Friday, 20 July 2012


Minister Chris Grayling

So by now we all know about G4S's colossal fuck-up with the security for the corporate wank-fest that is the Olympics (although this more serious G4S story has apparently been overlooked during the self-righteous ire poured onto the company by some of the very same politicians who commissioned them for this and many other disasters. Or their involvement with the occupied territories.) Johnny Void has a plausible explanation of what happened there, I think. Also, in another posting he describes succinctly the mechanisms that allow scumbags like G4S (or A4E, or Serco etc etc) to milk the system.

Anyway, yesterday's newspaper headlines presented us with this: the launch of Louise Casey's report, commissioned by Cameron after last year's riots -  "Listening to Troubled Families". There are, apparently 120 000 of them in the country, and they cost the state £9 billion a year. Honest. It's a fact. I thought that it was Blair who first used this   utterly spurious - figure, but actually I haven't been able to track down any reference to that. As a matter of fact, the statistic appears to have been pulled out of the arse of someone in Whitehall, or rather, extrapolated from different studies, as Ruth Levitas points out. What is astounding is that this mathematical conjuring trick has been swallowed, to the extent that critics of the plan are now pointing out that the promised £450 million will not be enough to cover the "120 000" families, as if those families actually exist out there, in those numbers. As the New Statesman blog piece linked above points out, the Casey report is a piece of qualitative research on 16 families with very serious problems indeed. It's only those 16 families that can be said, with any certainty at all, to fit the template.

As Levitas and the New Statesman piece both point out, the original figures that have since been  warped and extrapolated from were an estimate of families in poverty. It's hard to imagine (though it is possible, when one considers the towering intellectual capacities of this government) that this was simply bad accounting. There are happy results of conflating poor people -who are increasingly numerous, for obvious reasons- with people who are -supposedly- a danger to their neighbours, an unwarranted drain on the public purse, and have a prediliction for child abuse. The plain-speaking man-of-the-people fat-Tory-Twat (and minister in charge of this) Eric Pickles put this view succinctly

"[...]these folks are troubled: they're troubling themselves, they're troubling their neighbourhood. We need to do something about it."

Casey is obviously singing from the same hymn sheet: "If they are causing so many problems to their neighbours … the families that have to live next door to them, to the teachers that have to teach their kids in schools, to the people on the receiving end as victims of crimes – it is wrong that we allow them to carry on living this way."

So there we have it - a bit of statistical mumbo-jumbo, and there's the proof: poor people are dangerous. And it's their own fault that they're poor because we give them so much money.

It has, of course, private provision as an essential component, or private companies who will cream off their chunk of the funding and then subcontract the work to the voluntary sector. So guess who's got some of the contracts? Yes indeed - G4S. An article in the Salford Star points out some difficulties (to put it mildly) with this model of provision:  

"It's a bit of Catch 22" a Salford City UNISON member told the Salford Star "Either we don't refer to these agencies and there's sanctions imposed on the local authority, or we do and they take our work from us. 

"We're struggling to find work for them" he added "We've been given instructions to refer to these companies who haven't got any accountability and their results are not judged on outcomes but on how many families they get coming through their service. How are they proving their worth by numbers?"

Casey and Cameron claim that it is a "black box" operation, as with the Work Program - providers only get paid by results and their methods are up to them. But as the intended result is to save public money that would be spent on courts, or time in school exclusion units, or benefits - how does one prove a negative? Payment will be on the basis of crimes not committed or school days not skived off, or benefits not collected. Even if the model is plausible, and it isn't, I can't see how this could be assessed. But councils having their budgets viciously slashed have every incentive to provide fodder for this process, where successful referrals will be bring money from central government. Now, having the figure of 120 000, councils will be expected to find those people. Or face Tory reprisals for not co-operating with this innovative, shiny piece of coercive privatisation.

The void article linked above, concerning the practices of welfare to work providers also applies here, where forcing people into work is only one strand of a  complex series of processes. On "Creaming and Parking": "Under the ‘black box’ style of provision on the Work Programme, welfare to work companies are able to almost anything they like to ‘help’ someone back into work. This can include doing nothing at all and in fact that makes good business sense. It’s a numbers game. Some of even the hardest to help will find work on their own [or decide to go to school or get off drugs etc.], meaning yet more money for providers. As to the rest, well the company already have the attachment fee in the bank.

The most lucrative way to manage the hardest to help is to not spend a penny on them. This is far more profitable than throwing endless resources at people who the welfare to work companies know are unlikely to find work.
[or decide to go to school or get off drugs etc.] "

What is deeply disturbing in this, amongst all the other disturbing things, is that data protection is waived for the targets of this scheme:
[...]ministers have agreed to suspend the privacy of poor households. For the first time, local councils will be allowed "without informed consent" to access benefit records. The idea is to build up a map of troubled families – which will be shared with other agencies such as the police, GPs and housing associations[...Casey says...] "I don't think that is about someone's civil rights. I think it's about their right to get help and the system's right to challenge them to take it."  Her statement sums up the coercive nature of the interventions, and the customary couching of them in therapy-speak: the "challenge" to "get help".

There is undoubtedly a reality tv show in the making here - maybe there already has been something like it? Cameras follow Casey around as she kicks in the front doors of those prole-porn staples, the lardy, feckless, overly-fecund, drunk and workshy. She gives them some tough love, they resist. She's warm, empathetic, but takes no bullshit; she's on a mission here, and it's for their own good. Then, roughly at the three quarter mark of the episode, we get the money shot, On being "challenged" the family, as a whole, collapse into lachrymose prostration, burbling through wads of snotty bog-roll clutched convulsively in porcine hands. "You're right Louise! We thought our situation was a result of the vicissitudes of late capital, or perhaps a reasonable reluctance to engage in the pointless grind of wage-slavery or the indoctrination of school - we were wrong! It's all because we've got low self esteem!" She then gets them to "work on their issues" and... well, you've seen the show before. You know how it goes.  At the end, they talk about their "journey".

Before doleys can be conscripted onto the Work Programme they have to sign a consent form, or be bullied and threatened into signing one by JobCentre staff, that gives their consent for their private data to be shared with the provider - A4E, G4S or whoever. The provider gets no money unless they have that person on their books, until they have their data. With the waiving of reasonably informed consent, cabinet ministers in effect giving consent on these "troubled families" behalf, there is no limit to how many people could find themselves signed up to the tender mercies of the providers -that is, as profit-making units to a private company - and it is of no concern to the providers how "troubled" they are.

From the Salford Star article:  "[A]t a Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion conference in May, titled Families, Communities, Places: A New Way Forward for Delivery. Hot topics included `public sector and welfare reform', while a presentation was entitled `Cost benefit modelling for working with troubled families'...

On the day, George Selmer, North West contracts director with G4S, gave a presentation
[...] He revealed that, six months into the Government contract, G4S had achieved only 15% of its target… "This represents at best a delay, at worst a loss of around £2million of revenue for our supply chain."

Admitting a lack of referrals and `questions over where the programme fits', Selmer urged conference attendees to provide more referrals and to `trust' the ESF  programme [the European Social Fund, who have been providing money for the initiative so far]… "Providers only get paid if they deliver…But if they don't have enough customers to enable them to hit their targets they can't afford to maintain the service to the necessary levels…" The article points out then that Salford council social workers already do the work that G4S wants referred on to them, so it seems a bit redundant and G4S's duplication could well lead to job losses amongst council staff. It's worth remembering here that G4S will use the voluntary sector for delivery, in true workfare style.

the idea of some sort of multi-agency action to "help"  "problem families" was first floated by the last government. It was Blair who revived what is arguably simply another version of that old chestnut, the dichotomy between the supposedly worthy and unworthy poor, but with the family as the basic unit; something that the present government obviously believe still has some mileage.

I thought that Blair was the one who first came up with the precise - and

Blair blithely posited a continuum from what he and his government called "Anti-Social Behaviour" (which, by definition, is not actually criminal) with actual crimes and, at the top end of the scale, international terrorism. Quite how there is a spectrum with, at one end, drinking in public, or dropping litter, and at the other, bombing a tube train or flying a plane into a skyscraper, is beyond me. Nevertheless, the phrases "crime and anti-social behaviour" and "crime and disorder" have become part of common parlance.

There is more than a little continuity here. Louise Casey, a civil servant who became the Blair governnent's "Respect Tzar" (why tzar? Who knows.) and then Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses.

What might have helped with getting the contract would be this sort of thing, or this.

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