Saturday 6 September 2014

Esther McVey's "attitude tests" and Tory backwards thinking

The Tory Minister of State for employment has announced a new scheme to impose "attitude tests" on unemployed people.

These attitude profiling tests would attempt to judge whether unemployed people are "determined", "bewildered" or "despondent" about taking a job. The results of the tests will be used to "segregate" them into different classes of jobseeker, those that are keen to work, and those who are "scum" to be abused and sanctioned until they drop off the unemployment figures.
Before I get to the explanation of how this ludicrous policy demonstrates Tory backward thinking, I'd first like to note that the inspiration for attitude testing is the Australian work of a private company called Ingeus, which was owned by 
Thérèse Rein (the wife of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) before she sold it off earlier this year for around $220 million.

Given the Tory model of outsourcing the functions of the social security system to private companies in order to siphon off an ever increasing proportion of the welfare budget into the profits of private companies, it's almost certain that a company such as Ingeus, or one of the alphabet soup of other parasitical outsourcing companies (A4e, G4S, Atos, Serco, Capita, Seetec, Avanta) will end up with lucrative taxpayer funded contracts to carry out these sham "attitude tests". Just as they've picked up lucrative £multi-million contracts to administer the hopelessly failing and fraud riddled Work Programme and the "Help to Work" forced labour schemes.

The clear problem with the concept of "attitude tests" for the unemployed is the fact that the information obtained will be of so little use.

  • What is the point of paying a fortune to a private company to establish the attitude of a kid who has only ever experienced paid work on extremely exploitative and low paid Zero Hours contracts and actually spent most of their working life doing unpaid forced labour schemes? Of course they're going to be "despondent" and "resistant to work". 
  • What is the point of paying a fortune to a private company to find out that a person with a long employment history in decent jobs who has briefly fallen on hard times is "determined" to find another decent job?

  • What is the point of paying a fortune to a private company to report that a person suffering severe mental disabilities who has been thrown off disability benefits as a result of the unlawful and discriminatory WCA regime for disabled people, and then been forced to look for work they are clearly incapable of doing, is "bewildered"?
In my view a much more useful approach would be to attempt to find out what value these people have, rather than trying to classify what is wrong with them. Instead of a ridiculous privately administered attitude test, I'd like to see the DWP launch an in-house standard aptitude test.

Such an aptitude test would attempt to establish the individual skillset of each Jobseeker. by assessing things like memory, reading, maths, critical thinking skills, 
manual dexterity, problem solving skills, stamina, reaction times, patience, concentration etc. This would allow suitable people and employers to be directed towards each other. It would also give people a very clear idea of what their skills and abilities are, and where they need to make improvements.
Other than the huge difference in the quality and usefulness of the information obtained, the big difference between these proposed Tory attitude tests, and a comprehensive aptitude test is the motivation behind them.

The kind of Aptitude test I've described works on the assumption that each person has a set of values, and that it beneficial to all of us if the state helps them to identify their skills and find appropriate employment.

Esther McVey's Attitude tests work on a very different assumption: The assumption that the unemployed are mainly "scum with bad attitudes". Her test is about attempting to find out what is wrong with them, and using draconian measures to force them to change, or drive them off the unemployment figures altogether.

That Esther McVey and the Tories have got it so completely backwards illustrates the fact that they are just a bunch of opportunistic right-wing authoritarians who have no conception of what the social security system is actually supposed to be for.

As Minister of State for Employment, Esther McVey's job isn't to belittle and demean the unemployed by herding them into sham attitude assessments carried out by corporate outsourcing profiteers, then to segregate them into different grades of "scum", to be abused and threatened into unpaid forced labour schemes (which are administered by the same bunch of corporate outsourcing profiteers) under the threat of absolute destitution via social security sanctions.

The job of the Minister for Employment is to help people when they fall on hard times by providing a subsistance income, helping them to identify their strengths and weaknesses, offering them training and courses appropriate to their needs, and helping suitable employers and employees come together.

This sordid scheme once again reinforces two things that we should all know about the Tories by now: The first is that they will never ever pass up an opportunity to pump more public money into private companies. The second is that they have absolute contempt towards "the lower orders", so much so that Esther McVey imagines that it is her role to belittle, demean and punish the unemployed, rather than to actually help them in any meaningful way. 

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