UK – Government’s Work Programme exposed by the BBC as a £5 billion scam

panoramaIn the BBC documentary, ‘Panorama: The Great Disability Scam?’, the government’s Work Programme which is supposed to help disabled and chronically ill people prepare for work, was exposed as nothing more than a private money-making scam.

The people placed on the scheme have been deemed to be able to perform some kind of work after being assessed by ATOS under the ‘Work Capability Assessment’ criteria, which has also been severely criticised (see out post  ‘WELFARE – Government welfare reforms KILLING people – a whistle blower speaks out’).

Many of the people assessed by ATOS have severe disabilities, severe learning disabilities, or severe mental health problems which mean they are unable to work. Yet they have been required to take part in the ‘Work Programme’ to ensure they continue to receive state benefits, with little or no chance of finding employment.

The government has appointed several private companies as providers of the ‘Work Programme’ around the UK. Nearly all of these private companies have been involved in controversy concerning the way they present the programme, how they manage statistics to ensure payment, and the way people on their programmes are treated.

There are 18 main providers of the ‘Work Programme’ in the UK, all are given referral fees and financial incentives for placing people in employment.

Referral fees are £400 for each person, or £600 for those considered hard to place, such as people with disabilities and long-term health problems.

If a person gains employment while on the scheme and stays in employment for 6 months, the company gets a further £1200 or £3500 for hard to place people.

If the person stays in employment for 2 years, the company receives a bonus payments of £5000, or £9600 for hard to place people.

Out of the 68,000 people referred to companies from the hard to place group, only 1000 of them found work lasting 3 months or more.

In the BBC documentary, one company in particular came under scrutiny. Triage provides the ‘Work Programme’ in the north-east of England and southern Scotland.

A former of employee of Triage told the BBC that the company would spend as little time as possible on people who were considered too difficult to place, and the company used a practice known as ‘parking’ which meant that hard to place people would be kept on the company’s books and would receive telephone calls every so often to maintain contact.

The employee also revealed how staff referred to the people they were supposed to be helping as ‘lying, thieving, bastards’, or the acronym ‘LTB’.

According to the Triage website

By treating everyone as an individual and respecting their needs – throughout the journey towards employment – Triage has achieved one the highest success rates in the country and has gained a place at the forefront of the Government’s Welfare to Work Agenda.”

In repose to the allegations made in the documentary, Triage said

It is standard practice, particularly for those clients that are sick or who have otherwise been unable to attend, to telephone them to check on their progress and maintain contact. Triage’s delivery structure of the Work Programme does not allow for ‘parking’.

“The compliance requirements of the programme demand a frequency of contact and this together with our own commitment to excellence and meeting client needs means that ‘parking’ is not an option.”

Triage commented on the term ‘LBT’ by stating that the original meaning was ‘long-term benefit’ and said that it did not endorse or condone the use of the alternative meaning.

Other private companies in the ‘Work Programme’ have also come under severe criticism, and have been accused of manipulating statistics and failing to provide proper help for people on long-term benefits.

A4E, one of the largest providers, has been accused of presenting misleading figures which showed the company getting more people back to work than they really had.

Another large provider, Avanta, has been placing job seekers in unpaid positions cleaning homes and offices. Avanta claimed the job seekers were ‘shadowing’ employees of the cleaning companies, but job seekers insist they were made to work.

Any initiative that provides services to the disabled and long-term sick has to be both realistic, and appreciate the difficulties these people face every day. Treating them as financial fodder does nothing more than make private companies money.

When the government decided to place financial value on the ill and disabled, they immediately created a market – an economic system which companies will use to make profit.

An essential part of what we could consider to be the welfare system has been has been given out to companies who promise a lot but deliver little.

The £5 billion the government has spent on these ill-thought out contracts would have been better spent on charities and other organisations that deal directly with those affected by disability and long-term illness. At least then, there would be a realistic understanding of the person’s needs and abilities, instead of some private employee who has little interest other than appeasing their bosses, or companies where the only interest is meeting ‘targets’ to get paid.

The human factor in this mess is lost, and those who are already experiencing extreme stress and stigmatisation are picked on even more as easy-targets by the government.

You can view the Panorama programme on the BBC iPlayer, or find out when it is next scheduled to be broadcast on the BBC website.

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