Thursday, March 1. 2012
Yesterday the government changed the work experience programme a little, following public protests about it being "no better than slave labour."
That claim is obviously highly emotively written and while not entirely true, it's not entirely false either. The people on the dole are encouraged, not forced it appears, to take on the experience - but receive no additional money and, after the first week, were penalised if they left the scheme for any reason by withdrawal of benefits. Given that leaves them with no income for leaving what was meant to be a voluntary scheme to gain experience, that slavery tag suddenly becomes more reasonable.
The scheme has changed so that, barring those dismissed for gross misconduct, those on work experience can leave the scheme throughout its life - a position that the employers basically forced on the government, warning that they would not be part of the scheme (many already were leaving it or had left in fact) without these changes, without the element of coercion.
While I'm dubious about the impact of such a scheme in terms of helping people get work (or even get off benefits) (and it's not only me - there are many more too, but they largely argue in more or less similar terms around that graph that shows there's no difference between those on this scheme and others at the 13 week mark), I have no problem with offering such a scheme once it is a voluntary thing. It would be much better if they could find real jobs but that's not really an option that can just be magicked up. It would be good if a reasonable proportion of those on the scheme went into a job with the company they were getting work experience with but times are hard. it would be great if there was a measurable difference of successfully entering the job market but some experience won't hurt even if it doesn't help.
But why has this changed while the health reforms and the welfare reforms are being forced through despite strong opposition within parliament and interest groups?
Looking at the situation one thing stands out. For the work experience scheme the scheme was falling apart and the people withdrawing for it and saying "We can't do this" were many of the major employers in the UK. These are not only the people implementing the scheme, they are the "wealth creators" the "business leaders" telling the party that fancies itself the party of business to sort its ideas out. The scheme was actually collapsing as employer after employer was withdrawing. This may just rescue it - whether or not it's worth rescuing statistically, politically it would have been a disaster to watch it collapse.
The health reforms have massive, and increasing, opposition from those who will be implementing it. Last week saw a crazy "summit" to which only those organisations who were still (at the time) supporting the reforms attending. (Since then at least two more groups of doctors have changed their stance to oppose the changes.) But those against it so far are "only" the medical professions. Most groups of doctors, the nurses, midwives and so on. What is notable is that, while this scheme and the work experience scheme both have those responsible for implementing the changes more and more opposed to the original shape of the schemes, in the former case it is employers, in the latter case, employees. In fact the business interests are still very keen on the scheme. And there's the difference.
Cynics, who me?, will wonder why the business interests are still very keen. It can't be anything to do with seeing an opportunity to make a big profit surely? And I'm suddenly left wondering how profit making organisations improve healthcare delivery again. We currently spend about £160 billion on the NHS. If we maintain that level of expenditure how much will get diverted from healthcare spending/management to profit I wonder? And how much will increase the quality of healthcare?
One thing that the media are focusing on, possibly rightly, is the difference between protests from the unions directed at the government (familiar to the UK) and protests from small groups directed against the shops and similar implementing the scheme. It's not clear that such tactics can be brought against the NHS reforms but it is an interesting change.
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