JobPath: Mandatory Or Voluntary?

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From top: JobPath promotional photo; Eamonn Kelly

In the fourth part of a series of articles examining ‘job activation’ schemes in Ireland, Eamonn Kelly asks if they are voluntary or madatory

The power to sanction, that is, the power to directly cut the allowances of Jobseekers, was withheld from the employment activation companies in Ireland. No reason for this was given, though Joan Burton gave the impression that it was a kindness of sorts being extended towards Jobseekers.

It’s more likely though that there were other, more serious considerations in play. It’s okay farming out powers like that in Britain where there is little chance of the newly empowered private company suddenly taking over the whole show.

Over there they have Trident submarines and nuclear stockpiles to see off that type of temerity. But here? Well, best to be careful with the power.

That however didn’t stop the Department of Social Protection from loaning powers out every now and then when it suited, as we’ll see in this fourth part of the series on JobPath.

Recently, while watching a Newsnight discussion on BBC, featuring Ken Loach talking about his film “I, Daniel Blake”, he was set in opposition to a seemingly fairly non-descript right-wing opponent. During the discussion, something the right-wing opponent said rang bells.

He said, and I paraphrase, These people are not being sanctioned for not having a job. They are being sanctioned for failing to do what they agreed to do. Elsewhere in the same discussion, the same person said that the majority of the public approve of the benefit sanctions system.

Ken Loach’s right-wing opponent on Newsnight wasn’t just some non-descript economist the BBC shipped in for convenient counter-balance. His name is Matthew Oakley of WPI Economics (Westminster Policy Institute).

In 2014 he led the so-called Independent Review of Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions that reported to Parliament. I say so-called, because Mr Oakley was also the team leader who dreamed up the benefits sanctions system during his time in the right-wing think tank “Policy Exchange”, (the same group, incidentally, that recently recommended Ireland leave the EU).

The CV on the WPI website says:

“A number of policies, including reforms to public sector pay setting, conditionality and sanctions in the social security system and the functioning of employment support in the UK, can clearly be traced back to recommendations in reports he authored.”

Mr Oakley had the approach to implementing the Benefit Sanctions system distilled to a two-pronged strategy: gain public approval for taking stern action against the Jobless, and find some way of getting the jobless to agree with the stern actions being taken against them. A twin strategy that is very similar to our government’s strategy in the promotion of JobPath.

Gaining public approval for the idea of JobPath appears to have been achieved by casting doubt on the integrity of Jobseekers as a class of people, inciting disapproval, often times verging on incitement to hatred.

This aspect of the campaign for public approval of the JobPath system was most notably championed by the present Taoiseach. The other prong of the strategy presented a slightly more awkward problem. How do you convince people to agree to engage with a system that is clearly aimed against them with such negative intention?

JobPath was a bit opaque from the very start. It was difficult to nail down precisely what the “service” entailed, or its relationship to Jobseekers. Was it compulsory or voluntary? An obligation or a choice?

The word “mandatory” was invoked from the Social Welfare legislation, though the minister for social protection at the time, Joan Burton, said that Jobseekers would be “invited” to participate.

Then there was the concept of registrations, for which the DSP would be paying the private companies a fee for each registration acquired, and which some commentators were referring to as a “commission”.

Again, this seemed to suggest a voluntary aspect in registering for a “service”. From this perspective, it appeared to be that the private companies were offering a service that, in the words of Joan Burton:

“will provide intensive individual support, advice and coaching to jobseekers, and will also help participants to address social inclusion barriers and improve personal well-being.”

Leaving aside for the moment the insinuation that the problem of unemployment is due to personal character flaws in the jobless – a recurring theme, likely part of the strategy to win public approval – the minster’s description of the service suggests that Jobseekers would essentially be agreeing to avail of this service and would, accordingly, register with one or other of the private companies providing the service.

From this perspective, the Jobseeker would essentially be voluntarily hiring the company providing the service, and by registering would be entering into an agreement with the company to help the jobseeker find work.

There are very clearly two conflicting concepts at work here: availing of the “service” is a choice, but participation appears to be framed also as mandatory. The idea of choice is given further credence by the minister’s use of the word “invited”.

This however, is again countered by the word “mandatory”, which suggests that participation is not a choice, but an obligation. But if participation is an obligation, as suggested by the use of the word mandatory, what significance does the act of registration have?

In a written answer to a question by Catherine Murphy TD on the 30th September 2015 [v] as to the costs regarding the implementation of JobPath, Joan Burton wrote, “Contractors will be paid via a combination of registration fees and job sustainment fees. A registration fee may be claimed only when a jobseeker has developed a personal progression plan…”

From this we can take it that a document called a Personal Progression Plan is the means by which a Jobseeker registers with the companies providing the service, and that the DSP has contracted to pay a fee to the companies after this registration takes place.

Everything hinges on the Jobseeker signing the Personal Progression Plan, which acts as both a contract of sorts between the Jobseeker and the company providing the services, and a receipt of sorts with which the private companies can claim a fee, or a commission, from the DSP, on acquisition of the Jobseeker’s signature.

If, under the existing social welfare acts, participation on JobPath is mandatory, why are the DSP, in times of austerity, paying out public monies to private interests in the form of commissions for these signatures, for an outcome that is already supposedly provided for in legislation? i.e. for a situation where participation is mandatory?

The only possible answer to this is that participation on JobPath is not mandatory under current legislation, but is actually voluntary, as suggested by the minster’s use of the word “invited”.

And that participation appears to be totally dependent on the acquisition of each individual Jobseeker’s signature, or initial, which is then regarded as a voluntary registration to the “service”, for which the DSP is contracted to pay a fee to the private companies.

In the next part, we’ll look at how these valuable registrations were harvested.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance writer.

Previous Parts:

Job Schemes – A Background Check

Jobpath And The Reality of ‘Employment Activation’

JobPath And Class Discrimination

Pic: Seetac

30 thoughts on “JobPath: Mandatory Or Voluntary?

    1. Fact Checker

      This is a very important policy issue in Ireland today.

      More or less ignored by MSM.

      Unfortunately it’s very hard to discern Eamonn’s point, despite his best efforts.

      1. Rob_G

        I also believe that it is an important issue – but jeez, four installments already, with a fifth to come??

        ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’, and all that…

  1. Phil

    So if a person doesn’t turn up to the assessment they wouldn’t have any sanctions placed upon them because they have not signed anything.

  2. Owen C

    “Is Jobpath Mandatory or Voluntary?” asks the question. The answer is laid out as follows:

    First third: what’s happening in the UK. Unclear as to the relevance. Trident gets a mention. Bruton gave the impression that was a “kindness of sorts” that they didn’t allow private companies to directly sanction people who didn’t sign up. All very nefarious etc.

    Middle third: aspersions are being cast on jobless, its akin to incitement to hatred, questions are being put on their integrity, (oh yeah the Minister said its voluntary(, the program suggests jobless people have character flaws, jobless people will be entering into a contract with private companies.

    Final third: austerity gets a mention, the legislation would seem to suggests its mandatory or an obligation, public monies are being paid to private sector companies, (oh yeah its actually pretty clear its voluntary(, now we’ll look at how these contracts with job seekers are being “harvested”.

    Summary: there is all sorts of dangerous items involved in the question of whether its mandatory or voluntary, and the legislation would definitely seem to be mandatory, (but oh yeah its actually voluntary), but this definitely seems dodgy so lets keep going on to the harvesting part of this next.

  3. Frankie

    Good point unfortunately not turning up is deemed a failure to engage and therefore penalties can be applied.

  4. Joe Small

    I haven’t read anything about the responsibilities of those on unemployment benefit. Its hard to broach this without sounding like Norman Tebbit but its still not feasible or desirable to have someone on the dole for 30 years.

    1. Gorev Mahagut

      Why not? It’s no skin off my shin if people have better things to do than earn profit for some CEO who doesn’t give a shit about society. Lots of unemployed people do voluntary work. The rich didn’t get wealthy by being generous. The poor aren’t all selfish.

      1. Anomanomanom

        If your on the dole 30 years your a waster. That simple. There should be a cut off point.

        1. ahjayzis

          Totes. Same as if someone is working full time and still requires welfare in order to top up their wage and survive, that employer is the one on benefits.

  5. ahjayzis

    Fine Gael government really is Tory government only a few years behind. They run on the same manifesto and slogans as the Tories do one election beforehand, Leo is Cameron, same old toxic policies, glitzy ‘moderniser’ image he doesn’t deserve. The DSP in particular is like the UK DWP’s copycat kid brother.

    I really can’t understand why Lynton Crosby doesn’t sue them for passing off his strategy as their own.

    1. paul

      Cameron even did the ‘making videos to seem more down to earth’ thing only he did them at home. ‘Web Cameron’.

    2. Rob_G

      Is there something specific in the government’s plan to oblige people in long-term receipt of benefits to engage with employment activation services that you disagree with, or is it rather that you disagree with the concept entirely? Genuinely curious

      1. ahjayzis

        Leaving aside the inevitable outrages that’ll flow from dumping often vulnerable people into dodgy private company’s profit motives, this is isn’t some kind of prudence measure.
        It’s a campaign of demonisation along the lines of that which has been so successful in Britain. Bedroom taxes, an end of secure tenure in social housing, people dying of their illnesses weeks after losing their benefits after being declared fit for work by a privately owned call-centre incentivised to do so, a society where the disabled are stripped of dignity and the public doesn’t stir because the government party and it’s media minions have spent a decade telling us they’re not human.

        It’s not normal service to spend a quarter of a million on giant billboards and bus ads using the word welfare and the word cheat twice in big bold letters you see 50 times a day, it’s a softening up process of propaganda learned from a country that has an entire tv channel devoted to people on benefits eating out of bins and getting evicted.

        1. Rob_G

          Can you conceive of a fair system whereby people in long-term receipt of unemployment benefits are engaged with with a view to getting them back in paid employment, without devolving into the apocalyptic scenario that you have outlined above?

          1. ahjayzis

            The state could decide that childcare is a social good and not a luxury that should act as a second mortgage, for one.

            It’s such an insanely broad question, it’s like asking can you think of the structure of a system that would reduce the number of people doing bad thing A.

            Incentivising a bunch of fly-by-night private companies to strong-arm people whose mindset and motivations you have no idea of into work really sounds sustainable to you?

          2. Rob_G

            I suppose that what I was getting at is that Ireland has persistently high rate of long-term unemployed people, during the recession, during the boom, and now, when the economy is doing moderately well. This would suggest that current job activation strategies aren’t working as well as they should.

            Will hiring a private company to take over these services solve all of these things overnight? Well, most probably not. But I do think it is worth trying a new approach, and I think a lot of the objections that you post above don’t have anything to do with job activation, or actually exist (bedroom tax), and are bordering on hysterical (“media minions have spent a decade telling us they’re not human”).

            I’m not sure what the alternative is to a job activation regime – leaving people to stay unemployed for year after year, with their skills becoming less and less relevant? Better to have some sort of service to find them employment and training opportunities, and yes, to compel them to pursue same if necessary.

          3. ahjayzis

            Can we stop talking about activating underutilised units of labour and talk about why someone doesn’t work?

            I know some long-term unemployed people, graduated around the same time as me in 2012, on paper they’ve no reason to be unemployed, let alone for 5 years, young and educated guys. But they’re seriously depressed, they get panic attacks at ‘activation’ letters, they live with their parents and are generally miserable. Their lives are frozen and you can’t not have sympathy for what that must be doing to their psyche.

            A call-centre worker on commission for shoehorning them into a job isn’t actually helping them or the system.

            We could try dealing with it as a human problem rather than a moral outrage to be dealt with always with the bloody stick.

          4. Rob_G

            I’m sorry to hear about your friends, but this sounds like exactly the type of situation where engaging with unemployed people early and often would be beneficial – in obviously in macro terms, for the economy and the state finances and all that, but also for the wellbeing of the people themselves.

            Hope things pick up for your friends soon.

  6. JIMMYJAMES

    A private ’employment activation service’ gets your sig, gets their commsion & then you would be left f’off & find your own work. The private co couldn’t give a flying f about you. If you resist taking up a work placement whether it’s suitable or not, it will be logged as breach of your conditions of receiving whatever SW payment you are currently on.. eventually if you fail to ‘engage’…another word for taking anyold sh!te job thrown your way by private co., the social can then stop your payment.

    The dog in the street issue is that the integration between Jobseekers Allowances & HAP/Rent Allowance other disability, medical etc..payments is a admin disaster that people can lose the roof over their head by taking up a job.

    But so long as leo can peddled the line that sean & mary in their 3 bed semi in lucan are paying for these non early risers it will continue.

  7. nellyb

    With universal basic income all of it could become irrelevant. UBI could boost entrepreneurship as there’d be safety net to try things.

    1. Rob_G

      Hmmm – while UBI is an interesting idea, I’m not sure how a system in which there is no obligation to look for a job will somehow motivate long-term unemployed people more than the current system, which at least obliges you to apply for a certain number of jobs to continue to access the payment.

      1. nellyb

        you right, i should’ve mentioned – mandatory systems, policing job search, etc create a duress and counterproductive in this sense. When people are not watched, humiliated and policed all the time, people relax, get interested, try things, explore. Normal human traits, ‘class/education’-independent.

        1. Anomanomanom

          So basically just leave people to “explore” doing fupp all for their whole life and pay them for it. Good idea.

    2. nellyb

      “welfare fraud” showed people on welfare do work and want to work. but work does not pay anymore, welfare support is needed to weather in between jobs.
      Stop pestering people, stop holding them hostage for pennies, stop making ‘unemployed’ sound like ‘doodle-oo’ and things will improve. Some will remain on basic income, but i don’t believe it would be a majority.

      1. Rob_G

        You misunderstand what basic income is – basic income is paid to every single adult in the state, regardless if they are working or not. So everyone will ‘remain’ on basic income for the rest of their lives; this is why the proposal is so expensive.

  8. Zaccone

    For a small minority of hard-right FGers (the Leo wing) I think malice is the intent behind JobPath, ie to demonize the unemployed in the eyes of the public. But for the majority I think they support it simply to massage the unemployment figures. Anyone on JobPath is technically no longer unemployed, for some bizarre reason.

    Its pretty horrendous all-round by all accounts though. As mentioned above a UBI would get rid of all the expensive bureaucracy of the welfare state, prevent the demonizing of the unemployed, and encourage far more volunteer/self employed/entrepreneurial/part time work. The sooner it comes in the better.

  9. EK

    Just browsing the comments. The reason why I decided to deliver this in instalments was to allow a more detailed look at the background to the idea of JobPath and the thinking behind it. So each part is intended to allow the detail of that part be explored. It’s not a simplistic thing. If I were to, say, choose one aspect and concentrate fully on that, to the exclusion of other aspects, say for instance, the discrimination against the unemployed evident in the manner in which the “service” is delivered, and the tone taken by Leo Varadkar when talking about the issue, this would only make one-dimensional what is a multi-dimensional problem, and would simply invite knee-jerk reactive responses to that one aspect. By deciding to present the argument in this way, I have to trust that those who engage with it give it the benefit of their time and thought. Without such an investment, the art of reasoned argument becomes cheapened like everything else in the culture, including those people who are being commodified by the employment activation process. My intention is to shift the view away from the individuals being targeted by employment activation, towards looking at the system. But I guess, inevitably, some people will remain forever stuck on the simplistic prejudicial question, Are they too lazy to work? This is exactly where the powers that be want you to stay stuck. That’s one of the ideas this part of the series sets out to show: the deliberate intention to stigmatize the jobless in order to gain public approval for a process that appears to be an assault on civil liberties. The idea is to keep the public focused on the the alleged flaws of the jobless, rather than begin looking for flaws in the system. All I can do is present my findings, and argue them the best way I can. Ultimately, I’m providing this material for people to weigh and measure and use their own judgment to arrive at their own conclusions. My general simple thesis is that the system is sick, not the people who have been damaged by it.

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