First, the Daily Telegraph gets the story. That should make anyone suspicious. The welfare state side of Whitehall generally leaks to The Guardian. We used to say in Social Security that you could find out in The Guardian today what you will be doing at work tomorrow. So, for the story to be in The Daily Telegraph tells us that it is one that the spin merchants are trying to manage.
Second, there is so little substance to the published documents, it is hard to work out what government policy is: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/welfarereform/skilled-for-work.asp
But the news has been taken up with the possibility of the private sector being paid to place people in work. You might expect me to have a problem with this creeping privatisation, but I don’t really. We currently pay civil servants to fail to get people into work. If private sector employment agencies can get people paid employment which they can keep for a period of time, why should we complain? Staged payments have been used elsewhere for employees still in work after 3 or 6 months so that the agencies have an interest in sustainable employment and not just ‘quick wins’.
No. What I have a problem with is the obsessive focus upon employment. Yes, this might be the end to which we aspire. But do not underestimate the difficulties that some confront in even achieving basic skill levels. I am thinking here of research done by a former PhD student, Carol Devanney, on the experiences of 16-17 year olds with a history of low educational attainment, violence in the home, caring for dependents etc. I am sure the government (and private sector employment agencies) would respond that, if we can get these into employment, then we truly have succeeded. Yes, but allow for other ‘successes’. Is everyone not in work a failure? This seems to be the conclusion this policy and others. in the field of, for example, regeneration, are leading to. Employment is the single indicator of wider social progress.
This appears to be Gordon Brown’s big thing. It plays to the right, to The Daily Telegraph. But is there more to it than that?