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The prospect of the worldwide security and services company, G4S, getting centrally involved in the Government’s back to work programme is a very interesting one which could revolutionise our welfare system.

It will herald a part privatisation of the job seeking services and could rejuvenate the welfare culture and make it results-driven, so that it can be flexible and imaginative in getting people back to work. Despite many changes, the existing system is still too static, and has not done enough to cure the system of ‘welfare traps’ and the sense of semi-permanence for so many recipients. It is an understandable paralysis, given how the system has been overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of hundreds of thousands of unemployed in just two to three years

Instead, we will have a hugely successful and effective company which actually employs people – an incredible 700,000 worldwide -at the heart of the job-seeking services, which should be a lot more focused than a guy at a dole office hatch or an overwhelmed official sitting in a crowded public office.

G4S have advertised saying that they are ‘looking for organisations to be part of our supply chain to deliver JobPath, the new Irish employment programme for people who have been unemployed for over 12 months. We are looking for national and regional partners to help shape our supply chain design, and advise on on-going delivery’ The plan of G4S is to ‘subcontract 100% of delivery to local organisations that are embedded in local communities.’ They will help people connect to jobs prospects and, crucially, the company will be paid according to its delivery on jobs, so you can’t get a more incentivised way for delivering to a recovering jobs market.

For this is the reality: our jobs market is slowly staring to recover, but we need an energetic means of transferring people into it. The welfare traps which are stopping people taking up work are well known by now and the slow pace of progress in getting unemployed people back to work has become a top target for Troika criticisms. There is also the matter of savings still required from the huge welfare budget, being sustained by hard pressed taxpayers.

And we have been here before. In the 1997 general election, it was a big issue. The economy was finally on the rise with high levels of job creation but those on the dole couldn’t get out of the poverty trap that it wasn’t worth their while to take up a job. It was one of the reasons for the then demands for tax cuts. At the time, income tax cuts were done with a view to showing working people there was a reward from the economic rise but it was also done to incentivise people to take up a job. People in jobs were saying that it wasn’t worth while doing overtime or taking a promotion because of the punitive tax rates. And those on the dole were saying it’s not worth getting off it.

Of course the G4S arrival will provoke disquiet. They have been involved in number of controversies worldwide, gleefully described by the left wing British press, which seems to be annoyed by the extensive use of the company by the UK Government, including for the 2012 London Olympics. There have been allegations of tax evasion and of involvement in security services in Israel. But, quite frankly, a global company with almost 700,000 employees, and especially one extensively involved in security, is bound to be involved in controversies somewhere. By contrast, G4S built the country’s spanking new Courts building near Heuston Station, and is involved in its maintenance and security at all levels.

And this answers the other objection to G4S’s involvement: the broader one about the privatisation of State services, which is surely old hat by now. The State has been rolled back from so many areas, from broadcasting to air travel that many of us would welcome more privatisation, such as in our bus and train services. Privatisation works, and competition works and this is the lesson we, of all European countries, have learned in recent years. And the instinctive resistance of many to such commercial involvement is ultimately easily overcome – by success. If G4S can get people back into the jobs market and shorten our dole lines then who’ll complain?

When incoming Prime Minister Tony Blair made Frank Field MP the pioneering Minister for Welfare Reform, he urged him to ‘think the unthinkable’ in terms of overhauling an outdated and incentive-killing system. Now is the chance for Joan Burton to do the same, as she has long promised. To do so could empower our youth, strengthen the economy and could represent the Minister’s finest moment.

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