Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The State Of Welfare

It's all starting to look like a bit of a shambles, really. The welfare reforms that the coalition government has tried to fast-track through government and into law have loudly run into brick walls. The Welfare Reform Bill has time and again, been turned away at its Lord's reading over concerns that it will leave our most vulnerable citizens at risk.
For charities, David Cameron's Work Programme, the training scheme that is supposed to solve our unemployment problems, is even more of a bust. The idea is to get charities more involved in helping "hard-to-reach" people like single parents and the disabled back into jobs. In fact, their expertise in working with the sector was deemed to be vital to the success of the programme.
Seven months in and the wheels are already coming off. According to surveys published by two third sector umbrella groups, confidence in the Work Programme is in the dumpster. Charities fear that the private companies with which they are partnered aren't referring clients their way. Worse, that they're skimming off the cream and simply handing over the toughest and most intractable cases to their charitable brethren.
In desperation, some charities have pulled out of the scheme altogether, worried about bankruptcy as the money they were promised to do their job refuses to materialise. At a recent meeting between the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and employment minister Chris Grayling, Joe Irvin said:
"We all support efforts to help unemployed people get back to work. But the public needs to be assured that some of the big private providers in the Work Programme are not either profiteering, or letting down unemployed people, by failing to make proper arrangements with the local voluntary organisations who want to help people back to work."
Grayling's blithe response to this, "Inevitably in a big programme of this kind not every single organisation will succeed," tells you everything you need to know about the blinkered approach that the government has taken. None of which should be a big surprise. The changes to our welfare state have been massive, wide-ranging and criminally rushed.
The widespread opposition to these changes shows that the government just isn't getting the balance right. As the list of humiliating defeats to their proposals grows through downvotes in the Lords or simple pressure of public disapproval, you have to wonder how long the Work Programme is going to last in its current form--and whether charities will again be expected to pick up the pieces afterwards.

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