It is not often that I am left speechless, but when the producers of a BBC Panorama programme (broadcast 28 January 2013) invited me in to view some of the footage they had shot of people's experience of the government's Work Programme I was left stunned and shocked.
I was already familiar with most of the issues and criticisms raised by Panorama. Because of the work of my select committee I was aware of how the financial model of the Work Programme was meant to work. In our report published in May 2011 on the Work Programme providers and contracting arrangements we had warned there was a danger that the companies delivering the Work Programme would "cream and park" or "cherry pick." This is where a work provider only spends time and resources on those easiest to help while doing the minimum for those furthest from the labour market and with the greatest barriers to work. Panorama confirmed that this was indeed happening.
Almost two years on from our first report on the Work Programme, the select committee has returned to the subject to see how it is working for the people it was meant to help. We have called for evidence of the experience of different user groups. I had therefore heard similar stories to those featured in Panorama, some who had found work and were grateful for the help, and others whose experience was totally negative. As a constituency MP I have also had constituents ask to be transferred from the Work Programme provider they had been allocated to because they didn't think they were getting enough help in finding suitable work. Providers have complained too. They have felt that because of the failings of the Work Capability Assessment, the 'test' for those with a disability or suffering ill health, they were being sent clients who were too ill or too disabled to work and shouldn't have been referred in the first place.
However, what I wasn't prepared for was the contribution from an ex-employee of a company called Triage, one of the two providers delivering the Work Programme in my own constituency in Aberdeen. She said that claimants who had been referred to the company for help were called LTBs. LTB is an acronym use to describe Long Term Benefit claimants. My shock came when the ex-employee said that in the office where she worked the staff called the people who had come for help, "Lying Thieving Bastards."
The shock is clear from my face. I was stunned to think that anyone would be so unprofessional, so uncaring, so rude about the people they were meant to be supporting into work. I hope that this is just one office, just one isolated incident. If it is not, then the Work Programme has even more problems than I had thought.