THE BLOG

Taxpayers, Shareholders and the Employability Gravy Train

23/09/2013 11:03 BST | Updated 21/11/2013 10:12 GMT

A hard day's work for a hard day's pay is undoubtedly the mantra of the working majority and regardless of the nature of the objects of your desire; it is great and satisfying to be able to pay for something with your own hard earned cash. For years we have been told that society protects and has a duty to protect those unable to work due to sickness or disability as it is the right and the just thing to do. That tide has well and truly turned with the coalition at the helm of the controversial welfare reform drive, one could be forgiven for thinking that vilification of the disabled is top of the cabinet's agenda.

A number of 'get to work' programmes have sprung up, focussed on finding any type of work for disabled people to carry out regardless of their needs, wants, skills and aspirations. Years ago, money was thrown at employability and there was a range of grant schemes available for those moving from benefits to work for help with new clothing, travel expenses, bridging grants and money for tools etc. but these have been chipped away at considerably and the nasty connotations with the word 'grant' have all but destroyed the good these schemes were supposed to do.

Companies fight over the right to deliver employability services and create and deliver support and service packages supposedly to ensure the taxpayer gets value for money. With a number of suppliers having come under fire for fraud, mismanagement and inefficiency; the privatised, over-zealous commercialisation of the process looks a lot less like the promised good value for money. In April 2012 the Telegraph revealed that in addition to the allegations for fraud against welfare-to-work provider A4e's Emma Harrison who paid herself £8.6million in dividends in one year, 114 other allegations of fraud have been made against welfare-to-work providers, the full details of which have not been revealed due to 'confidentiality' concerns.

Pounds signs are attached to every work item and every conceivable scenario and claimant interaction is costed to the penny, making it very easy and good commercial sense for the contracted corporate entities to 'cherry pick' the less complex and more lucrative cases which will enable them to hit target with the least energy expended as possible. The involvement of private entities in the delivery and management of public services is nothing new but the sheer scale of the work contracted and the absence of real safeguards and suitably sufficient penalties when things go wrong, makes this current situation unique. If private companies want to turn a profit delivering public services and take the praise when things go right; they should be expected to pay for their mistakes and stand by the service they have been contracted to deliver when things go wrong.

Although not directly related to welfare-to-work or employability, Atos Healthcare was paid £112.4 million in 2011/12 to carry out WCA assessments with the appeal tribunal bill of nearly £500 million being picked up by the taxpayer. Under the WCA process, Atos review completed forms and evidence sent by ESA claimants and either submit a report about the claimant's fitness to work based on the provided information or arrange and carry out a 'medical' assessment of the claimant to examine their capability to work before writing and submitting a report to the DWP. When things go wrong and a tribunal allows an appeal against a WCA decision, there is no penalty applied and thus no financial consequences for Atos, it is a win-win situation.

I am not anti-privatisation; I am simply against creating a taxpayer funded cash cow for businesses to exploit much to the delight of their shareholders. I think it is about time we restored balance and overhauled the entire welfare system, starting by demanding more from those businesses keen to jump on the taxpayer gravy train.