From top: JobPath was implemented, where Jobseekers were deceived by the DEASP into entering into agreements with private companies that stood to profit from the deception, argues Eamonn Kelly
We now know from the taoiseach’s apology concerning the CerviclCheck scandal that state instituions are capable of deceit; which, as Audrey Carville pointed out to Simon Harris on Morning Ireland on October 23rd, implies intent.
In light of this revelation it might be an idea to have a fresh look at the manner in which JobPath was implemented, where Jobseekers were deceived by the DEASP into entering into agreements with private companies that stood to profit from the deception.
Far Right Drifting
The JobPath agreement, known as a Personal Progression Plan, is essentially a contract between the individual and the private company, where the individual “chooses” to enlist the “assistance” of the private company in helping them to find work. A bit like hiring a life coach.
The problem for the DEASP lay in how to get people to willingly enter into these agreements, while also ensuring a healthy take-up of JobPath. If choice was left wide open, the Jobseekers might simply wander off and leave JobPath empty. The solution was to deceive the jobseekers into entering into contracts with the private companies.
The first, and perhaps the biggest and most crucial deception, was orchestrated by the then minister for Social Protection and now Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in the form of the now infamous “welfare cheats” campaign.
This deception was designed to deceive the wider public into turning a blind eye to the later deceptions planned for Jobseekers.
To their shame, in the centenary year of this declared republic of equals, the wider public went for it, including the mainstream media and the unemployed centres, (the Irish Times being a particular disappointment, becoming the Guardian’s ugly sister.)
All were more than happy to vilify a targeted social minority as “cheats”, deserving of every deception pulled on them. In fairness though to the unemployed centres, they are mainly staffed by CE schemes overseen by the DEASP, and subject to Stasi-like spot-checks. Nevertheless, if your main reason for being is speaking on behalf of Jobseekers, the decision to remain silent on JobPath was cowardly.
Rules can be made flexible and broken so long as no one cares about a minority group. And if that is the case for one group it can easily be the case for any group.
That’s why the manner in which JobPath was implemented should be of concern to everyone.
Because while it was okay with the wider community for the DEASP to share Jobseeker’s data with all and sundry – jobseekers being perceived as “cheats” and second-class citizens – the wider community woke up when the DEASP attempted to do the same with everyone’s data.
To deceive the jobseekers into signing the contracts/agreements, the main emphasis was on the careful replacement of key words in the social welfare literature; supplemented by direct threat, or coercion, overseen by a government party that aligns with Europe’s far right.
This alignment by Fine Gael with Europe’s far right was demonstrated in the recent vote in the European parliament on life-boat services in the Mediterranean.
The resolution lost by two votes, with Fine Gael giving four votes to the far right. While Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan said there was no racism or malice in the Fine Gael position, there must come a time when a party decides on how far right it might go.
In this instance, Fine Gael went all the way to the far right. Their excuse? The laughably apt [or deeply cynical?] “concerns” about data sharing.
The official letters designed to draw Jobseekers into Seetec/Turas Nua offices, in what was really an entrapment, are termed “invitations”.
They open with good news tidings that the “lucky” recipient had been awarded a private sector personal advisor; and close with a threat of allowance cuts for “non-compliance”.
This schizoid approach of happy days and thwart me if you dare characterises the entire JobPath experience.The threats, tossed out so casually by comfortable public servants, are really, given today’s realities unthinking threats to poverty and potential homelessness, and are certainly understood in those terms by those at the receiving end of them, whose anxiety often evokes mockery in those delivering the threats.
The word “contract” was replaced by the word “agreement”, presumably to set the agreement between the jobseeker and the private companies beyond the remit of contract law. JobPath itself was carefully termed not a “programme” or a “scheme”, but a “service”.
Though it is unlikely that this particular service would be affording anyone consumer protections. This renaming also appeared to put the “service” outside the description of schemes in the Social Welfare Acts where a “scheme” must be appropriate to a person’s skills and education level, and can be refused by the jobseeker with “good cause”.
The concept of refusal with “good cause” itself is referred to in official letters and JobPath publicity and seems to refer to that clause in the Social Welfare Act where a person may refuse schemes, courses, programmes etc (but not “services”, because that word doesn’t appear in the clause), that are not “appropriate having regard to the education, training and development needs of that person and his or her personal circumstances…”
I asked two officials of the local DEASP office and an official from the JobPath office in Dublin as to what constitutes good cause for refusal. The question was evaded on the grounds that JobPath is a “service”.
The clearest straight answer I received, which was endorsed by the JobPath office in Dublin, was that good cause for refusal would come into play if the Jobseeker moved to another payment. Which is as good as saying that good cause for refusal doesn’t apply to JobPath.
Yet, reference to the concept of good cause for refusal appears in all official correspondence and publicity materials related to JobPath, like some kind of legal aside or safeguard.
If good cause for refusal does apply to JobPath, as it must, either that or it’s a decoration on the official literature, the best good cause to offer might be that you were misled into an agreement with a private company that stands to profit from the arrangement.
But the DEASP acknowledging this reason as good cause for refusal of JobPath might have the effect of making all agreements between jobseekers and the private companies void. So therefore, the concept of good cause for refusal can’t be allowed to exist, even though it must exist, to keep everything above board, kind of.
Good cause for refusal is one of those elusive mysteries on a par with Catch-22 and the Holy Trinity.
Equal at Last
The private companies Seetec/Turas Nua (Working Links), who are contracted and rewarded by the DEASP, are products of Tory attacks on the NHS since the 1980s; both companies making their money from Tory efforts to roll back the British welfare state; and both companies the subject of fraud investigations at one time or another in the UK.
Both companies, in a very real sense, are products of the Britain that resulted in Brexit. It may even be that Brexit itself came about as a result of a Tory desire to extricate Britain from troublesome EU human rights laws that were tying their hands in the war on the NHS.
While there is a certain pride afoot that Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson got on so well in the Brexit negotiations, with our man standing as an equal at last with a British Prime Minister, the reality is that, in terms of neo-liberal ideology, both are essentially on the same team.
Varadkar wages his war on the Irish poor – 10,000 homeless is more than sufficient evidence, even for the totally blind – as Johnson’s Tory party wages war on the British poor. Both have even hired some of the same companies to do the dirty work: Seetec/Turas Nua (Working Links.)
And that, in the end, may be the true meaning of JobPath. The subtle changing of politics from familiar class and nationalistic divisions, to what are being called exclusionary economics: the identification and smearing, as a prelude to loss of liberty, of groups deemed “unaffordable” to society. It is the economic method by which the United States fills its private prisons with non-white people, creating, in the process, legalised slavery.
Among the people swept up in the JobPath “service”, were the grassroots arts community, who virtually redundant due to savage cuts in arts funding. T
hey joined teachers and other professionals, all of whom were subject to a revising of their skills, training and achievements in light of austere economic “realities”, identified by the private activation companies, which would necessitate down-skilling to make former professionals more placeable in low grade employments, with the private companies profiting from the projected placements.
A great enforced dumbing down was in operation, sanctioned by the state, and delivered by public service officials in the DEASP, and private sector individuals in the employ of the private companies, in an often spiteful, amused and scornful manner.
For those of us from the arts community, particularly those with a public profile, it seemed as if Irish begrudgery itself had been licensed to express itself through state instituions.
The system is such that the government is effectively placing unqualified persons into the heart of the artists’ creative process with the intention, apparently, of convincing the artist that art is a nonsense.
We can argue forever, which is probably the idea, as to whether a thing is a service or a scheme, or a contract or an agreement, and so on. But the bottom line is: is it okay for a state department in an EU country, signed up to EU and UN human rights protocols, to deliberately intimidate, mislead and deceive its citizenry into entering into contracts/agreements with private companies; agreements that benefit the private companies, irrespective of results, to the cost of the citizenry? Those costs to the taxpayer in paying the private companies via the DEASP; and to the jobseekers in forfeiting their skills and educational status.
Besides, changing the names of things to trick people into signing themselves over to the private sector as commodities, doesn’t really meet the stated aim of social protection, by any stretch; unless, I guess, you see yourself as protecting society from jobseekers, which is pretty much how the welfare cheats campaign was pitched and was so gleefully received by so many.
On October 16th 2019, the Irish Examiner ran a story about the DEASP’s delay in responding to the data protection commissioner, concerning a request by the commissioner for “certain information” about the National Childcare Scheme and the Public Services Card.
The Examiner article described the department as something of an “outlier” in its determination to defy the data commissioner’s findings, unlike other state departments which had complied. The word “outlier” describes a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system to which it supposedly belongs. Synonyms for the word include the words “aberration”; “deviation”; “irregularity” and “anomaly”.
The DEASP’s attempts to roll out the Public Services card to the wider community, and the minister’s arrogant rejection of the data commissioners findings, may be signs of a state institution that has gotten used to pushing poor people around and now wants to try its luck on pushing around everyone else. But the data commissioner is neither cowering nor saluting. Not like those unemployed people who are almost 100% pleasingly quiet and obedient, as people should be in the estimation of the DEASP.
In February 2019 the Dáil voted 2 to I in favour of ending referrals to JobPath. In September 2019 the DEASP over-ruled this democratic decision and extended JobPath for another 12 months, or possibly two years, they haven’t decided for us yet. All hail the DEASP!
The taoiseach said that this extension of JobPath was a safeguard in case of labour problems related to Brexit. JobPath however has only a 6-7% success rate [supporters put the success rate as high as 15%, which isn’t high at all, but it’s the best biggish figure they can wring out of the statistics.] JobPath would hardly be the place to turn, to dig your way out of an employment blackspot.
JobPath has been such a dismal failure that the same people have been referred to it up to three or four times in less than four years, with the same results, with the DEASP paying Seetec/Turas Nua millions in taxpayers money to do it all over again, and again, and again; like that comical description of insanity, of doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result.
So, why not extend it for another year or two, or twenty? If you’re going to be insane, let it all hang out.
For the subjects of this grand social experiment in making people feel like losers and paying foreign companies to deliver the insults, the sense is of being part of a minority targeted by the state and reviled by the general public, courtesy of the prejudices smilingly unleashed by the welfare cheats campaign and now cherished in the hearts of many a low-paid worker delighted to have someone to kick.
Which was probably the idea in the first place. It’s not a new idea, but there is no doubting the ugly effectiveness of playing to the lowest common denominator.
In another Ireland long ago the orphanages and the Magdalene homes were also considered just fine with most people; a fitting and deserved place for the discarded “sinners” of that Ireland.
JobPath similarly discards the economic “sinners” of austerity Ireland, and among their number are teachers and artists, being actively de-skilled in the faint hope of placing them in the service and hospitality sectors, so that the private companies Seetec/Turas Nua might somehow turn a profit from their deskilling.
At a 6% success rate this is just deskilling to no purpose, and that is precisely where JobPath is ruthlessly and pointlessly destructive of people and culture in order to profit two foreign private companies with dodgy resumés.
To put it starkly, Seetec/Turas Nua are currently profiting from the destruction of Ireland’s grassroots arts community. And they have been given an extension by a state department, itself on some kind of authoritarian solo run, to continue with their work.
The “service” JobPath provides is, in a sense, similar to that old sci-fi movie, Soylent Green, where people are feeding off other people. [That was a spoiler btw, but the movie is 50 years old.]
When are we going to get wise and simply introduce some form of basic income and cut out all this “policing” and punishment of people for being idle in a world that creates idle people?
H.G. Wells once saw that as progress and opportunity; the creation and cultivation of leisure. Now we create jobs for the sake of it, even paying public money to employers to hire people they don’t need, and have them standing around killing time for appearances sake.
Basic income for all. It’s really simple. Quit marking and punishing “sinners” and start supporting people. History has already shown where the far right road eventually leads when it comes to smearing and alienating social minorities.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.
Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet