could get the stamp direct from my local Jobcentre with less anxiety about meeting the Student Loans Company's deadline.

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