By Noah Wilderbeest
The new Ken Loach film, I, Daniel Blake will find resonance with anyone who has dealt with Centrelink over the past two decades. Blake (Dave Johns) is a fifty-something carpenter who, following a heart attack, is forced to deal with the bastardry of the Cameron government’s ‘welfare reforms’.
Loach pulls no punches in his portrayal of the victims of free market forces and austerity measures. The interminable waiting in telephone queues, the bureaucratic bungling, the deliberate cruelty toward those who dare ask the State for ‘hand-out’, and the ineffective practices and entrenched bullying of the Job Network agencies and Disability Support providers.
Trans-Ed: Working for the Clampdown
Ask Bill Shorten and he’ll tell you that the NDIS was to be the centre-piece of the Gillard government’s first term and was designed to provide those born with, or who had acquired a disability, a permanent safety net.
You know, the sort of thing that civilized administrations do to ensure the well-being of those at the greatest disadvantage.
Under the succeeding LNP government and its successive ministers, Andrews, Morrison, Porter and Cash, the roll out of the NDIS meant pushing the whole damned socialist scheme under a bus.
This bus is called “Transitional Education”.
In New-speak, “Transitional Education” is a generic term which the Abbott /Turnbull government likes to spin in an attempt to foster a sense of a slightly forward motion while actually remaining stock still on the issue of unemployment/underemployment.
Cobbled together from the remnants of Work for the Dole and the reappraised Disability Support Payment scheme, Trans-Ed or Foundation Skills as it is otherwise known, targets ‘transitioning’ welfare recipients including those on disability payments ‘ toward work’ as part of the government’s ongoing policy of war on welfare.
The scheme comes in two stages of nine months for each stage. For the agencies, contracted at $15,000 per head, the goal is to run the DSP recipient through both courses and reap between $300-360,000 of government subsidies per class of 20.
Like Work for the Dole, the new regulations governing payments to the handicapped are sold under the guise of ‘providing opportunity’, ‘helping the disabled gain entry to the work-force’ or ‘giving youth a chance to learn new skills’, when in fact the scheme is simply an extension of the same welfare bashing snake oil in a new bottle.
I should know. I’ve just spent nine months working as a “Trainer” with a Jobactive/DSP Provider and all of what follows is true…
From the outset, everything about the course was wrong. The class-room was the surrounded by windows on three sides and flanked by a car-park entrance and the reception area of the Jobactive provider. This meant that not only was it noisy but the glare from the windows made the white-board which doubled as a screen for the overhead projector all but unreadable, even for those sitting at the front of the room. Not that there was much space to write anything, as the bottom half of the board had been damaged and was unusable.
There were eight antique PC’s lined against one wall for the 20 ‘learners’. Only six worked.
Contradictions abounded. Almost all of the course units required the use of “research”, yet most of the on-line teaching/learning resources including YouTube, and educational game sites were blocked. When I tried to have them unblocked, I was told; “These are really just reserved for job-seekers and not for learners”. Welcome to market forces for the handicapped.
The new Kapo’s
Bullying and authoritarianism were the order of the day. During the early weeks of the course I was constantly reminded by management to “get tough on ‘em, don’t be too soft”.
At a “Professional Development” seminar, the presenter emphasized the importance of keeping a “professional distance” from the learners, and related the story of a trainer who had loaned a disabled learner the princely sum of $2.00 to replace a lost library card. “The trainer did the wrong thing!” he thundered. “They (the disabled), have got to learn to be independent and stand on their own two feet”. The irony of his statement was lost on him and on his audience who collectively and dutifully nodded in agreement.
It wasn’t long before I witnessed the ‘get tough on ‘em’ policy in action.
“Margret”, a woman in her mid-50s suffered from crippling depression. Wan and frail with heavy dark circles under her eyes, she told me that she had to force herself to leave the house. As a result she was often late or absent from class.
On a day she managed to attend, the course co-ordinator was taking the class. The co-ordinator immediately flew into her and began a tirade about punctuality, and “mutual obligation”. Margret was ushered into an interview room, she was joined by her case-officer.
I watched for half an hour as the the two of them brow-beat and bullied the unfortunate woman for the crime of arriving late to class. When Margret left, she never returned.
A few weeks later, her case officer approached me to tell me Margret had been breached (loss of all payments) for three months.
I wanted to punch the case officer in the face.
The course material was pure flannel. Designed for the severely intellectually disabled, its main purpose was to engage the “learner” in cutting pictures from magazines or newspapers and pasting them in work books. For six hours a day. Three days per week.
Politics and profit-making however, are about numbers and in the case of Class 1A, of the twenty claimants only three received a Disability payment. The rest, all of whom had made a claim for DSP but were in the process of being evaluated and remained on Newstart, were shunted into the course to make up a quorum.
Some were the victims of war, others are the result of working hard physical labour in factories or on construction sites, and whose bones and muscles were now worn out. Many were simply the victims of ‘market forces’ and unable to cope with a changing world that views them as redundant.
There were those suffering from epilepsy, depression, and heart conditions which, under the new guidelines, do not exclude them from looking for a job or doing voluntary work. I witnessed a gentle bear of a man have an epileptic seizure, and talented young artist shaking like a leaf during a panic attack. Both had their claims for disability payment rejected.
Davina, a woman in her early sixties, suffered a heart attack one week-end and similarly to Daniel Blake was left in limbo while her claim for DSP was processed. She scrambled desperately to be allowed to re-join the course but was rebuffed by the management “because we don’t want her having a another heart attack on the premises.”
When I left the job, Davina was still in limbo and in all likelihood has had her claim for DSP rejected and remains on Newstart with the requirement of looking for 40 jobs a month.
At the end of the course, the DS provider picked up a cheque for $180,000 of the tax payers’ hard earned for the twelve remaining learners in the course and were paid pro-rata for the eight who had either dropped out, or like Margret and Davina, had been forced out.
The learners were handed a piece of laminated cardboard bearing the DS providers logo and assured the world that the above named had attained completion of Transitional Education Stage One.
A $15,000 government funded ‘qualification’ for participating in an employment program which provides as many real world skills as an egg and spoon race.
The three learners classified as intellectually disabled were offered a place in stage two of the Trans-Ed program, the rest were told that they could take a ‘discounted’ Jobactive Provider approved course -Hospitality, Aged Care – at their own expense.
The corruption and inefficient practices the privatized, profit seeking employment agencies has been well documented in the mainstream media and long since exposed as fraud in both Australia and the UK.
The largest slice of the government subsidies pie to the JNS/DSP system is spent on executive salaries, and the car parks of the “not-for-profit” providers resemble show-rooms for late model eff-off size Beamer’s and Benz.
The Roy Morgan Research group estimates the real unemployment figures at 9.8% of the workforce and 8.0% for underemployed. According to the Australian Network on Disability, the unemployment rate for the disabled is around 9.4%. That’s nine people disabled people applying for one job.
The catch is that under the government’s new guidelines, the focus is on the 11.3% of the disabled clinically diagnosed as having mental or behavioral disabilities can qualify for DS payment, leaving the 83.9% of the physically disabled to the tender mercies of the job network providers and a private sector unable or unwilling to provide the necessary infrastructure to accommodate disabled employees.
In short, a system designed not to help the disabled but to knee-cap the handicapped.
I, Daniel Blake accurately and unerringly portrays the struggle faced by the victims of government “austerity measures” and the cruelty of a system administered by the providers of doom and designed to ‘weed-out’ the “lifters from the leaners”.
If the Jobactive/Disability Support Provider system were a human body, it would not only be pronounced dead but also in a state of putrefaction.
I, Daniel Blake is currently screening. Check independent cinema web-sites for details.