Author Archives: Eamonn Kelly

From top: JobPath offices in Cabra, Dublin 7; Eamonn Kelly

 

Eamonn Kelly completes his investigation of employment activation schemes in Ireland.

Eamonn writes:

This is the last article in the series on JobPath. It’s quite long. I was going to split it into two more parts, but I think it’s best to just wrap it up in one long run in.

I want to thank everyone who read and commented on the articles, and those people who contacted me and who find themselves also in conflict with the petty injustices of the employment activation system.

I’d particularly like to thank Broadsheet for giving me the opportunity and the platform to tell this story, in a time when the mainstream media don’t seem to be particularly interested in hearing this type of thing.

“An experience makes its appearance only when it is being said. And unless it is said, it is, so to speak, non-existent.” Hannah Arendt

The implementation of JobPath began in 2015-2016, with the issuing of letters of “invitation” to tens of thousands of Jobseekers across Ireland, inviting them to attend employment activation meetings by the DSP.

These particular meetings, unbeknownst to the Jobseekers, would be staffed by Seetec/Turas Nua personnel, the two private companies sub-contracted by the DSP to deliver the service.

The letters of invitation were carefully worded to contain that peculiar mix of choice and obligation that is characteristic of the implementation of the system.

The letter of invitation begins by saying it is “…pleased to invite…” and ends with “Any refusal or failure, without good cause, to attend this information session or to subsequently participate in JobPath may result in your Jobseeker payment being reduced.”

Notice the careful threat in the use of the word “may”. And neither is it a threat of an outright cut, but of a reduction.

It is a sentence designed to unsettle. In later documentation, after registration of Jobseekers to one or other of the private companies has been acquired, the threat of outright cuts begins to appear in official documents issued by the private companies.

But the threat in the letter of invitation also specifically states that failure to participate in JobPath, without good cause, may result in cuts. I requested that the DSP quote me a law supporting this, and here is what I received from the JobPath Office at the DSP:

“The Social Welfare (Consolidated) Act 2005, Part 3, Ch. 2, Sect. 141(A) specifies that participation in activation meetings is mandatory for those in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance.”

That is the full extent that of the relevant act that was quoted to me, and it clearly states that attendance at information meetings is mandatory. It doesn’t say that participation on JobPath is mandatory.

I looked up the relevant act as quoted and, in a section 141(B), found a conditional clause from where the words “without good cause” are drawn, a phrase which features on all documentation pertaining to JobPath, indicating that it still has legal force.

This clause appears to indicate recognized circumstances in which attendance at activation meetings and participation on prescribed courses may be refused with “good cause”.

Such a good cause is listed under section 141(B) where courses of education or training need to be “considered appropriate having regard to the education, training and development needs of that person and his or her personal circumstances…”

A course deemed appropriate to a person’s education or training needs implies the recognition of courses inappropriate to a person’s education and training needs. It must follow that such courses may be refused, with good cause, as counter-productive to that person’s needs, requirements etc…

It appears however that attempts have been made in the implementation of JobPath to over-ride this legislation with opinions predicated on a discriminatory view of unemployed people.

In the same letter from the DSP this opinion was cited thus: “You have bene in continuous receipt of Jobseekers Allowance since…” [it was 14 months] “… and in order to continue to receive assistance you are required to attend the employment services provided, on the Department’s half, by Seetec.”

So, here it clearly states the belief that jobseekers have to participate with the service provided by the private companies, without exception, because they have been unemployed for over a year. This runs counter to the legislation, and seeks to replace it with an assertion. This, strictly speaking, is a dictate.

The last two Ministers of Social Protection offered similar stipulations running counter to the legislation. That people who have been unemployed for a certain period of time, regardless of cause, “should be open to preparing for and taking up employment in occupations or sectors outside of their preferred field of work”.

This applies to people from all backgrounds, trades and professions,” to quote the current Taoiseach, from a story in the Sligo News asking why qualified teachers were being assigned to the rudimentary JobPath “service”. :

But this assertion by the then minster of social protection is merely an opinion. If he intends it to be taken as a law, over-riding current legislation, it becomes a dictate, making the speaker, by definition, a dictator.

The opinion is also faulty, in that it is based on the false assumption that enough employment is being created in the economy to provide jobs for everyone, if not in their chosen field, well then, in other fields; which is clearly not the case. And so, the argument circles back to the same prejudicial charge underlying the entire scheme: that the unemployed create unemployment, which is a logical nonsense, particularly given how modern capitalism actually works, and that the unemployed must then be penalised for creating unemployment.

You Are Invited To…

The JobPath “service” itself doesn’t really appear to be about training, or retraining or education. There is ample anecdotal evidence that all these claims are empty, that the “service” is rudimentary and inadequate. In other words, it has all the appearances of a false front.

The real business of JobPath is in the registration process, acquiring signatures, for which money is changing hands, and through which people are being transferred out of the public welfare system into a private system run by companies whose background is primarily in prison services and rehabilitation. (See my article here  for a more detailed look at this aspect of the business of the private companies operating JobPath in Ireland.)

JobPath is not a service, as such, it is more like a portal through which the public systems are being gradually privatised.

The letter of invitation to JobPath was sent out on DSP headed paper to a random selection of Jobseekers who had been unemployed for a year or more.

The fact that no cognisance was taken of Jobseeker’s qualifications or credentials in this process was flagged as an equal opportunities consideration. It was, in reality, more like the deliberate official stripping of qualifications for the “crime” of being over 12 months unemployed, creating clean slates for the private companies to place in low grade employments to earn commission on each placement.

The headline on each letter reads, “Notice to Attend Information Session”, and begins, “We are pleased to inform you that you have been allocated a personal employment advisor…”

This gives the impression that an agreement is already in place between the Jobseeker and the private company. The next sentence then enhances the voluntary aspect.

“You are invited to attend an information session…”

There is no mention here of mandatory attendance, it is still an invitation. The letter goes on,

“The purpose of the meeting is to explain how the personal advisory service, which we are calling JobPath, will work, to provide details of the supports available to you and to allow you to ask questions about the service.”

Here again the idea that everything is already in place is reinforced, but that there is still an element of choice, a voluntary aspect.

The letter goes on to say that the jobseeker will meet representatives of the private companies, and will be “invited to an individual meeting with an employment advisor…”

It is during this one-on-one meeting that the Jobseeker will be invited to sign a form, following a brief interview concerned with employment goals.

This form, which is filled out by the advisor from answers given by the Jobseeker during the brief interview, is the Personal Progression Plan, for which the DSP will pay a fee. In real terms, it is a document transferring the Jobseeker from the responsibility of the DSP to the responsibility of the private companies.

Since this transfer has been accomplished with the “agreement” of the jobseeker, as evidenced by the signature or initial on the Personal Progression Plan, it is officially understood that the jobseeker has voluntarily agreed to this transfer; has, in essence, voluntarily enlisted the services of the private company to help them find work, and voluntarily left the protections offered by the DSP.

Once the “agreement” is signed it is not clear at what point the private company’s hold over the Jobseeker ends. JobPath itself lasts a year, and Minister Burton, when rolling out the scheme, said that Jobseekers would then be transferred back to the responsibility of the DSP after that year.

But the agreement on the Personal Progression Plan, the substance of which the Jobseeker is not informed of, clearly shows that the private companies have been empowered to influence the Jobseeker after that initial year. The duration of this continued influence is not at all clear.

Criminals

In November 2015, it was reported that a questionnaire Jobseekers were asked to fill out during the initial activation meeting, asked the Jobseeker did they expect to commit a criminal offence in the next six months.

No one knew what to make of this question. There were questions asked in the Dail about it, and it was eventually put aside as an oddity, maybe even some kind of clerical error. The DSP announced subsequently that the question had been withdrawn.

But this was no “accident”. It appears to be part of a deliberate strategy to equate welfare with criminality.

For instance, the odd parole-officer/parolee type relationship that is established between the advisor and the Jobseeker and which is reinforced by the right claimed by the company in the “agreement”, as we’ll see, to contact future employers and to ask how is the Jobseeker getting on.

Add to this the unremarked upon and unchallenged right of the private company employees to detain Jobseekers at their facilities, ostensibly job-seeking on computers provided by the private companies.

But for those people who have to attend these pointless sessions there is no doubt that these sessions feel like punitive detention periods, for the “crime” of being unemployed, with private company employees enjoying the right to extend or increase the duration and number of these periods of detention to gain the compliance of so-called “hard-cases”.

Now there may or may not be “hard cases”, but that must surely be entirely beside the point.
When I remarked on dangerous precedents in the first article in this series, this is one of them.

Because two private companies have somehow acquired the right to detain Irish citizens at their facilities for the perceived “crime”, it would appear, for being unemployed. No laws are quoted to validate or support this practice and, in general, most people seem to think it’s fine, including many of the people detained in the facilities.

I have since learned however, that the “crime” is not for being unemployed, it is for failing to honour an agreement to do certain things on the so-called “path” to employment.

The justification for “sanctions” is that the jobseeker has broken an agreement that they voluntarily entered into. The reality however, is much different. The jobseeker is tricked and threatened into signing the agreement, and is not informed of the substance of the agreement, or even that they have entered into an agreement.

This is where words like “invite” and “voluntary” and “agreed” are deliberately used to deceive, with a view to claiming later that the deceived individual was aware of the nature of the agreement they were entering into, and aware of all its implications.

Hadn’t they been “invited” to “voluntarily” agree? This is a cruel trick devised by an educated mind to be played upon uneducated people, in full awareness of the disadvantages that are being exploited, in order to cheat them out of a social welfare payment.

JobPath is all about the agreement as contained in the Personal Progression Plan. Everything else is window-dressing. The agreement is a document that surrenders the individual’s rights to the dictates of a private company, empowering that company to detain, deskill, downgrade, and earn commissions on placements in low-grade employments, all under the guise of “retraining” and “helping”.

On the question of the deliberate attempt to add a patina of criminality to welfare claimants, Fianna Fail’s Willy O’Dea asked Leo Varadkar, then Minster for Social Protection, his opinion concerning a case in Wicklow where a local woman, along with some of her neighbours, had been subjected to an interview in a private room designed to shame them in each other’s eyes for the “crime” of being unemployed. (This is in the same Sligo News story about the teachers linked above.)

The woman who reported the incident to Willie O’Dea was asked had she ever committed a criminal offence. O’Dea asked the minister, “Who dreamed up these questions?”

The now Taoiseach dodged the question by referring to the JobPath satisfaction survey, making it clear that all awkward questions pertaining to JobPath will now be deflected by reference to a survey whose questions are weighted to ensure high satisfaction ratings, making it possible for the government to claim that the unemployed, like the general public, also “approve” of JobPath.

This, as we saw earlier, is one of the planks to the successful implementation of the entire system, winning public approval for the system.

The report has since been released, in January 2017, and everyone is “satisfied”, surprise-surprise. The reported satisfaction ratings are not unlike Vladimir Putin’s reported approval ratings, which hover constantly around the 98% mark, with occasional fluctuations down to 97% for the sake of “realism” and up to 99% to demonstrate that the figure is not entirely static. T

he JobPath satisfaction figures, conducted by yet another private company drawing down public money for yet another questionable service, appear to be in the same political realm of self-serving statistical trickery. But even my talking about them has served their purpose as a distraction from the fact of the private interviews described by Willie O’Dea.

Agreement and Compliance

The success of the entire JobPath venture, and the entire employment activation venture as dreamed up by Matthew Oakley and others, depends on getting the jobseeker’s mark on the end of a form containing a concealed agreement, and then to ruthlessly hold them to these “agreements”.

It goes without saying, that to honour an agreement, one must first be aware that one is entering into an agreement. This was not the case with the Personal Progression Plan, where signatures were acquired by a combination of intimidation and deceit.

The meeting arranged by the DSP, to enable the private companies to acquire signatories to the agreements, seems itself to have been rigged to make signing documents even more routine and automatic.

As one participant pointed out, you “Sign in the building, Sign in the meeting, Sign the meeting outcomes form, Sign the personal progression plan, Sign the travel expenses, Sign out the meeting, Sign out the building…”

That’s lots of signing. Notice the Personal Progression Plan in there, slipped in with all the art of a pickpocket.

The intimidation is the deliberate verbal and documentary repetition of threat to cut income for “non-compliance”, this being intimated as meaning total obedience.

This tactic has a weird effect on many Irish people, rendering some Irish people servile and childish. I believe that this characteristic – which is perhaps peculiar to the Irish due to our history – is also being deliberately and knowingly exploited by officials.

Fight or Flight
The significance of what is happening here may have to be spelled out a bit, particularly for people who may assume that all welfare recipients are cheats and don’t really need the money, a pejorative view of the poor, actively encouraged by the present Taoiseach.

In the main, these people are poor and vulnerable and solely dependent on the allowance. To threaten to cut this allowance is to threaten their only source of income. It is a threat that causes fear, anxiety, sleepless nights and, it is believed by some, lonely suicides.

The significance of the fear generated in these people by this cruel system cannot be over-estimated. This type of deliberate delivery of stressors has a very real physical effect. It results in cortisol release, which, according to psychologists, affects thinking capacity, evoking fight or flight reactions.

So, ironically, officials threatening those people they have been given leave to discriminate against as “lazy” and/or “stupid”, will actually appear to be a bit “stupid” as a result of being threatened, seeming to confirm the initial prejudice of the official issuing the threat.

But these unfortunate people are literally momentarily stupefied by the rush of cortisol generated by the shock of being called criminals and at being threatened with poverty, and all that this entails, including homelessness.

And we all know in Ireland, the heartlessness towards the homeless that this government has exhibited. A heartlessness that has led some to believe that the government are knowingly using the fear of homelessness as a twisted strategy in an attempt to activate the property market into blowing up another delusionary property bubble.

To generate that particular fear, it is necessary to allow homelessness to happen. So, when an official threatens to cut the social protection allowance of a poor person, they are, in present-day Ireland, indirectly threatening them with homelessness, which is a very real condition.

Such threats are made, more often than not, by smug officials, often proud in themselves for having “a job”, who often make little effort to disguise their contempt for Jobseekers, seemingly oblivious to the fact that their own “job” depends entirely on the continued supply and processing of these people, who are apparently officially regarded as “social burdens” and “parasites”.

Peonage and the Magdalenes

The private companies, once they have acquired the signatures, apparently by any means possible, stand to earn commissions on placing people in jobs, without being required to match qualifications to job grade. It also appears to be assumed that the employees of the private companies are qualified to offer advice and guidance across a range of professions, even encompassing the arts and the sciences, without them ever once having to actually present their qualifications.

But it is in the area of commissions earned on placing people in jobs, regardless of job-grades – the DSP apparently facilitating this by withholding credentials and qualifications of Jobseekers ear-marked for transfer – that the system bears more than a passing resemblance to peonage, where a perceived debt to society is worked off.

Eerily, the system echoes the thinking behind Victorian work houses, and our own industrial schools and Magdalene Laundries. The attitude of the wider Irish community often seems as similarly judgmental as those older Irish communities were to the Magdalene women. Back then the perceived moral lapse that was to be worked off in service, was sexual moral “failure”.

Today, typically, the sin is perceived as economic moral failure. What is fascinating is that many of the judgmental and unforgiving attitudes of the last century appear to be still living in the present-day institutions, like fleas in an old mattress. Even in attitudes in the wider society there is often the sense that little has changed since the middle of the last century.

Like different groups have just moved into the same old roles, with the mainstream media now like a priesthood serving the bishopy main party politicians, and the silent penitent laity pretty much as they always were, deferring to authority and throwing stones at whichever “sinner” the authority identifies, in this case Jobseekers and welfare dependents.

The Agreement

This is the agreement Jobseekers are misled into signing.

“I declare that I will actively commit to job-search and other employment or education and training activities detailed in this Personal Progression Plan and agreed with the [company name] Employment Advisor and I understand that my Jobseeker’s Payment may be reduced or stopped completely if I refuse to cooperate with [company name] in its efforts to arrange employment, training or education opportunities for me.

“I understand that for the duration of this Personal Progression Plan, [company name] may contact me by phone or email or letter for an update on agreed actions and I understand that I must notify [company name] if I am no longer: Unemployed, Available for work, Fit for work or, Genuinely seeking work.

“I will notify [company name] immediately of any change, including financial, in my circumstances or those of my spouse/civil partner/cohabitant or dependents and I am aware that I could be prosecuted for making false declaration or withholding information.

“I have received the [company name] JobPath Client Information Pack, which contains details of the service statement.”

It seems clear from the wording of this agreement that some kind of legal transfer of responsibilities has occurred, putting Jobseekers onto the books of the private companies. It is not quite clear by the wording how long these “agreements” remain in force.

But since this is part of a wider goal to privatise the welfare system, it may turn out that these “agreements” will sooner or later be declared indefinite.

But the over-riding and important point here is that people are not made aware that they are entering into such a binding agreement. They are told it is “routine”. That it is a standard data protection declaration. Or, they are told nothing at all, but simply reminded that failure to comply with all requests may result in a reduction of their income.

Another part of the form deals with data protection, referencing the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005, and beneath that, a consent declaration that includes the following:

“Should I find employment while I am participating on the JobPath programme, I give my consent for [company name] or a representative of the Department of Social protection to contact my employer so that details of my employment can be confirmed. I understand that any information provided by the employer to [company name] may be shared with the Department of Social Protection.”

This consent has led to instances where people who were compelled to register with one or other of the private companies and who then found jobs, or were offered jobs they had already been interviewed for, suddenly found representatives of the private companies contacting their new employers and claiming this as a successful outcome for which they could then claim a commission from the DSP.

These approaches are, by all accounts, ruthless, and are entirely careless of the damage such an intrusion may cause to the credibility of the Jobseeker in the eyes of the new employer.

Diversions

The letter of “invitation” from the DSP closes with a sentence that directs the jobseeker to consult the private companies with any queries they may have, via a free-phone number.

This all but completes the transfer, the DSP essentially washing their hands of the Jobseekers they have randomly chosen to be set-up in fake information meetings to be tricked into signing a what appears to be a binding contract with a private company who stand to profit from, what appears to be, their deliberately degraded status.

This letter of “invitation” remember was written before any registration had taken place, and is clearly designed to confuse and to deceive individual Jobseekers into signing a contract with a private company, without ever being made aware that they are signing a contract.

Since these signatures are being acquired by intimidation and deceit; intimidation in the deliberate evoking of fear by threatening to cut income, and deceit in the manner in which Jobseekers are deliberately misled, as described, and since the goal of this deceit is profit for the DSP/Government in potential savings in welfare supports, and profit for the private companies in terms of the potential commissions earned on job placements, the fees for the signatures themselves and the public monies they receive for provision of a “service”.

There are other advantages too for the private companies which may accrue from having authority over so many people perceived as being vulnerable. In time, the companies may be able to match the people they have on their books with other private helping services they offer, in exchange for public funding.

In this way, Public funding can be gradually drained from existing public agencies, magically creating more vulnerable unemployed people in need of help from the services being offered by the private companies. This is the business model that has accelerated the prison populations in the United States, made up primarily of poor people. It is, in a sense, capitalism beginning to eat its young.

Swindle

Considering the potential profits for the private companies with the acquisition of these signatures, and considering the manner in which the signatures are acquired, this is, by definition, a swindle. I don’t use that term lightly. I have tried other words to describe what has occurred and is occurring, but “swindle” is the only word that most accurately describes what is happening.

This swindle being perpetrated against a poor minority, who may or may not “deserve” to be swindled, depending on your political stance, has far wider implications than simply individual Jobseekers, losing their “dole”.

Since the end political goal of this swindle is to initiate a privatisation of all or parts of the welfare system, and since this is a Republic, where all citizens stand equal, in theory anyway, and where all properties are properties of the Republic; a swindle of this nature perpetrated against one citizen, particularly a swindle with a broader goal to transfer ownership of public properties to the private sector, is also a swindle against all the citizens.

By this definition, given the manner in which the signatures were and are being gathered for the registrations to JobPath, and given the broader goals and financial incentives of these orchestrated deceits, this is arguably, by extension, a swindle being perpetrated against the Republic by its own government, in collusion with foreign private companies.

This throws an entirely new light on the welfare cheats campaign, which now seems to be an attempt to publicly discredit the initial targets of this swindle.

Welcome to Gulag Ireland

The Government’s “strategy” for tackling the unemployed crisis is to abdicate all responsibility, farming the problem out to private interests and handing private companies the right to virtually enslave anyone who happens to have been over a year unemployed, ignoring the fact that unemployment is being caused – some say, being actively created – by the vagaries of gush-up capitalism, and, in the case of Ireland, by banking and political mismanagement during and after the financial crisis of 2008.

These private companies have the power now to detain citizens at their facilities and to turn a profit from deskilling qualified professionals and putting them to work in low grade jobs.
This seems to me to be a waste of resources for the sake of appearances.

The Irish government ought to come clean, keep the money they are paying to these companies, and simply build labour camps, returning whatever profits can be made from the camps back to the state. The building of the camps would create much-needed construction jobs, and when they’re done, there would be plenty of available accommodation at last to house the homeless.

Many problems would be immediately solved. No one sleeping on the streets, no one manifestly unemployed, a minimal welfare bill, and the country maybe even back in profit. Bord Failte could even launch a campaign for new tourism, to sell the idea of Ireland being a light to the world by being so honest in how it deals with social problems, and how unafraid we are to do the hard thing.

Maybe something snappy like, Welcome to Gulag Ireland, Bringing a New Honesty to Slavery.

History, And the Way She Might Look at You

The entire disreputable JobPath system is a British import. I say this now, not with some green flag waving, or with any animosity towards Britain, but this is not Britain, where an aristocratic elite holds sway above a rigid class system. This is a Republic, fought and died for, rather than bought and paid for, (though that might be true too), where all have equal say, (in theory anyway, if we’d only say it), regardless of who we might owe money to. But I couldn’t help noticing when researching this story, the startling historical irony that this punitive system was put in place – complete with latter-day arse-kicking enforcers, like economic black-and-tans – just in time for the centenary of the 1916 rebellion. If you wrote such a brilliantly matched thematic coincidence into a fiction, people wouldn’t swallow it. They’d say, “Ah, here now…” and walk away shaking their heads and grinning.

Endgame
In late 2016, before he left office, President Obama said that within twenty years, congress would have to realistically discuss the introduction of a universal Basic Income. The same idea was put forward by Martin Luther King Jr in 1967 in the final chapter of his final book, as being the only lasting solution to poverty and boom and bust economics. Basic Income was to be his next major campaign.

And here we are again, and no one seems to realize that the alternative to supporting the poor is too unimaginable to consider. This is why the Nazis believed that sometime in the future their inhuman policies would come to be regarded as “courageous”, in that they believed it took courage to deliberately orchestrate a human cull. We appear to be walking blind into the same deadly dilemma. At the moment, our approach is the penguin approach. Every day, before going in the water, the penguins jostle and jostle and a few of them fall in the water and the waiting predator pounces. Once the predator is fed, it is safe for the other penguins to go into the water.

This is the manner in which today’s human cull is being conducted. People are being jostled out of the system into poverty and despair and self-destruction.

Every country appears to now have its champion of the new “necessary” cruelties. Here in Ireland, a man born to privilege, now Taoiseach, smilingly champions the process of survival of the economic fittest, mainly because he likely has absolutely no personal conception of poverty.

Once you put capitalist economic requirements aside, and the underpinning Calvinist ideas that inform its work-or-die ethic, problems like unemployment and homelessness can be solved overnight.

To solve homelessness, you give the homeless homes. It’s that simple. It has been done in experiments. It works. And surprisingly, people seen as alcoholics, once given a home, do things like quitting the drink, or bringing their dinking back to sociable intake, because the despair of homelessness has been lifted.

Comedian George Carlin once asked, “Have you ever heard of the war on homelessness? No. Because there isn’t one. There’s a War on Drugs, a War on Terror, a War on Obesity…” And he goes on to list all the so-called wars, revealing most of them as serving power or capital in some way. Maybe it’s time there was a war on homelessness.

It’s similar with unemployment. Pay the unemployed enough to live on and you put cash back in the economy and create the potential for grassroots economic growth.

We have to put aside these medieval punitive ideas about work equating to earned survival. These antiquated ideas are made a nonsense of by advancing technology, by the usury at the heart of modern capitalism and by the environmental urgency to cut back on capitalism’s demand for constant growth.

The actor, James Cromwell, who was recently jailed for joining a sit-down protest against fracking, described modern capitalism as a cancer. It is difficult to argue against this when you begin to realize that capitalism in its current insatiable form demands the destruction of people, animals, the environment and ultimately the Earth for its own continued survival.

Each small battle being waged against it, like the one I have described here, focused on the wrong-headed issue of employment activation, each seem rather trivial in their own small way, but taken together are part of a bigger picture.

Seeing the bigger picture requires that the majority of people accept first that there is a bigger picture to be seen, and that each small skirmish, whether it be fracking or employment activation or the torturing of the homeless in the interest of activating the property market, are all aspects of the same big picture: the exploitation of everything, including one another, in the interests of capital investments.

The only license that is required by power to take the liberties it is taking, is that the majority of people “approve”. All it takes to begin to change this picture is to “disapprove”, however quietly. Like that scene in Fawlty Towers where Basil almost has all the guests bullied into silence after complaints have been made, until one guest says, “I’m not happy…” And from that one quiet voice of dissent the whole lie begins to unravel.

Afterword

I’m an arts practitioner. A dramatist, short story writer and sometime musician. The reason why I started writing about JobPath is because I, and people I know in the arts, were officially informed that everything we stood for – in my case, over 30 years’ experience and training – was all now irrelevant in the name of austerity.

Not only that, we were also smeared as burdens on the state and held up by the authorities as objects of contempt; scapegoats, I came to believe, for the elite’s mismanagement of the nation’s affairs. Mismanagement that caused us all to be dropped into this mess of debt and recrimination.

My officially decreed “irrelevant” qualifications included professional study and experience in writing, across several media, and an honours degree in Sociology/Politics, where I specialised in my degree year in political philosophy. There I became familiar with the work of, among others, Hannah Arendt who I’ve quoted at the top of this article. I’ll repeat the quote to save you the bother of scrolling:

“An experience makes its appearance only when it is being said. And unless it is said, it is, so to speak, non-existent.”

That quote kept me focused and was my inspiration as I set out to speak up the existence of this ongoing injustice happening on our doorsteps, and, on a personal note, to attempt to demonstrate, if you’ll pardon my show of pride, how relevant my officially decreed “irrelevant” qualifications might actually be in a real-world scenario.

These articles have been my attempt to bring into conscious existence the unhappy and nullifying reality so many people are experiencing as objects and unwilling commodities of the JobPath system.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance writer.

Pic: Rabble.ie

Previously: JobPath And Class Discrimination

JobPath And The Reality Of Employment Activation

 


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

From top: Seetac which runs Jobpath; Eamonn Kelly

In the third in a series of articles examining ’employment activation’ schemes for the unemployed in Ireland, Eamonn Kelly looks at the British company behind Jobpath.

Eamon Kelly writes:

When assessing a potential candidate for a job, as any employer will tell you, it is wise to look into their backgrounds to get a measure of the individual.

Since corporate bodies have influenced legislation to be legally regarded as individuals when it comes to being called names and so on, it is only fair that we peek into the backgrounds of Working Links (the British company behind Turas Nua) and Seetec, to see what they were getting up to before the Fine Gael/Labour coalition decided to hire them.

Seetec were the subject of a series of articles in 2014 by Private Eye, among other publications, concerning allegations of fraud, as relayed in an article in the weblog Beastrabban, referencing an article in Private Eye 30th May – 12th June 2014 issue:[1]

“Urgent questions are being asked at the Department for Work and Pensions over a failure to investigate properly allegations of fraud by Seetec, which has various DWP contracts to help jobless people find work.

“Officials assured two whistle-blowers last autumn that the department would investigate claims that Seetec had been artificially inflating the number of jobs it was finding for its disabled clients through the Work Choice Scheme – and pocketing the profits…”

The same blog source references a previous Private Eye issue which reported that Seetec were “the worst-performing of the eight Work Choice contractors” operating in Britain at the time.

A story from May 2014 in the magazine Disabled News carries a report of two whistle-blowers who alleged that Seetec were

“artificially inflating the number of jobs it said it was finding for disabled people”, had offered “clients as free labour to charities and other host organisations” and had logged “placements as ‘job outcomes’, claiming payments from the government.”.

The story goes on to say that the DWP (Department of Works and Pensions), when informed of these allegations via the Disabled News Service, launched an investigation, but did not interview the whistle-blowers, and eventually found that no fraud had taken place. The article says that the DWP were now facing accusations of a cover up.

In 2012, Wales Online reported that “A Company which holds a multi-million-pound contract with the UK Government to find jobs for unemployed people in Wales has been accused of engaging in systemic fraud by its own former chief auditor…Working Links (WL) maintained it had a zero-tolerance approach to fraud, and that all irregularities had been investigated and resolved….”

The report goes on to describe some of the evidence given to a House of Commons Public Accounts Committee by Mr Eddie Hutchinson, former head of internal audit at Working Links, the British parent company of Turas Nua.

“In June 2008 Mr Hutchinson wrote a briefing note for the company’s executive team which quantified the losses from 15 separate frauds and irregularities over the previous 15 months at around £250,000.

Mr Hutchinson is reported to have told investigating MPs:

“The common theme in relation to the DWP contracts was that all of these frauds involved the falsification of job outcome evidence to illegally claim monies from the DWP, together with the false claiming of bonus payments by staff through the company’s incentive bonus system. In my professional opinion, this type of fraudulent behaviour perpetrated by WL staff was extensive, it related to cultures that existed within a number of offices, and was also systemic throughout many areas of WL’s operations on DWP and other funding agency contracts.”

A fresh scandal followed these and related fraud revelations in the Workfare Programme when the DWP exonerated all the companies accused of fraud, including Seetec and Working Links, in what was widely regarded as a political move.

In 2012 the Guardian reported that whistle-blowers had been gagged by Tory MP’s, with the Tories claiming that all cases of fraud had occurred under the Labour Government.

Wales Online closes its report on the fraud allegations with this:

“A DWP spokesman said: ‘These allegations all relate to programmes run by the previous government. We have changed the way we run new welfare-to-work programmes to safeguard taxpayers’ money. We only pay by results and under the Work Programme, claims are verified against benefit and employment records to make sure fraudulent claims are not processed.’

Getting back to the initial idea of checking the background of prospective employees. If I can find this fairly damning material on the two companies in question, how come our government couldn’t?

We can only assume either that our Government did background checks and felt that these two dubious candidates were fine; or that they didn’t bother doing background checks, and just flung public monies out blindly, as part of a wild gesture to make it appear like they were actually taking some action on the employment creation front.

If the latter is the case, then it amounts to negligence on the part of our public representatives. A negligence which is pretty unforgivable, given that the representatives involved were charged with the task of the provision of social protection. This stands in stark contrast to their actions which seem more akin to throwing the poor to the wolves.

And if our elected representatives had dug even a little deeper, they might have found this report in the Guardian, concerning a study conducted by the British National Auditor’s Office which appears to show that employment activation, as practised by the Workfare model, isn’t working.

“An analysis by the Guardian shows that none of the 18 contractors to the flagship Work Programme have reached their target of keeping at least 5.5% of jobless people referred to a scheme job for half a year in the year until July 2012. This is despite the government having spent £435m on the scheme so far. Providers are paid for taking on a jobless person, finding them a job and then ensuring they keep it.”

Scottish MP Mhairi Black concurs with the view that there appears to be a conflict between the stated aims of the concept of employment activation, and the concept’s actual political goals.

In a Youtube video from earlier this year (2017) she claims that the benefits sanctions system in Britain costs more to administer than it actually saves, has the opposite effect of its own stated purpose, ie to create employment, and instead drives people into destitution.

She concludes that the real drive behind the system is an ideological demonisation of the poor.

A proposition that immediately brings to mind the various defamatory and insinuating comments made by our own Leo Varadkar against the poor in recent months.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance writer.

Previously: JobPath And Class Discrimination

Previously: Jobpath And The Reality Of Employment Activation

From top: Seetec Employment and Skills Ireland deliver Jobpath and Welcome to Work ’employability and skills programmes’ across Ireland ; Eamonn Kelly

In the second of a series of articles examining ’employment activation’ initiatives, Eamonn Kelly  explores the concept of discrimination on the grounds of socio-economic status that appears to inform much of the thinking behind the implementation and administration of JobPath.

Eamonn Kelly writes:

There appears to be a general perception that there is some “problem” with JobPath, but the exact why of the problem remains elusive. Willie O’Dea of Fianna Fail recently described the programme as “sinister”, while descriptions ranging from bullying to harassment are routine.

Much of this foggy understanding has to do with the limited time and inclination available to anyone to examine claimed injustices related to employment activation, particularly in a climate of austerity that is seeing so many cutbacks and miseries being inflicted on so many different groups and individuals.

Besides, there is a certain lack of sympathy for the unemployed, who are generally regarded as “lazy” architects of their own condition, so anything that appears to hunt them out of their beds, as common perception has it, seems more than reasonable, particularly given the current climate of austerity.

All these assumptions add up to a situation in which the unemployed are generally perceived as having no cause for complaint concerning any initiative designed to get them back to work. This general assumption makes itself felt in dealing with officials who appear to believe that unemployed people do not have, nor can they expect to enjoy, equal rights and considerations as those enjoyed by working people.

This general premise informs the attitudes of contempt and disregard experienced by many jobseekers at the raw end of the implementation and administration of JobPath.

Put simply, the unemployed are being routinely treated as second class citizens for being unemployed, and much of what they are experiencing in JobPath falls under the category of discrimination on the grounds of socio-economic status.

In the first report of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in July 2015, disappointment was expressed that Ireland had not implemented socioeconomic discrimination as a ground in equality legislation under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Coincidentally, later that same month, July 2015, JobPath was rolled out in earnest.

Though there is no specific protection in Irish implementation of EU legislation on grounds of socioeconomic status, there does appear to be indirect protection against such discrimination contained in Article 2 of the UN Treaty called the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The protection might be claimed under the term “other status”. The status of “jobseeker” being regarded as that “other status”.

Article 2 (CESCR)
“The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Additionally, a discussion paper by Tamas Kadar “An analysis of the introduction of socio-economic status as a discrimination ground” opens with the following paragraph which appears to suggest that Irish citizens are already indirectly protected against discrimination on grounds of socioeconomic status:

“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), that Ireland ratified in 1989, includes two relevant non-discrimination provisions. Article 2 ensures non-discrimination with regard to rights recognized in the ICCPR, while Article 26 provides for equality before the law and a general prohibition of discrimination. Both Articles contain an open list of discrimination grounds and make explicit reference to, among others, social origin, property and birth.

The recent Mellet v Ireland decision of the Human Rights Committee concerned the abortion of a foetus with a fatal impairment, for which the claimant had to travel to the UK due to legal restrictions in Ireland.

The Committee determined that Article 26, which provides for the right to equality before the law, had been violated as the State “failed to adequately take into account her [Ms. Mellet’s] medical needs and socio-economic circumstances and did not meet the requirements of reasonableness, objectivity and legitimacy of purpose” under Article 26.

The Committee identified two prohibited grounds for finding a violation of Article 26: discrimination on grounds of socio-economic status and gender discrimination…”

If Jobseekers can be regarded as a social group under “other status” it would follow that Jobseekers are protected against discrimination on grounds of socio-economic status.

I point this out because the prejudice against Jobseekers on those grounds is like a foundational prejudice from which all other attitudes and actions in the implementation and administration of JobPath stem, including the lamentable “welfare cheats” campaign.

It is not because JobPath per se is so important, particularly in comparison to other austerity injustices.

It is because that since there is such a lack of public empathy or interest in this particular area, officials may have cut corners, based on the assumption that unemployed people cannot expect to enjoy equal rights or consideration, and may have acted recklessly in implementing a system which appears to set certain damaging understandings and precedents in place in the area of employment relations and fundamental human rights.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance writer.

Previously: Jobpath And The Reality Of Employment Activation

Pic: Seetec

From top: Jobpath offices in Cabra , Dublin 7; Eamonn Kelly

Austerity is hard on everyone, even on corporatism, which has also been feeling the pinch and is now reduced to pilfering public monies and pensions normally reserved for the poor and the diligent.

One of corporatism’s ways of inveigling itself into position to siphon off public funds requires a pretense of offering help and social care. Corporatism looks awkward and ungainly in a nurse’s outfit. Like the big bad wolf dressed as granny. But, old whore that it is, corporatism will do anything to keep profits buoyant. There is no stoop too low for corporatism.

There are also sorts of complex arguments circulating about the meaning of employment activation; its effectiveness or otherwise, and it all comes served with its own language and terms, and concepts within concepts, and reports about reports and talks about talks.

But behind the fog of verbiage is a very simple truth. Corporatism, always hungry for growth and expansion, is attempting to blame the poor for causing the limits to corporatism’s expansion.

Because by blaming the poor, the poor can then be managed by corporatism, and “fixed”. That process will then create opportunities for further investment, growth and expansion for corporatism.

One of the advantages of living next door to Britain, speaking the same language and being able to look in the TV window to see what they’re at, is the foresight that is afforded to us here in Ireland for what might be coming at us down the line.

Our governments tend to be unadventurous and lazy, taking ideas off the British rack and implementing them here with some kind of local twist.

This is how we got JobPath, which is based on Britain’s Workfare, which itself is based on an American model designed by corporate entities.

In the online magazine, The Conversation, it was reported in 2015 that job opportunities in Britain were opening up for psychologists to find a cure for unemployment by curing the unemployed of whatever psychological defects were supposedly causing them to be unemployed.

Psychologists were finding work in Job Centres. Gambling bankers, white-collar criminals, technological advances and exhausted markets aren’t considered credible causes for unemployment. No. The cause of unemployment is the unemployed. If there were no unemployed, there would be no unemployment. Simple.

The report in the Conversation, goes on to show that in Britain for many poor people, unemployed people can now be sanctioned and lose benefits for failing to be upbeat and optimistic.

The official term is “absence of positive affect”. It means you are not trying to be employable, because apparently employers don’t hire glum chums.

So, the Tory solution to unemployment is to harasses, bully and threaten the unemployed into being happy. The more pessimistic you are, the more they work you over. They’ll make you happy if it kills you.

This must rank as some kind of psychological torture. Being officially told you are worthless for not being happy. That you are the architect of your own worthless condition by not even trying hard enough to smile.

The article goes on to discuss the growth of systems, services and jobs around the “problem” of unemployed people, speaking to Dr David Webster, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Glasgow, who is leading a campaign against the inequities and cruelties of the Workfare system in Britain. Dr Webster regards the sanctions system as a “secret penal system.”

He says that the way the system works, once it has identified the unemployed as the problem causing unemployment (a bit like saying that the dead are the cause of death), the unemployed person then becomes the focus of a new “industry”, an industry that creates wealth for everyone, except the unemployed themselves who must, in order for the industry to function, remain poor and in need of “help”.

This is like a kind of built-in obsolescence. Corporatism was always good at that kind of built-in flaw to keep sales steady. Anyone can see that it is in no one’s interest to ever fix such a golden goose as a broken unemployed person.

What better way to drag out the fix than to throw a team of psychologists into the mix? They can debate forever as to whether or not the subject is fixed, and never arrive at a conclusion, as is the nature of their profession, all the time drawing down public funds in the form of salaries and other related expenses, while also creating further potential for expansion and growth in mental health assistance and “happy” drugs and questionable cures delivered by questionable experts.

Stubborn cases can be criminalised and fed as raw material into private prison systems. All this expansion into new areas of human management will require more staff, creating valuable new “jobs”, and more growth and more expansion. The sky’s the limit when it comes to managing and fixing the poor.

Notice how the real reasons for unemployment, the complicated interwoven problems of technological advance, gush-up capitalism, the environmental system’s limitations to perpetual growth, economic boom and bust, and all the other complexities that go towards creating unemployment are conveniently left off the table, replaced by such a simplistic assessment as the one put forward by our latest Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, that unemployment is caused by people who don’t get up early in the morning.

How brilliantly profound. We just elected a leader who believes unemployment is caused by late sleeping. Oh wait, we didn’t elect him, that’s right. But he’s there anyway, so I guess we’re stuck with him. That’s democracy, huh?

Corporatism was born out of small white lies, with the occasional huge black one thrown in to keep the ball rolling. It was born and enriched through advertising, through slipping and sliding and smiling and selling.

Corporatism is now selling the idea to the working public that the poor are the cause of high taxes, and they are selling to the poor the idea that they are broken and need to be fixed by… who else but good old uncle corporatism, who will teach them all to smile again, and will, presumably, given enough time and public monies, teach the whole world to sing in perfect harmony.

This is the logic of corporatism laid bare in austerity, that now sees corporatism using people as commodities to generate profits for investors. Corporatism doesn’t care where the profit comes from. It just wants the profit. It needs the profit.

If corporatism has to pretend to “help” social casualties to do that, well, it’ll put up some kind of pretense at helping, with some small token investment. Maybe throw a few re-conditioned computers into an office someplace and slap a “Social Help Resource” sign over the door.

Hire a few clerks to man the desks, tell them they’re a team, give them a stipend and tell them to smile as big as they can. Job done. Now gimme the money!

This is what employment activation is. It is corporatism selling the idea that it’s okay now to consume the poor.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance writer.

Pic: Rabble.ie