Author Archives: Eamonn Kelly

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.