Could Scotland's 'No' vote lead to the end of the Work Programme?

Fri, 19/09/2014 - 13:54 -- nick

The people of Scotland have spoken, and they believe we are better together after all.

The dust hasn't settled on this historic vote, but the win for 'no' was gained by English politicians entering the fray at the last minute and promising more powers for the region.

Realising that they have to head off potential Welsh and Northern Irish nationalism if they want the UK to remain a single entity, and answer charges of London-centric policy making from English regions, all parties agree that powers need to be devolved.

One of the areas proposed for transfer is unemployment services, which is where it gets interesting for us.

The coalition has overseen a radical transformation in the experiences and incomes of unemployed people, with a massive deterioration in the support they are given by jobcentres, the Work Programme, and other support schemes, the failure of the much-vaunted youth contract, and poverty-level standards of living as benefits are cut and capped.

The Work Programme is the government's flagship, but its poor performance particularly in supporting those who have barriers should have seen radical changes, and the fact that these haven't been made reinforces the contempt the coalition has for workless people.

The same can be said of the jobcentre system. An insider blew the whistle to us recently, telling us that because of sanctions targets, poor management and budget cuts, they now do more harm than good to workless people's prospects.

A major transfer of powers to the UK's regions should be seen as a big opportunity in this context and could see much more diversity in provision to unemployed people.

By putting so many eggs in the baskets of the Work Programme and jobcentres, the coalition has exposed itself to too much risk when they failed.

It also lacks a framework to pilot different, and potentially better, support, although this is as much to do with the funding problems caused by austerity and bad top-down attitudes by ministers as any lack of ideas.

Allowing individual territories within the UK to deliver their own projects as part of a wider shift of responsibility for lowering unemployment would enable a range of different support options, which could then be delivered elsewhere if they were shown to be successful.

This could also provide more tailored approaches to the needs of local areas, allowing for example sector-specific training to become more widespread and accessible to unemployed people.

It is our belief that the main reasons why people fall into long-term unemployment are a lack of skills, a lack of job opportunities, and a lack of confidence and other soft skills.

We have seen little evidence of a general disinterest in work, 'dependence' on benefits, and low morality despite these appearing to be the Tories' beliefs.

The party projects these ideas through the Work Programme and jobcentres, leading to ever-more punishing regimes, and then apparent mistification as to why these services do so badly.

Different approaches would show up this ideology of contempt for the debilitating nonsense it is; if two neighbouring regions try alternative support systems and one demonstrates far greater success in getting people in to work, it will be impossible to continue the damaging status quo anywhere in the face of this evidence.

The issue of public sector involvement in job creation would also surely be opened up, a vital tool which the coalition has roundly ignored.

All major party leaders have promised to spread power more widely as a result of the Scottish vote.

It must be hoped that this provides an opportunity to start dismantling the machinery of unemployed oppression across the whole UK.