Equality of opportunity is not enough. Unless we create an environment where everyone is guaranteed some minimum capabilities through some guarantee of minimum income, education, and healthcare, we cannot say that we have fair competition. When some people have to run a 100 metre race with sandbags on their legs, the fact that no one is allowed to have a head start does not make the race fair. Equality of opportunity is absolutely necessary but not sufficient in building a genuinely fair and efficient society.
Ha-Joon Chang – 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism
July 2011, homeless, at risk, unemployed and generally feeling lost and rejected by society. In homeless accommodation tucked away in the back streets of Headingley (Leeds), rife with drugs, violence and other lost souls, not feeling human anymore. My fortnightly visits to the Jobcentre Plus to sign on and inform the advisor of efforts to find work would add to the feeling of not being human. Little consideration was given to the status I had acquired through past actions 16 years ago and more. The status that dominated everything in terms of ‘who was I’, an ‘ex-offender’, actually I was not at that time allowed to officially refer to myself as ‘ex’. One of my convictions wasn’t spent – a conviction for attempted robbery aged 18 in 1991. I was still dangerous and a risk to society, but hey, someone will give me a job!
I had more chances of winning the lottery than finding work being homeless, unemployed and ‘a risk to society’ and ‘dangerous’. So what did the government think the answer was for people like me; the long term unemployed, the ‘feckless’ and ‘scrounger’ stealing the tax payers money! The Work Programme. I was referred, and became contracted to a private training company funded to help me find work through ‘agreements’. The agreements became a contract between myself and the prime, the prime being the provider of services assisting jobseekers find employment.
I’m not sure in hindsight what I expected of the WP. I’m well educated, level 6 for those in the know, educated to degree level, and a vast array of skills and experience. I didn’t need training and ‘first’ advisor agreed. I ended up having a total of eight advisers in the two years seconded to WP, I think the prime misunderstood the ‘dedicated advisor’ part of the contract.
It became intriguing to know how ‘they’ as a provider were going to deal with an ‘offender’ (note the absence of ‘ex’ to be legislatively [Rehabilitation of Offenders Act] correct. The description used by the government, the abettors of discriminatory policies is “seriously disadvantaged in the labour market” (Centre for Economic & Social Inclusion).
To cut a very long story short, they did not know how to deal with me. I was someone who they could not fit into fixed descriptors and prejudices (of which I heard plenty). They left me to get on with my own attempts, and could not support me when I wanted to be self-employed. I was cemented onto a programme offering nothing I did not already know or had tried. I was a commodity that was failing to be sold (disposed of).
My two years ended in July just gone (2013) and with a great sense of relief. I’ve nothing positive to say, or favourable or in support to say about the Work Programme. I saw the chaos of it, the lack of humanity it treated some of the people it was contracted to help. I heard and saw prejudices that made me question peoples ability to emphasise, understand and care for another human being. I saw what happens if you contract welfare out to enterprise for profit. I saw the destruction of people’s will and intent, including those that worked for the prime.
One thing that I can take from this experience and observations is the dangers that ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ is going to inflict upon an unsuspecting society in terms of protection of the public and rehabilitation of offenders being privatised.
I’m not ideological in terms of left and right partisan persuasions. I question public services as rigorously as I do private enterprise. I can’t be pigeon holed in terms of ideologies. I have conservative leanings, as much as I do liberal and socialist ones. I won’t pin my flag on any one political ideological doctrine. And feel free for thinking this way.
However, there is matters of public affairs I feel should not ever change, justice and welfare of people in society should never be for profit or resolved by profiteers or enterprise. Justice, public protection, peoples rehabilitation and the welfare of the seriously disadvantaged, discriminated, and excluded should never become commodities or fodder for political ideologies and political gain. We as human beings have a public duty to provide welfare, hope, support and dignity to all those that need it, and it is and always should be a matter of State. We fail that, we fail being human.