The Government Chosen By This Country – Destroying This Country

Posted: February 19, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Over the past few days, weeks and months, there have been some incredibly insensitive, badly-thought-out and quite simply crass attempts by this Government (led by Conservatives, but aided and abetted by the Lib Dems) to change the whole fabric of this country to suit a few rich people in Whitehall and London’s business district. Most recently is the furore over the NHS reforms that virtually nobody in this country wants, nobody asked for and which will be steamrollered in by Cameron by any means necessary. Then there’s the welfare reforms that will lead to millions of genuinely disabled and ill people being forced to take up voluntary work of indeterminate length or risk losing their benefits. Then there’s the housing reforms that will lead to massive upheaval in many thousands of families throughout the country as the Welfare Office looks to reduce its bill without actually tackling any of the root causes of the rising bill. The list goes on and on.

I’ll start with the welfare reforms. Emma Harrison, major shareholder in A4e (formerly Action For Employment) was recently awarded a bonus by her board of almost £9m, depending on which source you read. A4e is one of the Government’s contracted private companies that provides help to people looking to get back into work, and ran the DWP’s Work Programme including schemes such as the New Deal scheme, and participates in the Government’s Workfare scheme. A4e have been involved in a number of damaging cases during its time as one of the DWP’s contracted suppliers, including in 2009 when it was investigated over accusations of fraud and in 2011 when it was forced to stop sanctioning jobseekers who requested representation when dealing with A4e (whilst also being admonished over the behaviour of some of its staff who allegedy told lies in order to impose sanctions on its clients.

Now, the company is tasked with helping people back into work by providing training, education and polishing other work-related skills – as well as helping to find employers who are looking for new workers. The fact is that it is most likely failing at this task. Most recent figures quoted to the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) responsible for ensuring best value in contract dealings suggest that A4e was delivering a 9% rate of people finding work through its programmes, whereas A4e claim a 24.2% rate. Both way below the 30% target set by the DWP when awarding the contract to A4e. So why is Harrison able to claim a near-£9m bonus? Isn’t that rewarding failure, the very thing the Government said they did not want to do when they “tackled” the issue of banker bonuses? Now, A4e is a private company and as such is entitled to pay its staff whatever it likes, but it is using taxpayer’s money to do so. This is what the PAC is designed to investigate. Hopefully it will recommend that this company is not awarded any future contracts because of its lack of financial benefit to the country. But there’s a sticking point – the DWP cannot take past performance into account when awarding contracts. So we’re stuck with this useless bunch.

Anyway, onto part two of welfare reforms – the housing benefit reforms. Under the Localism Act, due to come into force this spring, councils will be granted the power to place people on housing lists into private accommodation – not necessarily in the area covered by that council. Croydon Council is already looking to rent private housing in Hull. Now, last I checked, Hull and Croydon aren’t exactly near neighbours of each other. People who apply for housing in Croydon should reasonably expect to be housed in Croydon or maybe another local borough if there isn’t enough housing within the borough. Forcing people to move to Hull because of a cost-saving drive is madness, and another example of the Government wanting to purge poor people from London and its surrounding areas. All just in time for the Olympics, the cynic in me notes.

The problem I have with the housing situation is that it is a problem almost entirely of the Government’s making. It was Thatcher’s administration who pioneered the “right to buy” scheme that allowed people to buy properties at less than half market value, and then did not allow councils to use the money brought in to replenish the lost housing stock. So we have a vast shortage of council-owned housing. We also have social housing companies, some charities, others private companies, that rent out social housing – but the Government pays out with virtually no return on this type of housing. In a council house, the council has to pay nothing other than maintenance on the houses it owns. No rent going out, because it owns the property. In non-council housing, the councils and the Government are having to pay out exceptionally large sums of money in local housing allowance to what are private landlords. In a council house, when someone returns to work they pay the council rent on their house. In social housing, the rent goes to the housing association. No money finds its way back to the council. This is insane. And we are told by Grant Shapps that it’s effectively our own fault for having the temerity to need to claim benefits. His claim is that “We need welfare reform to tackle Labour’s budget deficit, and a series of measures to tackle that soaring benefits bill”. It is clear that the Government’s intention is not to try to tackle the problem at root, by looking to increase employment levels – its intention is simply to put a sticking plaster on the problem and hope it goes away by itself, whilst also making those who have to claim feel like criminals for doing so.

It also introduces another problem. The effect of pushing unemployed people into areas where unemployment is already above national average is economic suicide for those areas. And possibly literal suicide for some of those who live in those areas. Another bright idea from the Government Of Thinking Things Through.

Finally (well, not finally, but finally for this blog piece), we have the NHS reforms. Andrew Lansley, a man with solid links to private healthcare providers, has drawn up a plan that requires GPs to use private healthcare providers where possible as he claims it will save money and increase quality of service. So absolutely no conflict of interest whatsoever there, is there Andrew? Bizarrely, David Cameron seems to be entirely blinkered to the fact that most people inside and outside the NHS do not want the reforms he is pushing. He seems to think that everyone is backing it, and those who are criticising it just don’t understand it. There is a round-table meeting organised this week, for Cameron to put his views across to healthcare organisations and unions about how he sees the reforms working. Only he seems to have forgotten to invite the people who criticise his plans the most. It’s a whitewash attempt, so he can come out of the meeting with many positive soundbites and he’ll be hoping nobody notices that none of the critics of the bill were there. Unfortunately for Dave, everyone has already noticed.

So we have a Government that is driven purely by ideology and by profit, and by the need to keep their paymasters happy. Is that really the way we want our country run? To paraphrase one of the Labour soundbites from the last election, There Must Be A Better Way. Now I’m not saying Labour provide that better way, what I am saying is this country needs a wholesale reform – not of the welfare system, or of the NHS, or of education – but of the political system. For too long, cronies have been parachuted into cushy seats and funded by conglomerates. For too long, our politicians have been too cosy with the media. For too long, our Governments have acted not in the best interests of the country, but in the best interests of themselves.

There MUST be a better way.

  1. Sila Collins-Walden says:

    Force an election now!!!

  2. Peter Lawless says:

    Well presented article !

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