Friday, 15 November 2013

Who Needs Capability Assessment?

You would expect a sensible government to put in place critical assessments where there is a need to manage substantial risks and dangers, but otherwise make trust and openness the norm.

By that simple logic, the British Government would insist on carrying out the most stringent capability assessment of bankers and financial traders to determine if they can be trusted to manage other people’s money. Their failings in the past have cost us almost a trillion pounds in bank bailout spending. But the government prefers to leave them to it. Even the tax on their bonuses was dropped on the grounds that they should not be troubled by the red tape of government control.

Where the government does want to see much more red tape is in the lives of vulnerable people. Take the Work Capability Assessment, for example. People who have been found by their doctors to suffer impairment, which prevents them from getting adequate paid employment, need disability allowance to survive. But they are subject to an assessment regime, notorious for its flawed criteria, run by people with no medical expertise, which to meet pre-determined targets would simply declare a large number of them as ‘fit to work’ and cut their benefits. The victims are left to starve. Some have committed suicide.

Why doesn’t the government put an end to this? Or at least recognise that if anyone’s capability sorely needs to be assessed, it is that of the contractor paid millions to do something they are manifestly incapable of doing fairly or competently.

That takes us to the heart of the matter. This government only believes in using ‘capability assessment’ to make life more difficult for scapegoat groups it wants to portray as untrustworthy. Disabled people and low income groups seeking social security; immigrants looking for an opportunity to start a new life in the country; unions trying to resort to strike actions when all else fail; they all have to jump through endless hoops and still find themselves branded negatively.

By contrast, if you are in tune with the plutocratic outlook of this government, then capability is not an issue at all. Like G4S, you can mess up the public contracts given to you, end up being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office, and still be given more work and money by this government ( Or like HCA (Hospital Corporation of America), which has been fined over $1 billion for mis-selling healthcare in the US, but is a generous donor to the Conservative Party, and it gets a lucrative NHS contract

In fact, in order to bring in more corporate ‘high flyers’ to take charge of public services such as education and policing, the government wants to get rid of capability assessment altogether. It has scrapped the requirement of a formal qualification in teaching for academies, ‘free schools’, and (since September 2013) Further Education. Business executives can soon be parachuted into the top ranks of our police forces with no experience in policing whatsoever.

Ultimately, this government’s thinking on capability assessment comes down to this. If you’re high up the corporate ladder, ready to side with/donate to the party that will look after your interests, you will be rewarded even if you’re grossly incompetent. But if you’re low down the socio-economic scale, unable to fight against the vilification and injustice directed at you, you can expect to have plenty of assessments coming your way to frustrate you.

[It is worth remembering that less than 0.9% of the social security budget is lost through fraud AND error (£3.2b), whereas £18 billion more would be spent if there were no underclaim or underpayment of benefits. See, The Lies We Tell Ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty (report by Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist Church, Church of Scotland, & the United Reformed Church, 2013)]

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