G4S are big. They are the ‘largest secure solutions company in the UK and Ireland’* Formerly a merger between Securicor and G4 Security services, G4S are now bidding successfully for a number of government contracts which have nothing to do with security but everything to do with the provision of social services, in particular the governments Welfare to Work Programme. This is like giving the multinational food processing industries responsibility for health. In the same way that MacDonalds, Coca Cola and Nestle have nothing to do with fresh fruit, salad and vegetables (other than to process them) G4S cannot possibly replace the small organisations like Latitude in Hull who are working at grass roots level right in the centre of communities with the highest unemployment figures. The government calls Welfare to Work supporting families with multiple problems saying it’s issues like ‘drug and alcohol dependency, debt and literacy difficulties’* which are creating barriers to employment and costing £8billion in welfare which neatly ignores the real causes of social exclusion like inadequate access to fundamental resources such as housing, education, health care, decent food and a safe place to live. Local organisations have insight into these issues in a way that no company on the stock exchange with a ‘turnover of more than £1 billion and over 40,000 employees managed from over 80 offices’* can begin to understand.
I visited Latitude to look at the role of the Internet in applying for work. Of the fifty cards on the wall, the vast majority asked for an emailed cv or gave a website address. Those with telephone numbers were all answerphones. Retail companies such as Boots, Asda and Tesco demand online application as do the council. All with tiny print and compulsory requirements like email addresses and telephone numbers, many also include online aptitude tests with pages which have to be completed sequentially. These applications go on for ever demanding high levels of computer skills and confidence. Latitude (whose services are being taken over by G4S) go out of their way to support people; filling in forms, giving guidance on cvs and letters, trying to narrow the digital divide but there are not enough of them and too many people who need help. There is no way online application measures individual ability to do a job; it just shows you can operate a keyboard and with the government moving towards digital by default services and large companies coming in to deliver government welfare programmes, it will not be long before existing marginalisation increase on an exponential scale. The worry is that in an increasingly digital society, increased social exclusion will simply become as invisible as most digital exclusion already is.