“Gizza job”, those with long-enough memories will recall, was the catch phrase of the central character- Yosser Hughes – in Alan Bleasedale’s very dark BBC TV comedy ‘The Boys from the Blackstuff’ which aired in the middle of another big recession (1982).
Yosser was, as the phrase suggests, constantly trying to get work and failing. In the past few years (before the current little difficulties) politicians have been more concerned with those who, they assume, have been rather less actively seeking work.
So, in 2002 the Government began a major structural reform of services for the unemployed by merging most of the previous two, big, agencies – the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency – into an even bigger “joined-up” agency: Jobcentres Plus. According to the usually highly sceptical Public Accounts Committee, the creation of Jobcentres Plus has been a highly successful example of ‘joining-up’ in government (unlike Children’s Services – see previous blogs).
It is something of a mystery then why the government has pressed ahead with privatising a chunk of Jobcentres functions by outsourcing work with incapacity benefit claimants to private sector companies, along the lines of similar outsourcing that is claimed to have worked in the USA.
Whether it worked in the USA or not, it certainly isn’t in the UK. According to figures published by Toby Helm in ‘The Observer’ (8th Mar 09) the private companies are managing to get only 6% of clients into work, compared to 14% for Jobcentres Plus and the 26% that the companies claimed they would achieve.
In yet another example of “policy-based evidence” (yes, that is meant to be that way round) the government has suppressed these figures, even though they have been widely circulated in Whitehall, the Department of Work and Pensions and Jobcentres Plus and is pressing ahead with further changes. The Minister concerned has been accused of “misleading Parliament” – a very serious charge – by stating in a debate that these figures “were not available” when they were already circulating inside Whitehall. And, yet again, New Labour ministers show an ideological commitment to private sector solutions rather than the pragmatic ‘what works’ which they supposedly espouse.