by Adam Carlton
Centerlink’s call services were outsourced to British multinational services company Serco last week, on a three-year pilot contract worth $51.7 million.
The Community and Public Sector Union condemned it immediately and called the privatisation an “absolute disaster”.
National secretary, Nadine Flood said:
“This deal hatched by the Turnbull Government is an absolute disaster for Centrelink and the thousands of vulnerable Australians who rely on the agency. Serco is a tax-avoiding multinational parasite, plain and simple, that profits from downgrading public services and underpaying the people who provide them. Everything they touch sees services suffer.”
“Trusting the highly sensitive needs and information handled by Centrelink staff to a private operator is scary in itself and this situation is even worse. We’re deeply concerned at the prospect of Centrelink clients being dealt with by a company that runs private prisons and Australia’s immigration detention centres.”
“Centrelink services have already been run into the ground as the Turnbull Government has slashed more than 5,000 permanent jobs from the Department of Human Services. The number of unanswered call has climbed rapidly as the Government has continued cutting, with more than 42 million calls going unanswered just last financial year alone.”
There is serious concern about the lack of transparency in the tendering process that has landed a lucrative contract into the hands of a company that already has business arrangements with the government and this has added to speculation about handing over government resources to mates.
Serco has a history of connection to corporate donations to the Liberal Party.
The Turnbull government has been accused of deliberately setting up a process do discourage people from going to Centrelink and if this is the case, privatisation is not going to change much at all.
A price has been paid by the Turnbull government in terms of its reputation and there is sense about that the Turnbull government is keen to create a buffer that can be used to redirect criticism.
By bringing in Serco, the Turnbull government has set itself up to be accused of a cynical move to set a buffer between itself and Centrelink services. If this is the case, the only difference that can be expected is for the minister and his colleagues to deny responsibility for what has been called in some quarters a human rights abuse.
Last week’s claim by Human Services minister Alan Tudge that handing over the task to Serco will resolve the problems is unconvincing.
Serco staff are not likely to have the expertise to handle callers’ needs. Even if they do, there is a clear financial incentive to prioritise minimising the number on payments, cut costs not to improve the quality of service. After all, the company may want to move from the pilot to an ongoing contract in three years.
Nor does the culling of jobs in the department provide confidence that there will be an improvement to services.
Another concern is the involvement of Serco is that it will have access to vest amounts of personal information and there is little confidence that this information will be properly respected, when it becomes a valuable commodity to be traded, even in the face of the existence of privacy legislation. We have seen this in the case of internet service providers and the government has not provided any specific safeguards in relation to Centrelink services.
It is the human toll that matters most and the disturbing list below, from the Anti-Poverty Network SA, gives a good idea of what is going on in the United Kingdom, where Serco is contracted to provide services to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), along with cyber company Atos and security provider G4S. The saddest part about it is that it sounds so familiar. People are being driven to desperation and some are dying in Australia too.
Bringing Serco into the picture will mean that it becomes part of an ongoing and worsening problem.
Content warning – death and suicide
- Terry McGarvey, 48. Dangerously ill from polycythemia, Terry asked for an ambulance to be called during his Work Capability Assessment. He knew that he wasn’t well enough to attend his WCA but feared that his benefits would be stopped if he did not. He died the following day.
- Elaine Lowe, 53. Suffering from COPD and fearful of losing her benefits. In desperation, Elaine chose to commit suicide.
- Mark Wood, 44. Found fit for work by Atos, against his Doctors advice and assertions that he had complex mental health problems. Starved to death after benefits stopped, weighing only 5st 8lb when he died.
- Paul Reekie, 48, the Leith based Poet and Author. Paul suffered from severe depression and committed suicide after the DWP stopped his benefits due to an Atos ‘fit for work’ decision.
- Leanne Chambers, 30. Leanne suffered depression for many years which took a turn for the worst when she was called in for a WCA. Leanne committed suicide soon after.
- Karen Sherlock, 44. Karen suffered from multiple health issues but was found fit for work by Atos and denied her lifeline benefits. She fought a long battle to get placed into the support group of ESA and died the following month of a heart attack.
- Carl Payne, 42. Fearing the loss of his lifeline benefits due to welfare reform, this Father of two chose to take his own life.
- Tim Salter, 53. Blind and suffering from Agoraphobia. Tim was found fit for work by Atos and committed suicide soon after.
- Edward Jacques, 47 years old and suffering from HIV and Hepatitis C. Edward had a history of severe depression and self-harm. He took a fatal overdose after Atos found him fit for work and stopped his benefits.
- Linda Wootton, 49 years old. A double heart and lung transplant patient who died just nine days after the government found her fit for work, their refusal letter arriving as she lay desperately ill in her hospital bed.
- Steven Cawthra, 55. His benefits stopped by the DWP and with rising debts, Steven saw suicide as the only way out of a desperate situation.
- Elenore Tatton, 39 years old. Died just weeks after the government found her fit for work via an Atos decision.
- John Walker, 57. John found himself saddled with debt because of the bedroom tax, and took his own life as a result.
- Brian McArdle, 57 years old. Found fit for work by Atos, Brian suffered a fatal heart attack the day after his disability benefits were stopped.
- Stephen Hill, 53. Died of a heart attack one month after being found fit for work, even though he was waiting for major heart surgery.
- Jacqueline Harris, 53. A former Nurse who could hardly walk was found fit for work by Atos and her benefits withdrawn. in desperation, she took her own life.
- David Barr, 28. Suffering from severe mental difficulties. David threw himself from a bridge after being found fit for work by Atos and failing his appeal.
- David Groves, 56. Died of a massive heart attack the night before taking his work capability assessment. His widow went on to claim that it was the stress and worry that eventually killed him.
- Nicholas Peter Barker, 51. Nicholas shot himself after being told his benefits were being stopped. He was unable to work after a brain haemorrhage left him paralysed down one side.
- Mark and Helen Mullins, 48 and 59 years old. This couple were forced to live on £57.50 a week and make 12 mile trips each week to get free vegetables to make soup. Mark and Helen both committed suicide.
- Richard Sanderson, 44. Unable to find a job and with his housing benefit cut forcing him to move, but with nowhere to go. Richard chose to commit suicide.
- Martin Rust, 36 years old. A schizophrenic man who killed himself just two months after the government found him fit to work via an Atos medical.
- Craig Monk, 43. A vulnerable gentleman and a partial amputee who slipped so far into poverty and destitution that he hanged himself.
- Colin Traynor, 29. Colin, a sufferer of epilepsy was stripped of his benefits following an Atos medical. He appealed against it. Five weeks after his death his family found he had won his appeal.
- Elaine Christian, 57 years old. Worried about her work capability assessment, Elaine was subsequently found at Holderness drain, drowned and with ten self inflicted wrist wounds.
- Christelle and Kayjah Pardoe, 32 years and 5 month old. Pregnant, her benefits stopped, Christelle, clutching her baby son jumped from a third floor balcony.
- Mark Scott, 46. With his DLA and housing benefit stopped after an Atos medical, and sinking into deep depression, Mark died six weeks later.
- Cecilia Burns, 51. Found fit for work by the government whilst undergoing treatment for breast cancer, Cecila died just a few weeks after she won her appeal against the Atos decision.
- Chris Cann, 57 years old. Chris was found dead in his home just months after being told that he had to undergo a medical assessment to prove he could not work.
- Peter Hodgson, 49. Called in to Job Centre Plus to see if he was suitable for volunteer work. Peter had suffered a stroke, a brain haemorrhage and had a surgically fused leg. His appointment letter arrived a few days after he took his own life.
- Paul Willcoxsin, 33 years old. Paul suffered with mental health problems and was becoming increasingly worried about government cuts. He committed suicide by hanging himself.
- Stephanie Bottrill, 53. After paying £80 a month for bedroom tax, Stephanie could not afford heating in the winter and lived on tinned custard. In desperation, she chose to walk out into the road in front of a lorry.
- Larry Newman suffered from a degenerative lung condition, his weight dropping from 10 to 7 stone. Atos duly awarded him zero points, he died just three months after submitting his appeal.
- Paul Turner, 52 years old. After suffering a heart attack, Paul was ordered to find a job in February. In April he died from ischaemic heart disease.
- Christopher Charles Harkness, 39. After finding out that the funding for his care home was being withdrawn, this man who suffered with mental health issues, took his own life.
- Sandra Louise Moon, 57. Suffering from a degenerative back condition, depression and increasingly worried about losing her incapacity benefit. Sandra committed suicide by taking an overdose.
- Lee Robinson, 39 years old. Lee took his own life after his housing benefit and council tax were taken away from him.
- David Coupe, 57. A Cancer sufferer found fit for work by Atos in 2012. David lost his sight, then his hearing, then his mobility, and then his life.
- Michael McNicholas, 34. Severely depressed and a recovering alcoholic. Michael committed suicide after being called in for a Work Capability Assessment by Atos.
- Victor Cuff, 59 and suffering from severe depression. Victor hanged himself after the DWP stopped his benefits.
- Charles Barden, 74. Charles committed suicide by hanging due to fears that the Bedroom Tax would leave him destitute and unable to cope.
- Ian Caress, 43. Suffered multiple health issues and deteriorating eyesight. Ian was found fit for work by Atos, he died ten months later having lost so much weight that his family said that he resembled a concentration camp victim.
- Iain Hodge, 30. Suffering from the life threatening illness, Hughes Syndrome, Iain was found fit for work by Atos and had benefits stopped. Iain took his own life shortly after.
- Wayne Grew, 37. Severely depressed due to government cuts and the fear of losing his job, Wayne committed suicide by hanging.
- Kevin Bennett, 40. Kevin, a sufferer of schizophrenia and mental illness became so depressed after his JSA was stopped that he became a virtual recluse. Kevin was found dead in his flat several months later.
- David Elwyn Hughs Harries, 48. A disabled man who could no longer cope after his parents died, could find no help from the government via benefits. David took an overdose as a way out of his solitude.
- Denis Jones, 58. A disabled man crushed by the pressures of government cuts, in particular the Bedroom Tax, and unable to survive by himself. Denis was found dead in his flat.
- Shaun Pilkington, 58. Unable to cope any more, Shaun shot himself dead after receiving a letter from the DWP informing him that his ESA was being stopped following an Atos medical.
- Paul, 51. Died in a freezing cold flat after his ESA was stopped. Paul appealed the decision and won on the day that he lost his battle to live.
- Chris MaGuire, 61. Deeply depressed and incapable of work, Chris was summoned by Atos for a Work Capability Assessment and deemed fit for work. On appeal, a judge overturned the Atos decision and ordered them to leave him alone for at least a year, which they did not do. In desperation, Chris took his own life, unable to cope any more.
- Peter Duut, a Dutch national with terminal cancer living in the UK for many years found that he was not entitled to benefits unless he was active in the labour market. Peter died leaving his wife destitute, and unable to pay for his funeral.
- George Scollen, age unknown. Took his own life after the government closed the Remploy factory he had worked in for 40 years.
- Julian Little, 47. Wheelchair bound and suffering from kidney failure, Julian faced the harsh restrictions of the Bedroom Tax and the loss of his essential dialysis room. He died shortly after being ordered to downgrade.
- Miss DE, early 50’s. Suffering from mental illness, this lady committed suicide less than a month after an Atos assessor gave her zero points and declared her fit for work.
- Robert Barlow, 47. Suffering from a brain tumour, a heart defect and awaiting a transplant, Robert was deemed fit for work by Atos and his benefits were withdrawn. He died penniless less than two years later.
- Carl Joseph Foster-Brown, 58. As a direct consequence of the wholly unjustifiable actions of the Job centre and DWP, this man took his own life.
- Martin Hadfield, 20 years old. Disillusioned with the lack of jobs available in this country but too proud to claim benefits. Utterly demoralised, Martin took his own life by hanging himself.
- Annette Francis, 30. A mum-of-one suffering from severe mental illness, Anne was found dead after her disability benefits were ceased.
- Ian Jordan, 60. His benefits slashed after Atos and the DWP declared Ian, a sufferer of Barratt’s Oesophagus, fit for work, caused him to run up massive debts in order to survive. Ian was found dead in his flat after taking an overdose.
- Janet McCall, 53. Terminally ill with pulmonary fibrosis and declared ‘Fit for Work’ by Atos and the DWP, this lady died 5 months after her benefits were stopped.
- Stuart Holley, 23. A man driven to suicide by the DWP’s incessant pressure and threat of sanctions for not being able to find a job.
- Graham Shawcross, 63. A sufferer of the debilitating disease, Addison’s. Died of a heart attack due to the stress of an Atos ‘Fit for Work’ decision.
- David Clapson, 59 years old. A diabetic ex-soldier deprived of the means to survive by the DWP and the governments harsh welfare reforms, David died all but penniless, starving and alone, his electricity run out.
- Chris Smith, 59. Declared ‘Fit for Work’ by Atos as he lay dying of Cancer in his hospital bed.
- Nathan Hartwell, 36, died of heart failure after an 18-month battle with the Department for Works and Pensions.
- Michael Connolly, 60. A Father of One, increasingly worried about finances after his benefits were cut. Committed suicide by taking 13 times the fatal dose of prescription medicine on the 30th October – His Birthday.
- Jan Mandeville, 52, A lady suffering from Fibromyalgia, driven to the point of mental and physical breakdown by this governments welfare reforms. Jan was found dead in her home after battling the DWP for ESA and DLA.
- Trevor Drakard, 50 years old. A shy and reserved, severe epileptic who suffered regular and terrifying fits almost his entire life, hounded to suicide by the DWP who threatened to stop his life-line benefits.
- Peter Kelleher, 44. Found in his flat with a ligature around his neck and in a state of decomposition after the pressure of mounting debt and no benefit at all became too much to bear.
- Mark Cotton, 54. A Double amputee that relied upon paid care to get around was reassessed by the DWP, only to receive a telephone call 4 days later to inform him that his care allowance was to be slashed from 9 hours per week, to 3. Mark was found dead in his home 48 hours later having committed suicide.
- Malcolm Burge, 66. A retired gardener who killed himself after being hounded for £800 after changes to his benefits left him unable to cope.
- Julia Kelly, 39. Suffering with chronic back pain and hounded constantly by the DWP, Julia committed suicide after receiving a letter demanding that she pay back over £4000.
- Benjamin Del McDonald, 34. A doting Father of three children suffering from depression due to removal of his lifeline benefits, Benjamin committed suicide by hanging.
- Mark William Jacka, 26. Stressed to the point of suicide, Mark was found hanged at his home the day after a visit to his local Job Centre to apply for JSA.
- David O’Mar, 58. Suffering from Pneumonia in a hospital bed. Found ‘Fit for Work’ by the DWP only to die two weeks later.
- Glenn Harris, 55. A sufferer of Lupus, depression and unable to work. Glenn became increasingly worried about his benefits being stopped, and took his life by partially decapitating himself.
- Aaron Lane, 31 years old. A talented musician battling mental health problems who took his own life after he was ruled by the DWP as fit to work.
- Moira Drury, 61 years old. Suffering from limited mobility and mini-strokes, epilepsy and depression. Her daughter later reported that she believed that a seven-month delay in processing her benefit claim hastened her death.
- Gordon Lang, 62 years old, A marine veteran who fought for his country, died from cancer whilst battling the DWP over the loss of his benefits.
- David Waite, 60 years old. A sufferer of many problems ranging from brain damage, neck pain, diabetes and depression. Died following the loss of his benefits.
- David Brown, 18 years of age. Took his own life after Job Centre staff belittled him and threatened to sanction his Jobseeker’s Allowance.
- James Harrison, 55. Seriously ill with a lung and heart condition, depression and anxiety. Died just months following a DWP request to his GP not to give him any more sick notes.
- Lawrence Bond, 56. Spent his last day alive in a Job Centre being told he was ‘Fit for Work’, before dying of a heart attack on the way home.
- Susan Margaret Roberts, 68. After being turned down for PIP following the DWP’s controversial Work Capability Assessment, this lady, a sufferer of Chronic Fibromyalgia, took her own life.”