Inside the Kafka-esque word of the Work Programme

Various private companies have been awarded contracts for the Work Programme, intended to get the long-term unemployed back to work. One person “lucky” enough to receive their “help” sent us this account. They have asked to remain anonymous.

So, I got a letter to do a training course with my Work Programme Provider. It read:

Dear Feckless Person,
It has been arranged for you to attend at a training course at the centre on Tuesday morning. It will take three hours. If you don’t wanna come, get a job. SCUM!

OK, maybe it wasn’t quite like that, but it didn’t tell me what training course I was coming in for, and I’d discussed a number of potential workplace skill courses that I think would help me. I phoned to ask what the training course was.

‘Oh well, it’s a course in *mumbles*’

‘Sorry what was that?’

‘It’s a course in *mumble even more*’

‘I don’t know what you’re saying.’

‘Just come to the session and it’ll be explained then.’

So, there I am, waiting for an unknown training course, with another external organisation from the Jobcentre. One of those ‘skills providers’ with a terrible number pun in its name. A rise in illiteracy in Britain could be blamed on the terrible number wordplay in these businesses names names. So, the Skillz4U2Day trainer asks us all to follow him, still keeping the nature of this course to himself.

He begins ‘You’re all here to attend this workshop on how to attend your appointments on the Work Programme, because none of you have been attending your appointments.’

‘WHAT?’

‘Yes, the provider has informed me that all of you have been failing to attend, so I’m here to tell those of you in attendance to come to your appointments.’

Everyone looks around the room. Ten identical letters are produced, sent from the same advisor.

One guy pipes up. ‘I didn’t miss it. He was on leave. I saw someone else.’

Another adds ‘I didn’t miss anything, he was off sick.’

Another adds, ‘I didn’t miss any appointments, he booked me in on a Sunday.’

The trainer looks confused. ‘Erm…did anyone here actually miss an appointment?’ Nobody replies.

The trainer decided we should all just listen to the training anyway. This training was a Powerpoint Presentation. Powerpoint presentations are bad enough when you need to hear them, but when you don’t? It probably didn’t even have any cat gifs.

Cat gifs make everything better.

Anyway, this scrawny weed of a man was suddenly surrounded by some very hard-looking men of the Vinnie Jones mould. They made it very clear they weren’t sitting through his Powerpoint presentation.

Frustrated by this, I went upstairs to speak to the advisor.

‘Well, I was off sick, so I don’t know if you came to your last appointment or not, so I just assumed you hadn’t.’

The computer in front of him, with my profile open, showed a short summary of what had happened at that last appointment.

‘But when I called you up and asked what this training course was, why didn’t you just tell me that. I could have rearranged the appointment?’

‘Because then you wouldn’t have attended the course.’

‘No, because I hadn’t missed any appointments.’

‘If you hadn’t gone to that training course just now, you would have missed an appointment.’

‘So I had to come to this training on how to not miss appointments so that I knew not to miss any appointments because I hadn’t missed any appointments so I didn’t know how not to miss any appointments?’

‘Yes.’

My ‘training course’ was a sub-contracted powerpoint presentation that was going to take 30 mins, not 3 hours. It wasn’t anything that would give me a skill.

As for the actual training I wanted to do? I’d previously worked in admin, but jobs were drying up in that unless you were someone trained in accounts and bookkeeping, and could use things like Sage 500. What about the training course that I was going to do in that?

‘Oh, we can’t provide training in that. It’s expensive. You can only do the training if you’ve got a job offer for something that needs Sage. Otherwise, we can’t pay for it.’

Now, granted, Sage is a pricey training course. If it wasn’t, I’d pay for it out of my own pocket. But, it’s also mentioned in 90% of the job ads, and especially the permanent ones. So, if I could do it, there’d be a lot more jobs I could apply to?

‘Well, I mean, you can find someone else to pay for it, like an employer. They don’t have to hire you, just pay for the training’

So… I’m supposed to go look for an employer to pay me? Why would an employer want to do that.’

‘Well, they might.’

Triple Facepalm
So, what we have, ladies and gentlemen, is a Work Programme Provider preventing you from doing actual relevant training in a skill required in a large number of job adverts, because it’s too expensive and instead sending you to sub-contracted Powerpoint presentations, that you’re not informed of in advance, where you’re told that if you don’t come to your appointments you won’t get any money.

The Work Programme lasts for two years, as the advisor gleefully reminded me.

Work! Fair?

There has been much recent debate about the extension of the idea of ‘workfare’ in the UK. ‘Workfare’ is supposed to be an extension of ‘welfare’ seen by the syntax used in the word itself. It is an idea which grew from the idea that people should not receive benefit entitlement as a result of unemployment without ‘giving something back’. In the context in which I’ll be using it, it refers to mandatory work ‘placements’ for people who are not able to secure employment in order to receive benefits that relate to being out of work.  It sounds quite warm and fluffy because of course people should be helped into work and ‘give something back’ but the word also implies a series of sanctions of this work is not undertaken.

Outside the Jobcentre
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Eat the Poor

In yesterday’s post I wondered whether the coming austerities will make us a more selfish or selfless society. I’ve just noticed an article on the Huffington Post (with a coincidentally similar title to the one I used) that draws a depressing conclusion.

Social Attitudes Survey shows Big Society is Getting Smaller

This week’s British Social Attitudes Survey is a blow for the left. 54% of respondents think employment benefits are too high, 63% blame parents for child poverty and fewer people are willing to give up their own hard-earned cash to reduce the income gap. People appear to be becoming more individualistic. As Penny Young, the Chief Executive of the National Centre for Social Research, says, ‘In a time of economic austerity and social unrest, the big question coming out of this year’s report is whether we really are in it together, or just in it for ourselves?’

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