Protempore – Issue 83

Posted by in March's Magazine

I’m going to apologise from the outset of this article. I’ve been accused many times in the past for writing articles which focus on the negative aspects of political life and for failing to show that amongst the slippery, deceitful, and downright odious throng of bad politicians, there are genuine, honest, decent and good members of the political class, striving to make things better for those who need their help most. Well here it is; I’m sorry. Those of you who have complained about the never-ending diatribe of misery and poison which graces these pages are right. And in response to your requests for some good news as we approach another Leith spring, I decided to change my ways. But guess what? In my quest to find all the good news stories that you crave, I honestly couldn’t find one worthy of your attention. (In all honesty, was I looking hard enough? Probably not.) So here we go again. But remember as you read this, that all of the decent people out there fighting for their constituents and trying to keep public libraries and hospital wards open are up against a political elite in the UK who don’t care how their poisonous ideology is realised as long as the job gets done. And its jobs we’re focussing on here.

For as long as I can remember, the Tory party in this country have clung on to the belief that anyone who is unemployed is a scrounger. That there is fecklessness at large in the country which must be beaten out of the lower classes by forcing them into work regardless of whether that work pays enough for a decent living or not. And not long ago, under the direction of Chief Lizard, Peter Mandelson, the Labour party also adopted the “Welfare to Work” mantra so beloved of all those Tories who must get an unbearable hard-on whenever Downtown Abbey comes on the television. What could be better, they muse, than a society where the oiks know their place (i.e. ‘downstairs’ – also a euphemism much beloved of those Tories with a penchant for sham marriages); and the toffs sit upstairs sipping tea and watching small boys clamber up chimneys. They can’t countenance the thought that perhaps it’s their barking mad economic policies which have destroyed millions of jobs in the country, which in turn leads to people relying on welfare in order to make it through every week. No, what they do instead is employ “back to work tzars”, modern-day workhouse bosses who force people off benefits into scam employment schemes to reduce the unemployment figures. Step up Ms Emma Harrison.


A downright threat
Emma Harrison was, until she stepped down this week following what she called ‘intense media focus’, the millionaire chairman of A4E, a private company which has won more than £200 million of contracts to run welfare-to-work schemes since May 2010. (May 2010 – wasn’t that when the Tories took over the running of the country?) What Ms Harrison failed to mention when she was wittering on about “intense media focus” was that last year, she paid herself a dividend of £8.6 million despite the fact that the company she owns had failed to meet its targets on finding jobs for the unemployed. Something else which slipped her tiny mind was the fact that her company has been investigated nine times since 2005 by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and that four former employees were recently arrested on suspicion of fraud. A dossier of complaints about the company given to Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, has been described as ‘horrifying’.

One such complainant, from Leith, said that their encounter with A4E resulted in their benefits being withheld. More than willing to work, they attended an appointment with the company in June 2011 but did not take part in the interview when they were told that their adviser would not be allowed to sit in on their interview. (Given the malpractice that has been pursued at the company it’s not surprising that claimants would want advice when they have to meet the company). A4E then informed the DWP that the individual had not turned up for the appointment. A downright lie. After making a formal complaint, the individual had their benefits reinstated and were paid £50 by the company because of the ‘exceptional circumstances’ of their complaint. You can be sure that these ‘exceptional circumstances’ are in fact, common practice at A4E. Another victim of A4E’s dodgy dealings complained that when she asked for written details of a job that was being offered, the company refused, stating that her benefits would be “sanctioned” if she didn’t simply accept the post. A downright threat. A former employee of the company has stated that fraud at A4E was “systemic” and “common practice”. In addition to the contracts with the DWP, A4E currently has contracts with the Cabinet Office, the Department for Business and the Ministry of Justice – nice work if you can get it.

So there you have it folks. Emma Harrison is just one example of the slimy, unscrupulous, greedy bastards who are quite happy to line their own pockets by preying on the vulnerable in our midst while the UK Government pats them on the back for being the packhorses of their poisonous and divisive ideology. And I have to say that I think it’s only right to shine the spotlight on them whenever and wherever we get the chance.

However, now that the crocuses have poked their heads above winter’s fading parapet, I promise that the next article will be colourful and inspiring for a change. Maybe.


Illustration: Bernie Reid

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