It has been said before that there is a kind of denial of class division in Ireland. But everyone knows that there is a class system, a lower and upper and so on, though the insistence appears to be that there are mainly “normal people like us”, who are annoyed for the most part by “skangers”, “scumbags”, “posh fuckers” and the “super rich”.
The socially unfortunate are explained away by seizing on a kind of Catholic throwback understanding, part karma and part divine retribution, which amounts to the judgment that they “brought it on themselves” by, usually, “not working hard enough”.
The new homeless fall into this category, a kind of secular damned, suffering the torments brought about by original economic sin of borrowing too much, and, presumably, “not working hard enough.”
The various prejudices that hold the whole thing together are supplemented by selective readings of the news. Stats are particularly good for propping up the illusion that everything is hunky dory. Just don’t contrast stories from different ends of the spectrum or they’re likely to ignite and blow up in your face.
Take today for instance, December 15th 2017.
The Irish Times had a story reporting over 10% growth in GDP, with the strong pick-up due to “personal consumption”. If you want to support the system, Leo’s Ireland, and pat yourself on the back for being of optimistic outlook, you’ll seize on that reported 10.5% growth figure and think no more about it.
But if you read down through the article you’ll find that the figure isn’t as solid as it might first appear to be, due to difficulties in acquiring accurate measurements of GDP. By the end of the article the true figure for GDP growth is somewhere between 6.5% and 10%, maybe.
Goodbody analyst Dermot O’Leary is quoted as saying:
“the headline GDP growth estimate of 10.5 per cent year on year is not a realistic gauge of the pace of growth in Ireland in Q3 2017…”
That the article leads with the headline “Irish economy surges to double-digit growth,” is a fair indication that the Irish Times believes that this is what we should believe. But the headline is an inaccurate exaggeration of the true story, almost tabloidy, so, proving that in mean times even the formerly urbane may become a little calloused.
Meanwhile, over in RTÉ, Fr Peter McVerry was also quoting figures to Cathal MacCoille on Morning Ireland, the dialogue reported in Broadsheet. Fr McVerry was calling for a rent freeze, describing the current housing crisis as “beyond crisis”. He warned that within months all available hotel accommodation would be used up.
“In January this year, there were 410 families in emergency accommodation. In July, there were 659 families in emergency accommodation. The numbers are just going up and up and up. And I would describe the situation,
it’s like a boat that’s drifting, it’s drifting towards the rocks and there doesn’t seem to be any engine that’s trying to drift it away from the rocks and there doesn’t seem to be anybody in charge. The problem is just getting worse and I see no measures being taken to try and address that problem in the short term.”
Fr McVerry added:
“The primary cause now of homelessness, of 90% of the new people becoming homeless is the private, rental sector. Their rents have gone through the roof. People can no longer afford them…”
Wait! Didn’t the other article in the Irish Times say that the GDP was up due mainly to personal consumption? From the times article:
“The latest quarterly national accounts show gross domestic product (GDP) accelerated by 4.2 per cent in the third quarter alone amid a pick-up in personal consumption…”
Hmm… Could these stories be connected?
Fr McVerry said that he and others have been calling for rent freezes for over a year now, but these calls have been ignored, and while rents have increased dramatically, rent supplement from the department of social protection has decreased.
“The rents, nationwide, in the last three and a half years have gone up by an average of €50 per week. In Dublin they’ve gone up by over €90 per week on average and the rent supplement has been reduced by 28% – there is just no correlation now between the rent supplement and the rents that are being demanded by the landlord.”
Fr McVerry added that Alan Kelly, Minster for Environment, Community and Local Government had promised a rent freeze last February:
“…he said he was going to do it – he actually said he was going to introduce emergency rent freeze. We’ve heard nothing since.”
If there were some correlation between increasing rents and “surging GDP” due to “personal consumption”, a rent freeze might mess up the surging GDP, effectively freezing the recovery.
This leaves the government really with a choice on what to freeze, like so many economic housewives. Given that many of them are landlords we shouldn’t be too surprised that they often choose, by neglect, to freeze the homeless. Sure, they probably deserve it anyway. If they’d worked harder when they had the chance they wouldn’t be homeless.
They’ve only themselves to blame.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, someone shared a Christmas card from President Michael D. Higgins. The president’s Christmas Message was:
“To give protection, food and water to those who are fleeing war, oppression or starvation is a matter of fundamental, universal human solidarity. The refusal to do so goes beyond that remarkable phrase coined by Pope Francis – ‘the globalisation of indifference’, as indifference is slowly turning into mistrust and hostility.”
If the sentiment of that rubs you up the wrong way, there was consolation to be found further down the news feed, where someone shared a clip from the Dáil debate on homelessness, with Richard Boyd Barrett quoting the Taoiseach as saying “There is no such thing as a free home.” Which stands as a nice contrasting Christmas message to Michael D’s perhaps dated sentiments.
As you can see, with careful selectivity, the news always has something for everyone.
I was a bit inspired myself by the Taoiseach’s quote, and I made up a Christmas card meme (top) in keeping with the sentiments and priorities of Leo’s New Ireland.
From left: Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy TD and Damien English TD at the Housing Summit in the Custom House, Dublin last September.
We all know about the €5million the Taoiseach set aside for a PR team. It is generally assume that they advise the Taoiseach on his “look”, but it likely goes a little deeper than that. To paraphrase a Tom Wait’s song, you can’t help wondering “what are they building in there?”
In November 2017 the Taoiseach suddenly took another tack on the subject of homelessness. He decided to downplay it, to describe it as normal, to as good as deny its existence.
This was taken up by others in the government. There was outrage on the internet, but it seems to have burned itself out. Maybe that too was an idea. To be outrageous and burn off the outrage.
An idea that featured in the sudden re-evaluation of homelessness as “normal” was the term “negative narrative”. I first heard it in a quote from Damien English. In the context in which the phrase was used by Fine Gael, and in the new “beliefs” about homelessness that the phrase appeared to inform, the implication appeared to be that homelessness was a consequence of negative thinking and behaviour.
Homelessness was being presented, in a sense, as the result of a failure to think positive.
This seems exactly like something a PR team would dream up. It’s quite good too when you look at it. By attaching the concept of positive thinking to the homeless crisis the aim of the 5million club appears to be to tap into those Irish people, a sizeable minority, if not possibly the majority, who genuinely subscribe to the idea of positive thinking as a progressive strategy for improvement and change.
Positive thinking is seen by many Irish people as a corrective to Irish begrudgery, and is enthusiastically championed by people who genuinely wish to shuck off their inherited Irish pessimism.
The phrase “negative narrative” is essentially a mechanism, which could conceivably be attached to any number of issues, ensuring more or less the same outcomes, i.e. blame the victim for having created the problem.
This time it is homelessness, next time it may serve similar functions attached to some other issue. Such a phrase can imply, across the board, that all problems ultimately are a failure on the part of those with the problem to practise positive thinking.
But, might this be true? Would social conditions improve if everyone thought more positively?
Studies have shown that the concept of positive thinking is very similar to religions in the manner in which it promises positive returns for certain rituals and practises. It is for this reason that the belief system, which is essentially what it is, is often regarded as a cult. The system has garnered a host of critiques, mainly in the US, questioning its claims. It’s no accident either that President Trump is a big positive-thinking aficionado.
But Trump, like Fine Gael, often cynically uses the concept of positive thinking to deny uncomfortable truths, much as Fine Gael appear to have cynically used the concept to downplay the severity of the homelessness crisis.
But positive thinking, when allied to politics, has been described by some critics as “political gaslighting”. Kitty S Jones describes in the web blog, “Politics and Insights” how the Tories in 2015 used the concept of positive thinking to discredit jobseekers when George Osborne installed cognitive behaviour therapists in job centres to “support” people.
The insinuation being that the causes of unemployment are “psychological rather than socio-political” and that the jobseekers simply weren’t thinking right. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is designed specifically to modify so-called negative thinking. Still, there is a potential growth market in this, creating employment for cognitive therapists “fixing” poor people’s attitudes.
On top of the cynical use of the concept for political ends, an article in the New Yorker in 2014 by Adam Alter cited studies that appeared to demonstrate that even the concept of positive thinking was questionable as an effective agent for the improvement of anything.
“The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking” cites several studies that appear to show that positive thinking may actually be detrimental to positive outcomes, for reasons that are similar to talking up a plan so much that you’ve talked all the energy out and the thing never gets done.
One of the more popular and scathing books on the subject is Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” (Review here).
She takes issue with some of the main tenets of the belief system, the idea of shutting all “negative” people out of your life; the idea that the poor make themselves poor by not thinking “rich”; and that most cruel and disgusting idea, the notion that cancer sufferers create their own cancer through negative thinking.
All these questionable ideas from Positive Thinking are quite similar to Eileen Gleeson’s assertion that the homeless create their own homelessness through “bad behaviour”. Similarly, Damien English’s use of the phrase “negative narratives” seems also to be pitched in the spirit of positive thinking as a progressive cure-all.
It is likely that the Taoiseach’s 5million club have identified the popularity of positive thinking in Ireland – it could even be that the concept has filled the vacuum created by the decline in church participation – and have set out to cynically exploit the popularity of the belief system to deny the existence of homelessness.
In much the same way as the Trump administration use denial, often flagrantly, in the face of direct evidence to the contrary, in order to discredit all opposition and “equalise” irrationality with common sense perceptions. But the key strategy appears to be, in the Irish case, to hook into those in the middle ground who subscribe, with genuine good intentions, to the concept of positive thinking as a progressive tool for change.
Taken to absurdity, the concept could be invoked to claim that all political opposition is simply negative thinking in action. Maybe the government could install a team of cognitive behavioural therapists in the Dáil to try and modify the thinking of the left Alliance in order to arrive at a more agreeable political consensus.
Maybe instead of giving food and support to the homeless, which Eileen Gleeson suggests is a bad idea anyway, why not just give them copies of “The Secret”, and let them positive-vibe their way out of the hotels and off the streets?
This amalgam of right-wing religious type cultishness, based on a belief system that identifies a righteous elect and excluded defectives responsible for their own misery through “wrong thinking” is about as dangerous a mix of irrational bullshit as any government or ruling elite could possibly conceive of.
From top: Seetac/JobPath office in Cabra, Dublin; Eamonn Kelly
Last Monday, the Dáil debated the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill.
Arguing against the bill, which ‘provides for the publication of the names of people engaged in social welfare fraud’, Catherine Murphy of the Soc Dems addressed the case of a father of two referred to JobPath last year.
Eamonn Kelly writes:
Earlier this week in the Dáil, Catherine Murphy TD talked about JobPath and how a man was pressured by Seetec staff to attend sessions as part of the JobPath service.
But attendance at JobPath sessions conflicted with the times of genuine casual work the man already had, putting the job he already held in jeopardy.
The job was also being threatened, along with the reputation of the man, by Seetec staff contacting and badgering his employer to sign documents which would ensure that Seetec could claim the work the man already held, as being a ‘success’ for Seetec, for which the DSP would pay a commission once they received the documentation.
When the man, trying to protect the work he already had, refused to attend some of the sessions with Seetec, he was then pressured by Seetec staff in to to signing documents declaring he was present at the sessions he had not attended.
If he refused to sign the documents, Seetec would recommend to the DSP that the man’s already partial welfare payment be cut or stopped.
The man, realizing that he would be participating in a fraud by signing the documents, leaving himself open to prosecution, pointed this out, to which a Seetec staff member is reported to have said, “Don’t worry about it.”
The man was told that he had to sign the documents to ensure his welfare payment. The man signed the documents.
So here we have a clear case, cited in the Dáil, of Seetec staff using the threat of loss of payment for non-compliance with all requests they make, in order to pressure a Jobseeker into participating in a white-collar fraud.
A case that also shows Seetec staff interfering in a job already created, in order to claim it as their own and claim a commission. In doing so, directly threatening a job already in existence, while also revealing a jobseeker as a welfare dependent to an employer who may or may not find this acceptable.
In the case cited by Catherine Murphy the employer in question was sympathetic to the jobseeker. He also had become so fed up with being harassed by Seetec that he too signed forms which could then be used by Seetec to claim commissions from the DSP for a job they did not create, while also implicating the employer in the fraud.
The case was reported directly to the Taoiseach who described the incident as a ‘complaint’, and implied that it was an isolated incident. He then said that he couldn’t speak on individual cases and that it would be better to bring the matter up with the minister for social protection.
He cited the JobPath satisfaction survey, claiming that many people were ‘happy’ with JobPath, implying again that this particular ‘complaint’ was an isolated incident.
So, in the Dáil, a TD reported directly to the Taoiseach about abuse of powers by officials acting on behalf of the DSP, who were pressuring a Jobseeker into signing documents to support fraudulent claims and pressuring an employer to sign documents claiming that Seetec had created the job the employer had created, implicating both the employer and the Jobseeker in a fraud.
There has long been a suspicion that JobPath manufactures stats in order to prove its own worth and effectiveness, and here we have evidence of Seetec staff manufacturing false documentation to massage the stats to prove Seetec’s worth and effectiveness.
It’s fair then to question the actual job-creation results that they report, along with the satisfaction stats cited by the Taoiseach.
Were those figures manufactured too? Were they too acquired by threatening penalties for non-compliance?
Catherine Murphy’ suggests that the manner in which Seetec staff pressured the jobseeker into signing the documents, was routine. That they then pressured the employer to also sign documents to support their fraud, demonstrates an audaciousness that should be of concern.
The entire nature of the case cited by Catherine Murphy TD suggests that this is not just an isolated incident, or a ‘complaint’, but is the way JobPath is run.
The fact that JobPath is described as a service, and billed as such, must mean that it can be judged in terms of the type of service that it is delivering to the consumer.
Asking people under duress if they are ‘happy’ with the ‘service’ is not quite the same as assessing whether or not a service to the public is delivering what it claims to be delivering, or whether or not it is a service that is in any way damaging to the public.
A consumer and a private citizen being press-ganged into participating in a fraud can hardly be described as a very customer-friendly type of service.
In this regard, Catherine Murphy’s revelations have cast grave doubt on the value and credibility of the entire JobPath ‘service’.
From top: Leo Varadka at the Dublin Pride festival last month; Eamonn Kelly
After Enda Kenny became Taoiseach, the liberal left immediately launched into a social media campaign of ridicule and invective against him, using memes and comments and so on, and not holding back in the least in terms of insult.
In contrast, there has barely been a whisper of dissent against Varadkar.
It occurs to me that people may be afraid to criticise him for fear of their criticism being misconstrued as closet homophobia. (Either that or the liberal left are all for the right-wing Taoiseach).
I was accused of homophobia in a comment on one of the JobPath articles in Broadsheet. It took me a while to figure out where on Earth the person had drawn such a conclusion from, and I went over the text with the proverbial fine-tooth comb, but could find nothing incriminating.
Then I remembered that the Taoiseach was gay. I responded with something like, ‘Oh, I get it, the Taoiseach is gay, and I’m criticising him, so therefore…’
This response was then seized upon by a third party who said something like, ‘Thanks for reminding us of the Taoiseach’s sexuality. Makes me wonder what your agenda is…’
This is a classic lose-lose situation.
It seems that the election of a rabidly right-wing but forgiveably gay Taoiseach has had the effect of hoisting the liberal left by its own petard. I’m sure Fianna Fáil must be taking careful note of this puzzling turn of events.
Is RTE Lol-ing At Its Own Since opening our doors in 2003, has delivered thousands of web and digital experiences, across a multitude of website platforms alarge enough to offer HZZGJT.COM you the knowledge and expertise we’ve gained servicing the Corporate and http://hsexweek.org/ Government sectors, yet small enough to care. .
In today’s Irish Times Fr Peter McVerry takes the Taoiseach to task for implying that homelessness does not exist, that what we call homelessness is really only a kind of aspiration for better homes. That those who complain of homelessness are really saying that they’d like nicer places to live.
Here’s the quote from the Taoiseach that Peter McVerry angrily takes issue with:
“There are 90,000 people on the housing list but very many, if not most, have houses and apartments. However, these are houses and apartments that are being provided to them through rent supplement or the private rental sector and they want different houses or apartments that are more appropriate to their needs.
It is important to recall that, of those 90,000 on the housing list, the majority are in houses or apartments, just not the permanent homes they would like to have and which we would like them to have.” [Leader’s Questions, July 12, 2017]
So, according to the Taoiseach, the homeless have houses and apartments, but they are simply being fussy and want better ones.
And since he is the Taoiseach, and leader of the free world as we understand it here in this soggy corner of Europe, the Homeless Crisis has now been officially downgraded to the much more manageable Fussiness Crisis.
A crisis where taste is not, unfortunately, being matched by reality. Something a good bucket of paint and a joss-stick might solve. A problem that a simple shift in mental attitude might dispel.
Fr Peter McVerry’s article produces enough hard evidence and figures to show, just in case anyone was in any doubt, that we really do have a homeless crisis and not just a “Fussiness Crisis” as the Taoiseach appears to be suggesting.
The article includes a graphic incorporating figures from the central statistics office that clearly show there are 6,906 homeless people in Ireland, 73% of them in Dublin. According to the Taoiseach, and this now exists in the Dail records, “very many of these, if not most, have houses and apartments.”
Where I come from, this is called a bare-faced lie. But I come from a relatively humble working-class background and I’m maybe not sophisticated enough to tell the difference between a bare-faced lie and some complex housing/social policy thingy that someone like me might not be fully capable of grasping.
The Taoiseach’s suggestion that there is no homelessness also implies that rough-sleepers and kids living on fast food and crisps in hotel accommodations, as reported in the Irish Times yesterday, are only figments of the collective imagination, like some kind of mass delusionary experience.
The idea also appears to suggest that the work Fr Peter McVerry and people of his ilk have been doing all these years, against increasingly ambivalent odds, is also delusional in its assessment of the problems they are addressing every working day of their lives, and the political policies that appear to be creating these problems.
There was an old joke in working class Dublin to describe tough neighbourhoods. You’d say “They ate their young in that place!” This came to mind when I noticed yesterday’s census reports that 1 in 4 homeless people are under the age of 18, and that the largest homeless age group was children under 4 years of age.
People may soon be saying of Ireland. “Sure, they ate their young in that place.”
Writer Eamonn Kelly’s investigation of job activation schemes in Ireland prompted him to look at the prospect of another foreign import: prisons for profit.
I remarked in one of the JobPath articles that we here in Ireland enjoyed an advantage in being able to assess the effects of particular trends in Britain, with a two or three-year time lapse before they landed here.
The advantage of foresight we enjoy by looking at developments in social policy in the United States can be counted in the decades.
A story that recently emerged from New Mexico contains a salutary warning for us here in Ireland in our current blind rush into the privatization of public services.
Last week, an article about a US detention services provider called CoreCivic, (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the second largest private prison operator in the United States, described how the company found itself short of prisoners at one its facilities in Torrance County, New Mexico, after legislative reforms began to dry up the supply of convicts coming on stream.
The company were demanding that the government come up with 300 prisoners within 60 days, or it would close the facility, resulting in 200 job losses.
The company, which has been providing prison services in the area for almost 30 years, and which has been repeatedly sued for various offences, including “sexual harassment, sexual assault, deaths, use of force, physical assaults, medical care injuries and civil rights violations,” is now essentially holding the government to ransom to provide prisoners for its private prison system.
While looking into that story, I came across this article from France, that more than concurs with the thrust of my suspicions concerning the puzzling “criminal” question that was put to Irish Jobseekers in November 2015, as reported in the Irish Sun. (I know, not exactly the paper of “record”).
“More than a third of prisons in France are partly run by private companies. The trend towards privatizing the prison system, which began three decades ago, is gaining in momentum.
A handful of companies are capitalizing on this very lucrative market, providing services that include catering, receiving visitors, building detention facilities and organizing prison labour…”
The French, as the article shows, currently pay almost €6 billion a year to private contractors for such services.
Both Working links and Seetec have strong backgrounds in detention services, through contracts with Sodexo Justice Services, which provides prison services around the world, including the 34 French prisons mentioned in the article quoted.
Rehabilitation services was the main business of both companies awarded the JobPath contracts in Ireland, which may explain the tone and attitude of the JobPath service, where unemployed people are treated as “guilty” of being unemployed and in need of rehabilitation, in an atmosphere with more than a whiff of incarceration about it.
With all the signing in and out, the policing of time, the questioning of character and integrity, the deliberate parole officer style relationship, it is as if the main thrust of the JobPath model is in grooming Jobseekers into becoming accustomed to prison-like protocols.
This is not quite the “training” that many people might regard as being conducive to the development of grassroots entrepreneurial zeal.
An entrepreneurial spirit that might, if it were cultivated and invested in, help lift the economy with local enterprise, rather than us always having to depend solely on the Big Apple’s of the world to hire us as poor, hapless economic eejits.
Instead, we fund a system apparently deliberately designed to destroy self-motivation and personal initiative, in order to create people in need of “help” and “rehabilitation”, who can then be serviced by private corporate interests in exchange for public funds collected and set aside by the community for the provision of social protection.
The model is a kind of economic vampirism, and may, for you lit students out there, cast some light on the sudden popularity of vampires in recent decades that, as far as I can tell, appears to have originated in the US.
Could be a decent subject for a thesis: is there a relationship between the trajectory of blue-collar wage cuts and the rise in popularity of vampire fiction?
In New Mexico, a spoksperson for CoreCivic said,
“The city of Estancia and the surrounding community have been a great partner to CoreCivic for the last 27 years . . . a declining detainee population in general has forced us to make difficult decisions in order to maximize utilization of our resources.”
That quote encapsulates an aspect of the approach I remarked upon in Part Four of my JobPath series: the gaining of public approval for the private company’s operations.
Here the community are described as a “great partner” in the system. The other part of the concept, gaining the “agreement” of the subjects to participate in the system, in the case of JobPath this was acquired by coercion, as shown in Part 5 in the series, has long since evolved in the US system into simple management of prison populations, with stringent Federal legislation, such as the three strikes law, providing plenty of raw material to the private prisons system.
Ironically, it was as a result of reforms in the justice system in the Obama era, that the supply of “raw material” to the private prisons began to dry up, leaving the private company in New Mexico having to make “difficult decisions” to ensure its own economic survival.
Difficult decisions like, blackmailing Torrance County to provide them with more prisoners, threatening job losses for failure to comply.
Journalist Steven Rosenfeld writes,
“This is a perfect snapshot of what’s upside-down with privatization: the lack of economic opportunities and politicians who genuflect at providing jobs, regardless of the larger social implications, pushing law enforcement into the dirty business of ramping up arrests and convictions so private firms and shareholders can make more money.”
The town of Estancia, New Mexico, now finds itself in a dilemma. If it does not come up with 300 fresh prisoners for the private company, the company will close the facility as unprofitable.
If this happens, the town will lose 200 jobs and an estimated $700,000 annually in commerce, while the surrounding Torrance County would lose $300,000 dollars in tax revenues, and will also be left with the problem of accommodating the 700 Federal prisoners that the private facility currently caters for.
Torrance County, New Mexico, desperately needs an “investment” of 300 fresh prisoners.
Writer and activist Eamonn Kelly this week concluded an investigation into job activation schemes in Ireland.
Many thought he lacked positivity..
I noticed that one of the criticisms leveled at my articles about JobPath was that they were “negative”.I’m aware that there is a view that negative thinking is destructive of “good” ideas, to the extent that some overly-enthusiastic positive-thinkers appear to believe that negative thinking needs to be stamped out in the name of progress.
The concept of positivity is one that is held dear by Irish people who regard themselves as “progressive”, and is a common badge of honour sported among the artistic elite in Ireland, and often regarded as a necessary antidote – or even as a challenge to – traditional Irish “begrudgery”.
The underlying assumption being that begrudgery and negative thinking are the same thing. Which they’re not. One is destructive envy; while the other, critical thinking, seeks ultimately to be constructive.
There is a strain of positive thinking abroad in Ireland that originated in the US, and it is not as wholesome as its smiling presentation might suggest. If this were a self-help manual we might dub this particular strain of positivity as Toxic Positivity.
The US journalist Barbara Ehrenreich wrote two books on this type of positivity: “Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World.” and “Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America.” Their titles alone shed light on the problem inherent in certain basic assumptions concerning positive thinking.
Ehrenreich shows how positive thinking has its roots in corporate America, where it mingled with US-style Christianity, to produce a strain of delusion that leaves people believing they can think themselves rich by smiling and adopting a positive mental outlook.
The downside to this idea of course, is that you can also “fail” to think yourself rich, by falling into negative thinking, a kind of Corporate original sin that causes not only poverty, but also cancer and brain tumours and all the other awful maladies that life can throw at people.
This idea, that people are architects of their own misfortune through “wrong” thinking, is a very convenient fiction for the various power entities that rule the world.
At its most cynical, and even darkly comical, a corporate spokesperson might claim that people who were say, poisoned by arsenic in the sugar brekkies, have only themselves to blame for not thinking “correctly”. (The spokesperson might be right. They should be eating natural oats.)
The concept is genius really, because it also contains an in-built guilt system that gnaws away at some unfortunate people who may truly believe that if they had thought more happy thoughts, in a more consistent manner, that their lives mightn’t have turned out to be quite so miserable.
But the basic, wildly magical assumption that you can think yourself rich, and that you can think the world into being a better place, by affecting constant contentment, is a travesty of the knowledge that imagination, perhaps more than any other human trait, has the power to shape reality.
Such a power is of course dangerous to certain entrenched powers.
The toxic positive thinking model, appears to deliberately set out to destroy these “dangerous” imaginative and creative attributes, offering a more childish positivity, one that results in the creation of good and obedient workers who smile and smile and smile, toiling away in non-union working environments, suffering decreasing wages year on year, and longer working lives and decreasing pension benefits.
But they smile on, smiling as big as they can, in the vain hope that their forced positive mental attitude will somehow change the awful world their corporate masters are imposing on them.
This kind of positivity has been sold so effectively that it is now almost a religion, and one of its mortal sins is, you’ve guessed it, negative thinking. Once an attribute is considered a type of “sin”, it really needs to be watched closely, particularly in Ireland, simply because we were so deeply indoctrinated by the Church over so many generations that we’re likely to be a little over-sensitive to things like sins and sinners and judgements and commandments and so on.
This is perhaps why it has been so easy to convince the public that the unemployed are economic sinners deserving of being penalized by the JobPath system.
Given the prevailing unquestioning acceptance that positive thinking is a social “good”, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine a scenario where a law might be passed designed to reprimand people for expressing negative opinions, on the grounds that such opinions might be undermining a perceived national or regional success story.
Orwell anticipated this in “1984”, and called it “thoughtcrime”. The political intention of the authority in “1984” was to destroy opposition at source by destroying imagination.
The strategy was to simplify and reduce language, destroying its richness and its complexity, reducing concepts to one-word or one-phrase simplicities, depriving the imagination of the tools to think.
From top: JobPath offices in Cabra, Dublin 7; Eamonn Kelly
Eamonn Kelly completes his investigation of employment activation schemes in Ireland.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.