I am not a widget: privatisation of social services

With Tony Abbott’s committment this week to implement the IPA’s policies, it is perhaps timely to have a little look at what that could mean for the care sector. Luckily, both here and overseas, there are an increasing amount of examples of what this brave, new world of market-driven social services looks like.

I’ve been watching the recent changes to the care sector in the UK with an increasing level of alarm over the past few years. From the Big Society, to social workers morphing into social entrepreneurs, the essential services of government are being sold off, bit by bit.

Large corporates, already well established in the employment sector, are moving in to social services with predictably disastrous results. The rationale behind all this is that governments are inefficient, and the market can deliver better services for a lower price. There is NO evidence at all that this is true, but it is a mantra repeated ad nauseum by a variety of right-wing think tanks.

Rights for women, children, people with disabilities, older people, indigenous people, migrants – well, basically anyone who was not a property holding, white bloke – were fought for by successive generations of activists. Just as unions fought for basic working conditions, the first social workers fought for the basics of the welfare state system.

“These workers responded to local issues whether it was poverty, lack of health or education, workers’ rights or the rights of women and children.”

This system of protection is under significant attack. I’ve written before about how the NDIS fits neatly into a privatised, individualised form of disability support. In NSW, the LNP Government is trialling so-called social bonds, with the expectation that one day they will be a tradable commodity, like other bonds. Because people are just the same as widgets, after all.

The IPA, helpfully, has laid out their plans for reform of mental health and disability services here.

“We must now begin to argue that individual and family choice and a reduced role for government should extend beyond the realms of economic management and into social policy in Australia.”

As usual, when it comes to policy, none of this is particularly new. The previous LNP Government started this process off with the dismantling of the CES and the introduction of the horribly complex Job Network (now Job Services Australia), that is now dominated by a few large players. The Parliamentary Library looked at the issues in 1998, summarised here and this paper from 1993 teases out some of the key concerns.

What has changed is the emergence of giant corporate players, such as Serco and G4S. This fundamentally shifts the power balance in favour of the market and reduces the care sector to just another business.

“An overarching risk of privatisation is that the transfer of businesses to the private sector could be accompanied by fundamental changes in services since the public sector ethos of providing a service to the public may be replaced by the motivation of the private firm to make a profit.” (From here.)

In the UK, groups have come together to oppose the wholesale privatisation of government services. This is more than just opposition though; this is about stopping the wholesale handover of core government responsibilities to the brutality of the market.

You can bet that any contracts an Abbott Government signs with these big corporates will end up commercial in confidence; hidden from the scrutiny that now applies to the non-government sector or to government itself through the budget process.

I don’t want the essential services of government, hard-fought for by women over the last century, sold off so large corporates can make money. The reason they fought so hard was because the market had failed and impacts on women and children, particularly, were harsh.

Time for a bit more light on this aspect of the LNP policy handbook, I think.


About bluntshovels

Freelance writer, with an unhealthy interest in Senate committees.
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3 Responses to I am not a widget: privatisation of social services

  1. YES! WE are starting to see this in Qld, worse, the regional areas, where it is NOT attractive for the market suffer greatly 😦

  2. Oz says:

    I think social impact bonds are going to be most insidious way of privatisating social services as they’re getting buy in from parts of the not-for profit sector. Iwrote about those concerns awhile ago and see it as a public-private partnership for the social services (just look at who is involved with the Centre for Social Impact which is promoting it).

    The original trial in the United Kingdom has not actually been completed or evaluated yet. This (far less critical) piece I came across alsopoints out that it will be very hard to attribute improvements to the SIB mechanism. More needs to be done to highlight these issues.

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