At a time of supposed austerity, it's surely an obscenity to be handing out such sums of taxpayers money as election 'sweeteners', especially where it isn't needed. This is seriously being proposed during a period of unprecedented welfare 'reform' that see the disabled committing suicide, claimants setting fire to dole offices, the low-paid increasingly queueing at food banks and people becoming ill with fear and worry.
At least Labour say they intend to abolish the Bedroom Tax if elected, but even they seem to have taken leave of their senses for promising to legislate away energy price rises for 20 months. It's madness and merely a ham-fisted attempt at buying votes.
I mention all this because the whole TR omnishambles hasn't got a cat in hell's chance of working simply because the government have ensured that the climate for encouraging rehabilitation has never been worse. Every one of the so-called welfare reforms that have been introduced impinges significantly on the very group that Chris Grayling feels will be encouraged to remain offending-free by a myriad of contractors incentivised by Payment by Results.
The government seem incapable of realising that the task is being made ever more impossible as a direct result of their ever more punitive policy decisions. Just look at what Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has in mind as a vote winner on top of the Bedroom Tax - a regime of punishment cynically called 'Help to Work' being introduced as part of his 'welfare war':-
In his speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, the Chancellor will unveil the full requirements of a £300m-a-year Help to Work programme starting next April. It will impose the most stringent conditions ever on the long-term unemployed as Mr Osborne pledges to end the option of “signing on as usual”. Instead, 200,000 people a year who have claimed jobseeker’s allowance for three years will lose benefits unless they take up one of three options after two years on the Work Programme:
Thirty hours a week for six months of community work such as making meals for the elderly, cleaning up litter and graffiti or charity work, plus 10 hours of “job search activity”.
Daily attendance at a jobcentre to search for work instead of a brief interview once a fortnight.
A mandatory intensive regime for claimants with underlying problems such as mental health, drug addiction or illiteracy.
People who refuse to take part will lose four weeks’ worth of benefit for their first breach of the rules and three months’ worth for a second offence.
It would seem that the Tories have decided that reverting to being the 'nasty' party might actually be a vote winner. I attended the AGM of a housing association recently and was told by their chief executive that the Tories say their Bedroom Tax is their most popular policy, so we have a clear indication of what's coming, and it's not pretty. The tone and language is already becoming alarming. Here we have Michael Gove saying it's people's own fault for having to resort to food banks as a result of poor budgeting and Eric Pickles telling an angry sexual abuse victim to 'adjust her medication'.
As the experience from the Work Programme shows, no matter how much you offer in the way of financial incentives, if jobs aren't there and people are pretty much unemployable for a variety of reasons, fiddling the figures and cooking the books is what actually happens, and please note it's the staff on the front line who end up in court.
Incredibly the government carries on believing that PbR is the answer, despite all the evidence to the contrary. In classic head in the sand denial mode, their answer is to punish the 'under-performing' providers and reward the others with more work. It all strikes me as reminiscent of the surreal world of doublespeak we now seem to inhabit where failing schools get less money, sick people are thrown off benefit as a way of ensuring 'they're not condemned to a life on benefit' and the unemployed are punished for not getting a job.
The government seem to genuinely believe that contractors will be able to do the impossible, find people employment, accommodation, drug treatment, provide benefit and debt advice, counselling, health care and a hundred and one other things, all on less than the budget being spent at the moment, but with the increased numbers from the under 12 month custody people, and at the same time as squeezing benefits and imposing a punitive regime of tagging, drug testing and 'supervision'.
Any organisation thinking of bidding for probation work ought to be fully aware that despite all the rhetoric and spin, every government policy from now till the next General Election will be designed to make the task of Transforming Rehabilitation as difficult as possible, and that's why it's an omnishambles of truly epic proportions in the making.