Achive listing

28-02-2012

My impressions of the Work Programme

A year of countless hopeful, un-replied-to applications and a few disappointing interviews. My sense of dread in the jobcentre was even greater than usual with the prospect of the Work Programme.

The adviser talked me through the paperwork. My eye was drawn to the motto underneath the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) logo "when you must take part". It was hard to conceal my teeth gritting in anger.

As if I hadn't been taking part! As if I had sat passively, content on poverty benefits watching a whole year of my life pass by! On every sheet of paper, the same sentence: "If you do not undertake the activities required, your benefit could be affected".

My first appointment. I get lost as I think my appointment is with Working Links, who according to their clear-as-mud website description are "a public, private sector, voluntary organisation". Shareholders in Working Links include Manpower, a large employment agency.

But although Working Links, as the "prime provider", has coordinated my Work Programme, the actual staff I see and facilities I use are from Triage another "public, private...", who I'm told are partners of Working Links in providing the Work Programme.

Paperwork


I shiver in a building that looks like it's been unoccupied for some time. The rooms are bare apart from a few computers. Things are familiar. A lot of the staff are the same people that I've encountered on courses run by other "public, private..." organisations I was sent to by the jobcentre.

The appointment is mostly about filling in paperwork. They explain that "everything has to be signed by the customer" so they can claim the money for their services from the DWP.

I am booked onto courses that also sound familiar to what I have had before. But one course is the 'goals workshop', which I am especially dreading. Apparently the outcome of this course is that you are able to "look in the mirror and tell yourself you're marketable and great".

They ask me to sign a form giving my consent for Working Links to use me as a success story - this would include a photo and caption article. Working Links and Triage would use this to prove to the DWP that they are worth the contract but also for publicity material to win more contracts and as an encouraging example to other Work Programme customers. I politely refuse.

I am told I have to fulfil my part of the Work Programme agreement, which includes responding to activities with enthusiasm. Future activities may include supervised cold calling of employers to ask for work and working for benefits for firms like Poundland and Tesco.

After doing a little research on the Work Programme and its providers I feel like a powerless guinea pig in a free market experiment. The Work Programme was part of David Cameron's 'Big Society'.

Coalition minsters claimed they have changed New Labour's 'welfare to work' to give the task of finding work for the long term unemployed to the 'specialists'. These specialists would treat the unemployed as customers who are given a choice to 'take part' or be punished.

Work Programme contracts were tendered out to organisations. For every 'customer' these organisations get back to work they receive thousands of pounds. There is an initial fee of 1,200 if the claimant gets a job and more if they stay in work. The money will come from the taxpayer and the European Union's social fund.

These specialist organisations had to have at least a 20 million turnover in order to take the risk that they wouldn't meet their targets and incur losses from taking on customers that continue to be jobless. Organisations including Working Links, Triage, A4E, Serco etc were already involved in New Labour's Flexible New Deal and the Future Jobs Fund. In every area two providers will be awarded contracts so they can compete with each other, they also will be able to sub-contract to other providers and each other.

The Work Programme is not aimed at finding people jobs. How can they when there are so few? There are an average of six jobseekers for every vacancy, with a much higher ratio in some regions.

The London School of Economics has produced a study showing that the providers will miss 90% of their targets. But it introduces a ruthless competition between unaccountable private companies. This, for the Tories, is easily worth the increasing misery of the unemployed.
A (reluctant) Work Programme participant