Look Left – A4e: Corruption, fraud and the £200m failure to help the unemployed


 

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A4E• The coalition’s work experience and welfare-to-work programmes came under renewed attack this week, with A4e, the scandal-hit company that has handled millions of pounds of government contracts, at the centre of corruption and fraud allegations.

Last weekend, allegations of fraud and widespread malpractice prompted a House of Commons to take tough action against A4e, which has won more than £200 million worth of contracts to run welfare-to-work schemes since the election.

Disgraced multi-millionaire chairman of A4e Emma Harrison – who has been forced to resign as David Cameron’s “back-to-work tsar” – trousered a dividend of £8.6 million last year, despite A4e’s abject failure to meet targets on finding jobs for the unemployed.

It also emerged that Harrison’s company has been investigated nine times in the past seven years by the Department for Work and Pensions.

On Left Foot Forward today, Fiona MacTaggart MP, a member of the public accounts committee, explained how A4e’s fall from grace “has been in the pipeline for two years”, their sickening failure to help unemployed people into work – for which they were paid hundreds of millions of pounds by the taxpayer – apparent to anyone who cared to look:

Over the last two years I had reported A4e, which is contracted to provide services to unemployed people in my constituency, three times to the national auditor. When the police went into their Slough offices and arrested four former employees, the company hit the headlines.

It turned out that as well as asking clients to sign blank timesheets, officials of this company had claimed payment for jobs which had only lasted for one day.

A4e has become successful by cutting its costs, and often provides poor service to unemployed people. Some unemployed people have been happy to keep quiet; those who never wanted a job in the first place were content to attend “courses” where they read newspapers, or to pretend they had attended when they had not.

But the constituents who complained to me wanted to escape unemployment and often knew exactly what extra qualification they needed to get into work. The problem was, they could not afford it from job seekers allowance of £67.50 per week. Often the company implied it could help, but only offered courses which had little worth and no recognition.

Since I have been raising concerns, I have been approached by many people who feel let down by A4e.  Many of them were taken on by A4e itself into unpaid roles in the company, doing unsupervised work including training other unemployed people, working as a receptionist, filing records, and so on.

None of them have been employed into a paid role.

As MacTaggart concluded:

Ironically companies like A4e are pursuing a policy which reduces the total number of jobs available, and although Jobcentre Plus guidelines suggest that work experience referrals should not be used to cover busy times, there are no clear guidelines to prevent wholesale job substitution.

Emma Harrison, the boss of A4e, took over £8million out of the company last year: all profits from our taxes. I think we have a right to insist that we get high standards of service in return.

Also on Left Foot Forward this week, Alex Hern writes about the government’s climbdown on work experience, pointing out that, though it is now voluntary, the government still forces unpaid work:

Until the government stops forcing unemployed people to work for free, it cannot claim to treat “making work pay” as a priority. The best way to make work pay is to pay for work, and that seems to be something they will not do.

And Izzy Koksal investigates the “Youth Contract”, writing that, despite the great progress against workfare, the government has more in store for young people; and on A4e, we will have more on the scandal-plagues outfit on Left Foot Forward next week – stay tuned for all the latest developments.

• James Murdoch resigned as executive chairman of News International this week, as the scale of the phone hacking scandal and police corruption allegations were further laid bare.

As always, it is as much for the incompetence and ineptitude of Murdoch Jr’s botched cover up as the crookedness of his feral, out of control underlings, from the despicable Andy Coulson downwards, that did for him.

On Left Foot Forward this week, we’ve looked back at some of the initial, frankly laughable denials Murdoch Corp put out at the time of the initial allegations.

Here are the News International denials from July 2009:

From our own investigation, but more importantly that of the police, we can state with confidence that, apart from the matters referred to above, there is not and never has been evidence to support allegations that:

• News of the World journalists have accessed the voicemails of any individual.

• News of the World or its journalists have instructed private investigators or other third parties to access the voicemails of any individuals.

• There was systemic corporate illegality by News International to suppress evidence.

Yep, they really said all that – and more:

We can state categorically in relation to the following allegations which have been made primarily by the Guardian and widely reported as fact by Sky News, BBC, ITN and others this week:

• It is untrue that officers found evidence of News Group staff, either themselves or using private investigators, hacking into “thousands” of mobile phones.

• It is untrue that apart from Goodman, officers found evidence that other members of News Group staff hacked into mobile phones or accessed individuals’ voicemails.

• It is untrue that there is evidence that News Group reporters, or indeed anyone, hacked into the telephone voicemails of John Prescott.

• It is untrue that “Murdoch journalists” used private investigators to illegally hack into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including: tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills.

• It is untrue that News Group reporters have hacked into telephone voicemail services of various footballers, politicians and celebrities named in reports this week.

• It is untrue that News of the World executives knowingly sanctioned payment for illegal phone intercepts.

All of these irresponsible and unsubstantiated allegations against News of the World and other News International titles and its journalists are false.

To repeat, they really did spin all that guff… read our fiskings here and here.

Also this week on Left Foot Forward, on Leveson, read Sue Akers’s evidence to the inquiry, as we ask “What is the Murdoch test for shutting down a newspaper?”; and on Murdoch Snr, read about how Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has been sucking up to the Digger, leaking the date of the referendum to the new Scottish Sun on Sunday and inviting him round for tea; and read Alex Hern’s report on the Sun’s obsession with ‘benefit cheats’ while saying Sweet FA about tax dodgers, like you-know-who…

• The debate over the government’s health reforms once again dominated Prime Minister’s Questions this week – the fourth PMQs in a row Ed Miliband has gone on the attack over health.

The week began with yet more senior figures lining up to criticise the health and social care bill.

In addition to former Department of Health permanent secretary and NHS chief executive Lord Crisp, who said the reforms were “a mess”, “unnecessary”, “miss the point”, “confused and confusing” and “set the NHS back”, Sir Peter Houdson, permanent secretary to the Scottish government, hit out at Andrew Lansley’s reforms.

He described GP commissioning as “a solution to no known problem”, and said Lansley “could not persuade anyone, actually, [that] the things that they perceived needed to happen in the NHS would be resolved by GP commissioning”, adding “to base a system on all of that seemed to be enormously risky”.

Later in the week, it emerged that even GPs implementing the health reforms have come out against them; as Daniel Elton reported:

We are used to David Cameron insisting in the House of Commons, even if bodies that represent NHS professionals such as the CPHVA, RCGP, CSP, UNISON, UNITE, GMB, RCM, RCN, BMA, RCP, RCR, MiP, COT, IHSM and the Faculty of Public Health oppose the health and social care bill, health workers are backing the changes.

His evidence for this is the roll out of GP-led clinical commissioning groups (CCG) across the country, designed to facilitate the external marketisation of the NHS…

Except the chair of a flagship CCG has come out in opposition, as Pulse reports:

Tower Hamlets CCG in east London, led by former BMA deputy chair Dr Sam Everington, has written to David Cameron asking him to abandon the bill following a wave of opposition from local GPs, and warning him “your rolling restructuring of the NHS compromises our ability to focus on what really counts”.

In a letter obtained by Pulse, the CCG claims the strides already made to improving patient care through clinically-led commissioning show that improvements could be made “without the bureaucracy generated by the bill”.

When even those you tout as great supporters of the bill come out in opposition, it’s time to drop the legislation.

And it was not just the Tory leader, but his Lib Dem deputy that came in for criticism over the health reforms this week. Nick Clegg was mocked by Ed Miliband at PMQs, with Labour also laying waste to his letter to Lib Dem MPs and peers – in which he insisted the bill will not lead to the privatisation of the NHS – the Labour health team describing it as “just furious spin concealing NHS privatisation”.

As Left Foot Forward revealed this week, the Labour health team’s internal analysis says:

Clegg’s party’s amendments do nothing to place safeguards on the cap on the income NHS Foundation Trusts can derive from private income and they have backed extending it so that NHS Foundation Trusts can raise 49 per cent of income from private sources.

Their most recent opportunity to oppose this was on January 16th 2012 when Labour held a debate on the role of the private sector which called on the government to rethink its plans to allow the NHS to devote up to 49% of its resources to private patients. The Liberal Democrats failed to do this, with 47 of them voting against Labour’s motion.

Clegg wants to sell his party a dummy – that the NHS has been saved and it was the yellow wing of the coalition that did it and they can declare victory.

In fact, it’s just posturing for the grassroots. We can only hope – for their pride and the NHS’s sake – they don’t swallow it.

Also this week on Left Foot Forward, read Edwin Poots MLA, minister for health in the Northern Ireland Executive, outline Stormont’s vision of the changing face of healthcare in Northern Ireland; and next week on Left Foot Forward, read Jos Bell’s account of the latest House of Lords debate on the health and social care bill.

Progressive of the week:

Labour candidate for London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who this week pledged to reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance if elected in May – in stark contrast to his opponent Boris Johnson, whose priority it seems is to give a little bit more to those struggling by on a mere £150,000 a year, preferring to slash the 50p tax rate than reinstate EMA.

As James Mills of the Save EMA campaign wrote on Left Foot Forward yesterday:

Ken Livingstone’s announcement today that if he is elected in May he will reinstate a London wide EMA is not just good policy, it’s good politics. The EMA was a proven policy that helped London teenagers get the qualifications they need to get into work.

On the day Ken has announced this commitment to reinstate the EMA, the current mayor of London is calling for an end to the 50p tax rate, basically a tax cut for himself and other already wealthy people. It is getting harder to tell if Boris is the mayor of Londoners or the mayor of bankers.

This is good policy, because the weight of evidence supporting EMAs far outbalanced the arguments of all naysayers. For example, research (pdf) by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows attainment at GCSE and A-level by recipients of EMA rose by five to seven percentage points since its introduction, and by even more for those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods.

Concluding:

EMA was always about priorities and not the cost of the scheme and today shows a lot about the priorities of the candidates. Because at the very least what this policy shows is that there is now a line in the sand between Ken and Boris.

On one hand there is Boris, who takes six months to pick up a phone to register his complaint with a London-based MP, Michael Gove, about a scheme affecting almost 100,000 Londoners. And since then Boris has said more words in Greek and Latin than on EMA and even more defending bankers.

On the other hand, there is Ken Livingstone, who spoke out against the cut almost immediately and supported our campaign, who today has announced a bold policy to show that he will reverse this most pernicious of cuts on the poorest Londoners.

So it is now clear for Londoners: If you want to Save EMA then you have to vote Ken in May.

Regressives of the week:

The Crown Prosecution Service, which has declined to prosecute a racist, anti-Traveller pub in London.

Conn Mac Gabhann, manager of The Traveller Project at the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, wrote about the scandal on Left Foot Forward this week:

“When my mother came to England in the 1950s to work as a nurse, the signs on the boarding houses said ‘No Blacks, No Irish.’ She described it as normal.

“You couldn’t get away with putting up signs like that now. That’s what I thought. Or really, what I thought was that nobody, even if they were racist, would be stupid enough to erect signs like that and attract the attention of the police. I was wrong. And I was wrong on two counts.

“Firstly, because there are people stupid enough to put up the signs. Secondly, because I assumed that the police and the CPS would pursue these people under race relations legislation.

“Before Christmas, I was walking up through a back street in north London when I noticed a pub that had a sign that read ‘Travellers strictly by appointment only’. I thought it was a mistake, so the next day I went back to the pub with my colleague Joe. The signs were there alright – three of them making it clear that Travellers weren’t wanted.

“Even though I’ve heard a lot of racism towards Travellers, I was surprised that in multi-cultural London a sign like that could remain in the open for some time. We took photos and reported the sign to the police, who promised they would investigate.

“I went to the police station and made a long statement, stressing the seriousness of the crime. I made the point that such racist incidences prevent Travellers from getting legal work and getting on with their lives.

“I stated that when there are signs like that it’s not surprising that many Travellers in prison point to discrimination in schools and society as one factor that put them on the path to offending. I stressed that, like everybody else, Travellers have a responsibility for their own actions. But I added that whenever Travellers as a group are singled out for unfair treatment it just means this section of society feel unjustly treated. Then everybody loses.

“It is in the interests of the police and society that they pursue these cases of discrimination, otherwise Travellers will rightly feel aggrieved and disconnected.

“Yesterday, I received a phone call from Islington Police Station. The CPS have decided not to pursue any action against the pub.

“The next time I’m in a prison and a young man whispers to me that at school he had to stand on a chair in assembly while he was called a ‘dirty gypo’, I’ll think, like my mother, that that’s normal.”

It is to be hoped that next time, if there is a next time, the CPS will act and not give the green light to anti-Traveller racism.

Evidence of the week:

The Welsh government’s “Analysing the impact of the UK government’s welfare reforms in Wales” (pdf) document, which claimed 6,000 more children are expected to find themselves living in relative poverty in 2012/13 as a result of the coalition’s tax and benefit changes.

As Left Foot Forward reported on Wednesday, the analysis – based largely on existing IFS data – also shows:

• The impact of the tax and benefit changes to be implemented by 2014-15 will mean that on average households in Wales can expect to lose 4.1 per cent of their income (£1,110 a year), compared to a UK average loss of 3.8 per cent (or £1,170);

• Wales is expected to face the fifth largest cash loss of the UK’s 12 regions;

• Each £1 of income lost could lead to a total loss of income to Wales somewhere in the range of £1.00-£1.50;

• Initial research and analysis of certain studies suggests that cuts to benefits and more stringent benefit entitlement rules may push people out of unemployment and into crime activities; and

• There is also some evidence, the report argues, that the timing and frequency of welfare payments can impact on crime levels.

Looking at the exact impact of individual benefit changes, it adds:

• 180,000 people claiming benefit (ESA or Incapacity Benefit) because they are sick or disabled will have their claims re-assessed over the next few years, with only about five per cent being expected to be eligible for support because they are too ill to work.

While the rest, the report notes, will be transferred to work-related benefits, which will be means-tested, meaning claimants with a partner will not receive anything, or be denied benefits altogether:

• 40,000 people living in social housing and claiming Housing Benefit will lose an average of £11 a week due to them having a spare bedroom, forcing them to move house or face a cut in income;

• 75,000 claimants of Job Seekers’ Allowance and 30,000 lone parents with children over five years old who claim Income Support will face tough tests to show they are seeking work; and

• 1.2 million older people have lost between £50 and £100 in Winter Fuel Payments.

As Stephen Doughty, head of Oxfam Cymru, said:

“Let’s not underestimate the impacts that are heading our way as a result of these changes – particularly given the very uncertain economic situation.

“Thousands of people who might be getting by right now are in fact teetering on the brink. Because of the large numbers of people that will be affected the ripple effects will mean that far more people will be affected – than just those in direct receipt of a benefit that will be changed.

“The knock on effect of a friend, relative or customer being impacted could permeate to almost every aspect of Welsh society.”

This weekend on Left Foot Forward:

Saturday:

• Peter Allen and Rebecca Wainwright write about how Baroness Warsi’s call for the dominance of Christianity ignores that it’s Islam under threat.

• The Week Outside Westminster – sign up to receive it by email here.

Sunday:

• Mike Morgan-Giles writes about why a state free of religion is a core liberal belief.

• The World Outside Westminster – sign up to receive it by email here.

This week’s most read:

1. It wos the Sun wot couldn’t do maths: Prioritising benefit frauds when tax fraud is 10x worseAlex Hern

2. The government’s got big plans for workfare – don’t expect them to back down easilyIzzy Koksal

3. The benefits Britons want to save are the ones the Tories want to cutDeclan Gaffney

4. Memo to 50p tax trashers: Laffer Curve peaks at over 75 per centAlex Hern

5. Nick Clegg’s letter to Lib Dem MPs and peers is just furious spin concealing NHS privatisationLabour health team internal analysis

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