They Took the Air out of the Life Jacket – A Report From a Workfare Attendee

We’ve been sent this report from Raman, a Birmingham resident who was sent on the work programme, one of the compulsory workfare schemes we’ve been campaigning against with Boycott Workfare.
If you are on, or have been on the work programme, or one of the other workfare schemes, please get in touch with us, anonymously if you want, and let us know what happened and whether it was useful to you. email BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@Gmail.com or comment on this post.
At our demonstrations we’ve had many people stop and talk to us telling us that workfare did not help them, and the more of these stories we can publicise, the more pressure there is on the government to scrap the scheme and stop the providers profiteering from the taxpayer.

This is what Raman has to say:

They Took the air out of the Life Jacket

I had the economic misfortune to be on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) for two years. During that period I applied for over 600 jobs, with no meaningful support from my advisers their only concern that I presented a little gray book on each visit to prove that I had looked for at least three jobs a week.
In my bitter experience only 1% of employers had bothered to write back. It might be argued that as a genuine job seeker I should have embraced any offer of help, however the options on offer was in the main for unskilled minimum wage jobs (the kind that I had been doing most of my life) not useful in order to gain long term vocational skills, it is often reported in the press that there is a shortage of qualified tradespeople and science workers.

The government has a captive audience ready to train and mould from scratch into being skilled workers of tomorrow and less of a feature burden for the tax payer. Yet instead of investing in retraining the governments policy appears to be to keep skills low so that low wages are a long term fact of life for a lot of people, which in turn could be argued is a good way of keeping the expectations of citizens of a low and intellectually bankrupt nature recent history has proved that it is easy for pr savvy but free of radical policy politicians to succeed amidst a society where apathy and illiteracy are high (Blair, Brown, Cameron).

The current training on offer via the Job Centre is basic customer service (how to serve some one in a shop) interview skills or basic IT. None of which would help the poorest in society embark on a more meritocratic journey out of poverty or decrease the chances of repetitive periods of welfare dependency.

Intraining a private company, brought in by the coalition, profit from such a society. The emphasis of their work culture is for the advisers to compete against one another in order to get their clients off the dole (into paid or unpaid roles), without long-term analysis or focus on a clients circumstances. Advisers are pitted against each other: a tally chart in the open plan office shows who is winning.

Initial letter sending Raman on the Work Programme, addressed to Mohammed

I was summoned by a letter which began dear Mohammed. The majority of its advisers were white and the client base in the main Black and Asian. On one visit a white female adviser insisted in abbreviating my name to Ram. Intraining claims to respect diversity and to treat its clients with fairness.

The advisers themselves seemed only trained to a narrow remit of bullying people off the dole and policing their set of policies the threat of benefit sanctions was threateningly repeated in any correspondence to ensure the compliance of the job seeker. The whole meting was very procedural.

Intraining’s programme is compulsory: the least a client can expect is to attend every fortnight for a work-focused interview (basically the same procedure as in a job centre, but at extra cost to the tax payer). The time I spent in their office amounted to a monitored job search (looking on the Internet in a confined monitored space) and filing in a form to get my bus fare back and signing on. Intraining keeps a client on their books for two years and if you were to secure employment off your own back they can approach the new employer for information to satisfy their statistics.

When I was asked what my long-term career goal was, I replied that I wanted to be a plumber and had been offered a place at a local college and would take it up were it not for the £200 fee that was required to secure one of the few places on this popular course. I was told that aspiring to be a plumber was akin to wanting to be an astronaut. It is of little relevance to their agenda. Despite signing off a number of months ago I’m still hounded by their phone calls.

Of course in a European Union where the hawkish mantra of cuts to public services (dictated to by unaccountable credit rating agencies) is the rule of the rulers a more supportive system, and investment in meaningful training, for those who are sinking in a sea of suffocating living costs seems unlikely in post Thatcher England as long as the current status quo is allowed to be politically dominant.

Letter making clear that sanctions will be applied if Raman does not attend

Letter saying sanctions will apply if Raman does not attend

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “They Took the Air out of the Life Jacket – A Report From a Workfare Attendee

  1. Reblogged this on Representing the Mambo and commented:
    Very depressing post on the realities of workfare. Birmingham Against The Cuts are doing magnificent work.

  2. Pingback: Demonstration at Workfare Profiteers InTraining on Friday | Birmingham Against The Cuts

  3. lucius.cornelius

    Having typed all that I’ve typed below I’ve just noticed this page went up two and a half years ago, so this might be a waste of time. Nevertheless…

    I’m 50 and have been unemployed for nearly 2 years now. Because my wife works I don’t get any benefits of any kind. That she doesn’t earn enough to support herself, yet alone me, is of little surprise; I still don’t get anything.
    After several months of asking for “extra help” with employment (I’m not illiterate or slow, but I have some very large gaps in my CV (stay at home parenting for several years) and health issues that affect the sort of work I can do and need some help to find a direction and be convincing in it) and after being rudely informed by the Job Center “you don’t ask for extra help, we tell you when you can have extra help” I was eventually assigned to InTraining (I had asked repeatedly to be sent to Pertemps as it’s round the corner, not 2 miles away, I have no income, no vehicle and COPD/emphysema). My first and only visit with my “supervisor” was early December. I was informed that a) get used to the place ‘cus you’ll be coming here every day for the next 2 years, b) I’ll have you back in work within a fortnight, c) my CV ‘is awful no wonder you’re not getting any interviews, I’ll sort it for you’ and d) I’m off on annual leave for a month. Despite being “on their system” I have heard nothing since. I know I’m on their system because they contacted me, by letter, to call me in for a literacy and numeracy test (sort the 3 letter words from the 4 letter words, no, really) and 2 days training where they tried to tell us that all the things we’d been told not to do over the years, when searching for work, were in fact the very things we should be doing and that it was absolutely and entirely our fault for being out of work (nothing to do with record levels of economic migration, globalisation, offshoring and now the abuse of the Apprenticeship Scheme). But my supervisor was on annual leave and when I asked “what’s happening with me because I have no supervisor?” I was told to “wait till he gets back from leave”. At each and every stage I was open about not receiving any benefits and noticed that whilst I was there, crammed into the rundown Reception, that most people coming in were groveling in fear over being late, worried that this meant “sanction time”. No one paid any attention to me. Now we’re in early March, despite emailing my supervisor several times, no reply have I had. Their offices are run down, the staff have that slightly over-enthusiastic desperation that I’ve come to recognise in such establishments. They know they’re not being honest. They know they’re being used to blame the unemployed for their own predicament when they’re mostly entirely innocent. They know that but for that job with that Company that they’d be unemployed too in all likelihood. As far as I can see, once they realised I wasn’t getting any benefits they lost interest. Then I heard a program on Radio 4, a few weeks ago, where they said that if you get sent to one of these schemes, you’re statistically more likely to end up being sanctioned than you are finding paid work. So they exist to weigh the claimant down with infantilising courses, patronising supervisors and endless requirements in the knowledge that sooner or later the claimant will ‘drop the ball’ and then they can be sanctioned. When I signed on last week I was asked by the Job Center “how’s the work placement going?” so I told them “I haven’t heard from them since December, they don’t respond to my communications” (I have avoided phoning them because I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than sit in that office for another minute, yet alone have to go in every day) and expected them to start threatening me with sanctions (they can stop the NI Stamp payment), but they blithely suggested I “try again”. So they too are not interested unless I’m receiving benefits. No meaningful sanctions can be applied to me so they’re not interested. This really is falling through the net. No benefits (I’m approaching the end of my second year of zero income), no help available and no reply to any of the several hundred job applications I’ve sent in. (I have warehouse experience, IT support/installation experience and a Diploma in Law). The Apprenticeship scheme is closed to me despite me having an email from the Apprenticeship scheme assuring me that ‘there is no age restriction on Apprenticeships’ – there most certainly is. Further, I’ve noticed that most Apprenticeship scheme adverts list the skills they want upfront and in all cases they want the skills upfront that they claim the Apprenticeship is going to teach. So an Apprenticeship in IT requires that you have previous experience and skills in IT. So they really are nothing more than National Minimum Wage avoidance schemes.
    I knew things would be bad when the Tories got in (I remember last time they were in power) but I really didn’t expect it to be this bad.

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