We know without any shadow of a doubt that there is absolutely no evidence or professional argument that can be advanced to support this TR omnishambles that is being imposed upon us. It is entirely the product of an ideological government policy that dictates the public sector must shrink and the private sector must grow. I think they call it ‘rebalancing the economy’ and probation is but the latest unfortunate public service to find itself the target of such philistine policies.
Unfortunately I’m as guilty as anyone of having taken rather too long for the penny to sufficiently drop. I rather naively stayed clinging to the more usual belief that if something is working rather well, you leave it alone, and certainly don’t set out to destroy it and replace it with something completely untested. But that is exactly what is happening and no amount of gold medals, excellent reports or fantastic performance figures counts one jot. Just look at this graph on the MoJ’s own website in relation to the latest reoffending figures and that demonstrate clearly probation works:-
Under TR, much of our work will be farmed out to a whole rag bag collection of organisations comprising vast and dubious corporations like G4S and Serco, new players such as Eddie Stobart and Marks & Spencer, through to charities large and small. Whatever is said in the glossy bid documents about ‘quality services’, in reality each bidder will be driven by the dual need to save money and make profits under a Payment by Results system.
The best example of what is to come is provided by the government’s flagship PbR project, the Work Programme, and it doesn’t look at all promising in terms of delivering, judging by the latest statistics published by the DWP. I certainly won’t pretend I’ve read or understood any of the figures, but happily Russell Webster has, and he has distilled the findings into a succinct blog post, the headlines of which are:-
- Performance has improved – but still hasn’t hit the DWP’s minimum expectations.
- Job outcomes have improved month on month for those on Job Seekers Allowance, but is now plateauing.
- Job outcomes for those on Employment and Support Allowance has improved but is still way below target.
- JSA claimants who are found work are staying in those jobs longer.
- ESA claimants are not sustaining jobs at the desired level.
- Three providers are being penalised for poor performance.
Does it work for offenders released from prison?
Released prisoners on Job Seekers Allowance were first made eligible for the Work Programme immediately on release in February 2012.
A total of 19,800 of these released prisoners were referred to the Work Programme between February and December 2012.
13,560 (68%) of these were “attached” to the Work Programme (that is, providers started working with them).
360 of these (2.7% of the attached figure) have so far (figures up to June 2013) been found sustainable jobs - jobs that lasted for at least six months.
This figure is obviously very low, although it can be expected to increase as it takes several months to find some individuals work.
Tony Wilson, Policy Director at Inclusion, said:-
‘Today’s figures show that the Work Programme is starting to perform more or less in line with the department’s minimum expectations for the long-term unemployed. However, it is still a long way below expectations for those who are on benefit because of a health condition or disability. For this latter group, just one in 25 participants is getting into sustained employment within a year. There is no sign of any improvement in performance for these participants, and the nature of the Work Programme means that lower employment is leading to fewer “outcome” payments and in turn less funding being made available. The government needs to look urgently at its targets and funding rules for these groups.
‘For the long-term unemployed, performance for those joining the programme in 2012 is now broadly in line with the department’s minimum expectations. However this is still some way short of where performance needs to be if we are to address the near-record levels of long-term unemployment.’
In order to achieve these spectacularly unimpressive results, the total amount of taxpayers money paid to the likes of A4E and Interserve comes to a staggering £856 million.
But it gets worse, as highlighted in this LSE blog post about the lack of accountability when all this former public service provision becomes the subject of private contracted services. We really are heading into an extremely unpleasant arena and one completely at odds I would suggest with the very ethos of probation work with clients:-
However, the wholesale out-sourcing of public services strips away the traditional structures that existed before and have not sufficiently replaced them. Instead we have contractual arrangements over which the public have no control and which have little connection to local democratic institutions.
This is clearly evident in the Work Programme. Central government-commissioned providers are delivering local public services, although are accountable exclusively through contract to national government. This means that they escape any form of local democratic control and potential sanctions. Indeed, Work Programme Prime Contractors have no obligation to explain their actions to local democratic structures such as overview and scrutiny committees. Furthermore, corporations that are delivering services locally are prohibited from sharing data with local authorities by primary legislation and concerns of ‘commercial sensitivity.’
Accountability effectively bypasses democratic control, delivered instead through contractual arrangements based on a model of Payment by Results (PBR).There is far from enough space in this article to begin to start with analysis of PBR, criticism of which has been likened to saying that kittens are evil. However much is revealed by the declaration of a Work Programme executive, who revealed that:
‘It’s not about supporting 100 customers. It’s about getting 50 of them into a job. The other 50 are collateral damage. At the end of the day, they [ministers] don’t care about that other 50. It’s an outcome contract, not a service contract.’
This statement raises two important questions:
1. What choice exists for those fifty people who are deemed ‘collateral damage’?
2. What powers exist for local democratic institutions to be able to represent its residents in order to challenge such a process?
Such issues need addressing before we effectively out-source democratic control over our public services to the vagrancies of the market and bypass local institutions and citizens forever.
The deeply worrying ‘collateral damage’ story seems to have come from this article ‘Why the work programme is a bad business’ in the Guardian way back last February, but it bears revisiting as a stark warning as to where we are heading:-
That’s shocking, if you thought the main purpose of the programme was to get long-term jobless people into sustainable work – to “turn their lives around”. For smaller charities and social enterprises, finding work for people is just one (hugely important) element in a wider social mission to restore the health and self-confidence of individuals and families, and restore spirit and resilience to communities. What ministers want, on the other hand, is enough people off benefits quickly and at the cheapest possible price.
In the work programme they have created a low margin, high risk, race-to-the-bottom monster that drives down service breadth and quality, and staff pay and conditions, incentivises corner-cutting and box-ticking, and creates the conditions – perhaps – for fraud. Outsourcing giant Capita says it didn’t bid for work programme contracts because it couldn’t see how the business case stacked up. Ask Serco executives privately why it won so few of the contracts, and they will say because – unlike some of its rivals which offered wildly discounted “lowball” bids – it refused to do the work programme on the cheap.
There is a brutal accountancy to the work programme that is antithetical to the way social mission-led businesses operate. Its payment-by-results financial structure demands huge sums in capital investment, largely inaccessible to smaller social business. But more corrosive still is the way it fetishises cutting the benefits bill as the only outcome that matters.
Courtesy of Jim Brown at On Probation Blog