I suspect there’s a danger in all this Transforming Rehabilitation (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.
Courtesy of Jim Brown at On Probation Blog