The long-term unemployed, especially those who are disabled or have a history of addiction or mental health problems, are least likely to find work at times of high unemployment.
Agencies such as the Glasgow-based Wise Group have a high success rate in securing employment for such “difficult cases”. Last year, the not-for-profit organisation moved a record 5353 people off benefits and into work through its training and mentoring schemes. The expertise of its 650 staff in Scotland is undisputed. Yet the Scottish contract for the Coalition Government’s Work Programme to move benefits claimants into work has been awarded to two private sector companies with little experience in Scotland.
As a demonstration of the Government’s Big Society philosophy, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which awarded the contracts, stipulated that successful bidders would have to guarantee that 30% of the work involved would be delivered by the voluntary sector. As a not-for-profit social enterprise, the Wise Group fulfilled this requirement, yet Igneus, one of the successful bidders, won its Scottish contract with a commitment to deliver just 8% of the service through the voluntary sector with a further 2% from the public sector. How so? This needs to be explained.
It is not only in Scotland that the DWP’s claims that the Work Programme contracts have provided “a massive boost for the Big Society” are flatly contradicted by reality.
Igneus, a partnership between an Australian parent company and the multi-national accountancy firm, Deloitte, won seven of the UK’s 40 multi-million pound contracts, the maximum allowed by one company. This leaves voluntary sector organisations scrambling for sub-contracts to keep in business. If they have to lay off staff, considerable expertise will be lost. Past experience shows private companies have a much lower success rate than even Job Centres.
Those who suffer most will be long-term unemployed people who need expert preparation and support to gain and retain a job. As the Wise Group has demonstrated, this can be achieved to the great benefit of individuals, their families and communities. The Big Society has been in action in Glasgow for years. So why replace it with the big private profit?
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