Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Manpower

The Work Programme And Me – 13 Pages Of Witty Hate

After being asked to provide feedback, I composed this letter. I expected no response, and so I wrote freely and for my own amusement/pleasure. I rather like the result, and it saw me invited to meet one of the bosses to discuss what changes could be made. They refused to pay me a consultant’s fee, though, so this is all they got. Well, this and two years of my life.

Dear Work Programme/Working Links/[Company name redacted]/Whatever organisation I actually attended,

You asked for my feedback. Make yourself a cup of tea and come back to this, it is going to be lengthy.

For a start, why have you asked for “customer” feedback? I am not a customer, I was forced to attend mandatory fortnightly meetings. By definition, as I did not purchase goods or services from you, it is incorrect to address me in this manner. Had there been any element of choice, be assured that I would have avoided your organisation like the plague it so often seems to be.

Your survey asks about the welcome I received upon first attending [company name redacted]. I remember this clearly, as my hobby is stand-up comedy and in the beginning I was provided with ample source material. Having been required to attend a computer course, the level of which ensured that I knew not to stand on top of the monitor while typing, I was treated to the sight of the man next to me drooling over his keyboard. Meanwhile, two of your staff members demanded to know of an Iraqi gentleman with poor English if he was in this country legally. Given that we were all referred as JSA recipients, a benefit (before that became a dirty word) claimed by having a National Insurance number, it would suggest he had gone through due process to be (mis)treated in this way.

My confidence in your staff waned swiftly, after the lead tutor (and my initial advisor) turned from one desk and walked fully into a pillar into the centre of the room. I am not convinced that slapstick is necessary or conducive to your role, although the distraction was appreciated. I am not inclined to trust someone to help me find a job if they are not even able to simply avoid smacking into the architecture of their surroundings.

After this shambolic introduction to your services, during which I had to fill in a form that asked for full detail of my circumstances but which limited me (as I discovered after twenty minutes of typing) to a few hundred characters – thus preventing me from answering the questions asked – I was referred to a CV-writing course.

Call me old-fashioned, but if you are going to employ somebody to teach me how to write an appropriate cover letter perhaps you could ensure that their spelling is up to scratch and in line with accepted grammatical standards. I am not professionally successful enough to refer to myself as “a writer”, yet I do write often and am frequently praised on my output (without wishing to blow my own trumpet, this is just a fact provided for background) – and so it was insulting to have my time wasted by a writing coach who could barely spell the term “CV.”

I have kept a blog for some years now, on which I documented a few of the more absurd or frustrating elements encountered on your programme, and I will provide external links to these articles rather than re-write them here. However, in brief, my feedback will include:
– Your inability to provide the training I most need and which would render me extremely employable.
– Frequent, positive talk of jobs that failed to materialise (painting a factory, window-fitting, landscaping).
– Being accepted for a job that I was then told I could not take (parks department).
– Being promised four months of work, which turned into seventeen days and thus cost me money (Royal Mail/Manpower).
– Having my advisor changed several times, and having to re-explain my circumstances repeatedly.
– The suggestion that I might like to attend something that I later realised was mandatory.
– Being coerced into working in your call-centre under the guise of being “trained.”
– Having my ILA courses booked, cancelled, and rebooked so often that I never used the funding available to me in the end.
– Having my time thoroughly wasted applying for a call-centre job for which I was not eligible.

Let us begin.

I learned to drive when I was eighteen, and was at a standard where I would have passed my test, as my instructor repeatedly told me. For one reason or another, I neither booked nor sat the theory test, and was therefore unable to sit the practical. Years later, when I realised how important my driving license would be in my chosen career, I sat the theory and passed it comfortably. Unfortunately, life intervened and I could not afford the necessary refresher lessons prior to taking the practical. Owing to its limited validity, I now need to take the theory test again.

Twice in my working life I have been in a position to pay for the few lessons and two tests it would take to immeasurably enhance my employment chances. The first time, I was hit with a backdated council tax bill for two-thousand pounds. The second time, I lost my job and was forced to use my savings to pay my rent.

From my very first day with your programme, and at every subsequent meeting and with every single advisor since, I have been asked what the major barrier is to my finding and staying in work. This is my answer, and it is always met with the same response – you do not fund driving lessons. Neither does the Jobcentre. I know this, believe me when I say that this is a conversation I have had easily a dozen or more times, and probably twice that. It turns out that I have a second major barrier to employment – your organisation.

My background is theatre. I have worked behind the scenes since I was fourteen, running shows from the legal minimum age of sixteen. It began as a hobby, becoming a paid hobby as I subsidised my everyday work with casual shifts, and when I decided to obtain a degree there was only one subject that interested me sufficiently to ensure I would put in the necessary work. I continued to work casually during my studies, later supporting myself with work in theatre, film, and television. My ambition, in my final year, was to obtain my own listing on IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. Having achieved that within six months of graduating, I now understand that I should have aimed higher.

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My argument is that, by funding my driving license two full years ago, you would have spent more or less the same amount as you did on my case anyway, except that I would now be in a far better position to achieve and maintain employment. You have wasted your money and you have wasted my time. My advisors have told me that you used to fund it, or whatever else was required to get people back into work. It is disheartening to know that I am not worth the expenditure, and it is a sham that you ask what barriers are in the way of your “customers” finding work while effectively putting up a barrier of your very own.

The Work Programme is not about getting the unemployed into employment – it is about shuffling numbers.

There have been various moments of hope in the past two years, fleeting moments where your advisors have had information about work coming in and positively spoken of it.

I am available and looking for work. I was turning thirty years old when I was referred to you. This is, in theory, the prime of my life – I am still considered young, and about as fit and healthy as I am likely to be for the rest of my life. I did a degree in theatre, specialising in scenic carpentry, only to find that these skills are not easily transferable to the construction industry (itself in decline) as I do not hold any recognisable joinery qualifications. There was talk, at one time, of trying to obtain these, but your organisation would only go so far as to get me the most basic CSCS card, enabling me to be a site labourer. There is plenty of competition out there for site labourers, believe me.

I am educated, intelligent, diligent, polite, and good-humoured. Your organisation has no idea how to cope with this. I am no work-shy waster, I am desperate to be in employment, to be surviving off my own back, contributing to my country, and with my confidence, self-esteem, and sense of purpose restored. This is useless. I am willing and able to undertake virtually any job offered to me, the only exception being jobs to which I am not suited. I am not sure how much wider my scope could be, and yet in twenty-four months you managed to find me a mere seventeen days of work.

Please do not get me wrong, there was plenty of talk of jobs. There was the taken-over car factory/showroom that needed a complete repaint. There is a subtle pronunciation difference between carpenter and car-painter, but I was happy to overlook that. Despite my asthma, and the known irritant that is paint fumes, I was willing to do the job on provision of respirators and other appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). It came to nothing.

When I was given my second or third advisor, he guided me through a complete overhaul of my CVs – I have two – and rang me up one day, all excited that he had found a window-fitter loooking to take someone on. This client wanted somebody with knowledge and skills, was willing to train them in all aspects of the job, had steady work lined up, and specifically wanted somebody a bit older – perhaps aged thirty – who would treat this as a career and not as a way to kill some time in their late teens. It sounded perfect, and was certainly talked up to be so. This positivity continued for approximately five weeks, before petering out exactly as the painting job had done.

Most recently, I spent six weeks dreaming of a job landscaping in and around Glasgow. There was a group overview from the employer, individual interviews, and then – nothing. Weeks and weeks of nothing. I later overheard that the employer had taken a contract with one firm, and then tried to avoid using their staff/clients. I can only presume that negotiations broke down somewhere, or that he was unable to provide the promised employment to the sixty or so of us who attended the overview session.

The Work Programme is a purveyor of false hope. It is very hard to be enthusiastic at the prospect of some new job that yet again fails to materialise. These are just three examples, the most memorable ones, indicative of the impotence of your organisation. You are very good at making empty promises, and little else.

On one occasion, one of these jobs actually transformed into something almost tangible. The council were recruiting for their parks department, on a strict six-month contract. Not ideal, but it was a start, and as I have stated I am prepared to do just about anything for apppropriate financial remuneration. Working in the parks in summertime? That would be, well, a walk in the park. I am not above picking up leaves and emptying bins. Provided with the right PPE, I would do more than that.

All went well. I was given the description and the application form. The group session was fine, as was my interview, and everything looked to be in place for the start date. I had filled in the medical form, giving details of my asthma and hayfever since those may temporarily affect my ability to do the job. Both are controlled with medication, and I was not unduly worried that it would prevent an offer of work forthcoming. I also noted that, in my teens, I had had a problem with my knee.

[paragraph redacted]

When I say that I walk everywhere, I mean that I walk everywhere. Shanks’s Pony. Having lived in Glasgow for nine years, I know my way about. My feet are cheaper and often faster than public transport, especially in the centre of town at rush hour. I currently live four miles from the heart of town, and I regularly walk home – it keeps me vaguely fit, it gives me thinking time, and it allows me to avoid the overpriced fares, slow maneouvring, and BO stench of public transport. I know all of the landmarks on the way, and can make it home in forty-five minutes or an hour.

This was of no interest to your organisation, who dismissed my application out of hand on the grounds that “the job involves a lot of walking and bending.” I had no opportunity to plead my case, although I asked to do so. It seemed, and seems, ridiculous to me that – in the interest of full disclosure – I managed to lose a job based on something that affected me seventeen years ago. There have been no recurring problems, no adverse side effects, and although it was over half of my life ago, I felt it best to be honest. The more I see of the world, the more I discover that honesty is rarely rewarded.

The Work Programme, it appears, will use the flimsiest pretext to keep somebody on their books. Whatever your motives might be, you would not allow me to appeal against the decision to not employ me – even though I was fit for the job, willing, and capable.

To your credit, you did find me work once. Unfortunately, it was an absolute farce that ended up costing me money. You claim ignorance and innocence, of course, and I cannot prove that you knew the full details – but somebody did, and we were stitched up properly.

The agency Manpower were recruiting on behalf of the Royal Mail, looking for Christmas staff. The hoops were all jumped through – meetings, application form-filling sessions, interviews, all the usual. As is standard, start dates were promised and changed, hopes were raised, postponed, dashed, and then finally – miracle of miracles – a contract was signed.

Throughout, your advisors assured us that this would be a few months of work – starting in November, and ending around March. Perfect! Four months of guaranteed work, regular hours, steady wages. Chance would have been a fine thing.

Off we went, me and (conversations revealed) a dozen or more others all from the Work Programme. In came the mail cages, lined up in neat rows, and the sacks were emptied. Small parcels were sorted into first and second class, with additional cages for foreign mail and bulkier parcels. There was a high turnover of work, a fast-paced environment where any delay caused congestion and build-ups as more lorries arrived and were unloaded.

It had been drilled into us, through you, that the best way to be kept on was to keep our heads down and work hard. I wanted to be kept on. Very quickly, I stepped up and began emptying the front cages in the row, into the sorting trays for others to separate, removing the empty cages and replacing them with full cages from behind. I ran the risk of being told to get back to doing the same work as the others, but instead I was instructed to continue. My job, then, became to keep the work flowing for everybody else – often I was left unattended, relied upon to shuttle cages around neatly, quickly, and efficiently. I emptied front cages, replaced them, and broke them down, before returning to do the same again. Every night I broke sweat, a fact regularly commented on by my supervisor, and I noticeably lost weight while working there. I am not clear how much harder I could have worked. I was determined to prove my worth, and in truth I enjoyed the job and the responsibility.

The work tailed off as Christmas approached, and on Thursday the 22nd we were sent home early and told to await a phone call. On the Friday, an hour before my shift was due to start, I ended up calling the agency to find out if I had a job to go to, or not. The answer, given rather curtly, was not. This four months of work had ended after seventeen days, at zero notice, on Christmas weekend.

Do you know anything about the infrastructure of the Department Of Work And Pensions? Or how it relates to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit? You see, it is entirely possible that you can work enough to lose all of your benefits, without earning enough to cover your rent and bills. By the time I added up my earnings and took into account all of my outgoings, I owed my landlord just over a hundred pounds. It cost me money to work. And to work, as I have tried to demonstrate, remarkably hard.

Please remember, here, that “benefits” is not the bad word that the Conservatives and the Daily Mail would like you to believe. Housing Benefit in particular is available to those who are in work but on low-paid jobs, and if we were to stop and think about it then perhaps we would realise that work should pay enough to exist on without subsidy. Benefits, too, are drawn from the pool of money to which every person who has paid tax has contributed. We have all paid this money so that, in times of crisis or when there are insufficient jobs, we can claim some of it back and not be utterly destitute. It is a stop-gap, and I personally am angered that it is seen as shameful to briefly rely on a fund into which I have paid, and which I will pay into again once I find my feet. If we could get away from the propaganda for a minute, perhaps the truth would become evident.

The Work Programme expressed, or feigned, sympathy at my predicament. They had not known, they claimed, that the job would end so abruptly. It is my firm belief that somebody knew. Manpower could not have been less interested, although they did invite me to a meeting to discuss the issue. As it was one of their own who had been so ignorant and rude to me on the phone, I put little faith in their desire to actually pursue anything against him. My suspicions were correct, and the branch manager wrote to me on headed notepaper. As I was certain to get nowhere with it, and as she had printed her reply upside-down on the headed paper, I decided to write an entirely facetious letter of complaint. You can read it on my blog if you are interested.

The Work Programme, then, on the sole occasion it actually helped me into employment, left me financially worse off and more demoralised than I had been to start with.

This experience with the Royal Mail made me realise that my most recent advisor was effectively just a big drink of water, a streak of piss with no substance to him. Unbelievably, I was relieved to return to my original advisor, the one who had walked into a pillar on my first day there. We had spent much of the time since at loggerheads, until she miraculously revealed herself to be human after all on the back of this debacle.

We found a new understanding, something almost akin to friendship insofar as two people on opposite sides of your desk can be in any way “friends.” She sympathised, she almost empathised, and she changed tack. It is possible she now saw just how and why I feel so defeated by the entire process, and there was no hiding the strength of my desire to be in work and out of this situation. She enjoyed reading the very cheeky letter I had sent Manpower, and passed it round the office. In truth, that was the most that I had hoped to achieve with it.

She no longer works for [company name redacted], she left while I was in employment the second time. That was three months in a call centre which you provided no help in finding.

I have had other advisors too – the one who redrafted my CV for me and found the alleged window-fitting vacancy. You did not renew his contract.

There was the big guy that I have seen twice in two years, several months apart. There was the hard-faced woman who would not even given you the steam off her mince and tatties. There was the tall incompetent guy who had persuaded me about the benefits of the Royal Mail gig. He shrunk away quite fast after that, and has fastidiously avoided eye contact ever since. There have been various people who have turned up long enough to discuss specific jobs that have (of course!) never come to anything – one for the call centre fiasco (I will get to that) and one for the landscaping.

My most recent advisor has been comparatively helpful, revealing herself to be very human after a bumpy start. She sees that I do not need my hand held, and that this string of incompetence and falsely-raised hopes has coloured my vision of you and all who work for you.

The first time we met, she asked – as so many before her have – about my background, qualifications, and why I felt I was not in work. I asked her if she was joking, adding an expletive that I shall not include here for fear of undermining my point. The pair of us were stand-offish from the beginning, her wanting to know why I was being so sullenly defensive, and me demanding to know why she did not just read my file, which must surely by now contain every last detail.

Slowly, I began to explain everything that I have detailed here so far, and she accepted the reason for my demeanour. Once we got past that, we developed a healthy working relationship, although I am fully aware of the irony of using the word “working” here. If I was working, I would never have had to speak to her nor attend your utterly worthless organisation.

The Work Programme is a great place for meeting new people, and then being forced to explain your entire life story to each of them in turn – even to the ones that you only see once. If i ever see a job vacancy advertising for somebody to be a parrot, I will apply. You have given me a great deal of experience in repeating myself.

One of my many temporary advisors went to great lengths to make a local job fair seem appealing. He told me how wonderful an opportunity it would be, and I suspect that he could see my cynicism. I am past being able to hide it well, especially not within the walls of your office.

Credit to him, he was brilliant at selling all of the points and making it sound like a helpful and useful thing. Unfortunately for him, I did not appreciate his subterfuge and he had to resort to telling me explicitly that it was mandatory. I will not go into further detail here, I wrote a couple of blogs about it.

The Work Programme is a place where advisors try to disguise the compulsory nature of its role by making it appear like they are doing you a favour.

Another bone of contention with my original advisor came at the point when I was instructed to attend a fortnight of training in your call centre.

The training facility is in a place most accurately described as the middle of nowhere. It is a secret location reached only by taking two buses, in the kind of area where you can watch a man enthusiastically punching another man’s head in broad daylight. Once you alight from the bus, and walk a mile in the wrong direction, you will find a petrol station. Upon entering, you will be asked if you are looking for the [company name redacted] training centre, a sure sign that everybody follows the same route. A signpost would not kill you.

Upon arrival, it quickly became apparent that I would be doing a few days of training, followed by five weeks of taking calls. This sounds less like training and more like work. My argument, and I did argue, is that if it looks like work and it feels like work, then it is work and should be paid at a legal wage. Forty hours a week for seventy pounds does not equate to anything close to the minimum hourly amount set out in law.

While I was debating this with my advisor and with my trainer, I received a phone call from a friend (and sometimes casual employer) who posited that, instead of working for the Work Programme for nothing, I could go and work for his company for nothing instead – and at least be in the industry that I trained for.

This is a problem in my industry, everybody wants you to break your back in return for “experience” because it “looks good on your CV” – neither of which pay the bills. I did my time in that capacity, as did virtually every student on any kind of technical theatre degree. You quickly learn that the only thing it is good for on your CV is showing that you will work for nothing. Experience shows that, the less money that is involved in a given production, the more hassle you will have to put up with. Therefore, I decided a long time ago that my skills, knowledge, and experience are worth something. I do not work for nothing, be it for a call centre or for a chancing mate.

These points, eloquently put, convinced my advisor that the call centre was not for me. In the end, I found a job in a call centre of my own accord, and without mention of this episode.

Around the time I was removed early from your training programme, [details about a potential job offer redacted] It would be full-time, permanent, and paid at ten pounds per hour. It sounded ideal, not least because permanent jobs rarely turn up, and it offered everything that I wanted in a career – my industry, in an established firm, with job security and plenty of variety. There was, of course, one catch. It was being created using the Commonwealth Jobs Fund.

I did not meet the criteria to apply for a job that was virtually created with me in mind. The funding they applied for had an upper age eligibility of twenty-five, and I was thirty. I asked my advisor to check for loopholes, I called the council to find out if there was any leeway, I even wrote to my local MP to see if he would intervene. He did not reply, the council refused to consider my plea, and my advisor ran out of options. The job went to somebody else. He still works there.

My advisor’s best solution was to suggest that I go in to the office, speak to them in person, and offer to undercut the wage they were offering. The funding required that the position be created and paid at a living wage, the company were offering more than that, and I was advised to go in and say that I would accept less than the obligatory amount required by the funding small print.

This is the Work Programme, where my time and abilities have no value. The Work Programme, who could not help me to obtain a job that would have seen me in steady employment for the rest of my working life. A job that I was crying out to be allowed to merely apply for, but which I was denied by bureaucracy. The Work Programme – utterly impotent when it comes to having any say in anything that might have offered me a way out.

The problem with having so many advisors is that, among other things, they gave conflicting advice. I am entitled to ILA funding of two-hundred pounds, which I can use for one of a variety of courses.

What these courses are is a mystery, the website would let me search if I knew what I was searching for, but had no option to see what was available. There were no affordable joinery or welding qualifications, and I was told that upholstery was too niche (and again too expensive) for it to be viable. It was recommended that I get my CSCS card. This was duly booked, and cancelled, and booked, and cancelled again.

Later, I was informed that I would only be eligible for the most basic CSCS card, which would allow me on site to be a labourer and nothing else. To be a joiner, I would need to apply for another (or a different) card. I do not possess the joinery qualifications for that, and was dissuaded from acquiring the basic card as there is no pressing need for another entry-level site labourer in the construction industry.

Another advisor figured that I should apply for my SIA badge, and look for security or door work. He told me that it has a respectable number of vacancies just now, and that makes sense to me – as more people have less money, crime is bound to increase, and it seems logical to hire people to guard your property if you have it. I actually tried to apply to join the police, figuring that when the rioting starts I would prefer to be on the side with the weaponry, but as that industry is suffering from cutbacks and seeing the amalgamation into one unified force, they were not hiring at the time. I also considered the fire service, but my asthma makes me a liability.

With conflicting advice as to what would actually prove useful for me, and with interruptions as I left to work for seventeen days or when members of staff departed for pastures new, my ILA funding remains unused. I am still no clearer as to what I should use it for anyway. There was once talk of some new brewery-sponsored hospitality management thing. However, as so often with the Work Programme, it remained just talk. It never transpired into anything even vaguely approaching useful.

Speaking of massive wastes of my time, the one thing you are truly outstanding at, I think the pinnacle was the three hours you killed for me earlier this year.

I spent the last quarter of 2012 working in a call centre, a job which I sourced, applied for, and got, without your help. Unlike your call centre, this one was willing to pay me at the rate demanded by the government. I signed off, and went to work. It was a joyous time, the sun rose every morning and lit the world in a bountiful feast of colour. Birds whistled gaily overhead, small children skipped and laughed in the streets,  and there was good cheer throughout the land. The girls were pretty, the guys were handsome, the food never tasted so sweet, and everything just felt right with the world. A general contentment settled upon me, and instead of simply existing I suddenly felt alive.

There is a small chance that I am romanticising here, but you get the gist.

I was amongst the first to be let go after Christmas. They took on in excess of six-hundred people, and could not sustain that level of employment. The company handle a lot of contracts, and a few months later I received a call from the Work Programme. An opportunity had arisen, and I was invited to attend your offices for a guaranteed telephone interview. There would, I was told, be an online aspect to the application, followed by the interview. It sounded simple, and easy. I gratefully accepted and headed in as arranged.

The online part, it turned out, involved filling in the appropriate form on the company website. Had I known, I would have done this in advance at home. I object to being made to use your computers, as I am reluctant to enter any personal details without knowing how secure my data is. Furthermore, in the course of completing one form (as it happened, the company had my details stored on file, all I had to do was log in and update my employment history accordingly) your computer system crashed three times. It was bad enough being forced to use your system, without having to suffer further by repeatedly waiting for the thing to reboot. A small mercy, I suppose, is that the majority of my form was already there for retrieval. Had I begun from scratch, I might still be there today, cursing the slow and unreliable nature of your terminals.

Having completed this aspect, and with my teeth now ground to a fine powder, it was time for a presentation. Hurrah, the Work Programme has discovered Powerpoint! Having emerged raring to go after submitting the form, I was instead treated to thirty minutes of the most tedious and uninspiring slides, described in monotonous detail by an advisor I had never previously encountered. He took my enthusiasm and deftly eroded it with pointless facts about the vocal cords, body language, and an illustration of the brain stem. Quite why this key part of the central nervous system was pictured is beyond me – I associated it in my head with Chris Morris’s brilliant satire “Brass Eye” and imagined that I was listening instead to Noel Edmonds describing the part of the brain called Shatner’s Bassoon. If you get that reference, you will know that Cake is a made-up drug.

When all of the energy had been unceremoniously drained from me, and with no acknowledgement that I had passed a telephone interview for the same company a few months previously, it was time to be interviewed. All I had to do was wait for twenty other people to be interviewed ahead of me, averaging ten minutes per call, and with only two phones available. What could be easier? Or less exciting? Good thing I was not in a hurry.

The advisor, another newcomer, took the phone from the person before me, and guided me along a corridor into a private room. He spoke to the interviewer, wished me luck, and handed me the unpleasantly greasy communal mobile.

The interviewer took my name, confirmed that I had worked for the company before, and accessed my file. She relayed the information visible to her – next to my name, where it asked “rehire?” it said “no.” Thus began my very long walk back to find the advisor, to present his confused face with the phone. I was as delighted as I am now being sarcastic at having so much of my afternoon wasted. A little advance research could have saved hours of our time, and saved you the cost of my travel expenses. What is four quid, though, if it keeps me occupied for half a day and permits you to check off the necessary paperwork?

I am no clearer as to why I was refused employment with them, by the way. To find out, I need to put my request in writing and post it to the operations manager. Rather than highlight myself in this way, I will continue to live in ignorance. My boss only ever spoke to me to praise my performance, with relative frequency and without prompting, and so I am confident that I conducted myself in a satisfactory manner. It must be some clandestine company policy that prevents me from reapplying so soon after being let go.

The Work Programme provides computers that are slower than a week in the jail, and which crash more than the average joyrider. The unnecessary (in my case) pre-interview training would render the most alert man catatonic, delivered as it was by an advisor unafraid of maintaining a speaking drone that failed to change in pace, pitch, or tone.

This is where I envisaged ending what has hopefully been an enlightening, if not altogether positive, insight into the Work Programme. However, there has been a development in the days since I began composing this essay.
I received a call on Friday, from another unknown advisor, alluding to some joinery work that has come in. The Hydro is behind schedule, and this new national venue requires carpenters immediately. It cannot open its doors as planned if those doors are not yet hung.

I was instantly wary, having observed and suffered so many pitfalls before now. He tried to allay my fears: it would not matter that I am not carded, no CSCS is required; I do not require a driving license, provided I can get my tools to the site; it is full-time paid work, for a few months.

I have zero faith in your staff or in their ability to actually find or help me into employment. However, I am in no position to turn down work, regardless of how unlikely it is to transpire. I agreed that he could pass my number on, listening to and then obeying his instruction to keep my phone switched on and nearby for the rest of the day. Unsurprisingly, the call never came. It never came on Monday either. I will chase it up on Tuesday, but I will not hold out much hope. Having singularly failed to help me while I was obliged to attend the Work Programme, logic dictates that you are even less likely to be of use now I have left.

I find it difficult to believe that a venue as high-profile as the Hydro is willing to take on emergency staff not in possession of the relevant safety qualification. [Edit: they weren’t. I was misinformed, unsurprisingly.] If they are, then it begs the question as to what purpose the thing serves in the first place – “you must have a safety card, unless we are pushed for time.”

My inclination is that this work will be uncontracted, with joiners booked on a week-to-week or even day-by-day basis. This is at odds with how the DWP operates – to sign off is a huge gamble, if there is no guaranteed number of hours per week. Work too little, and you cannot pay the bills. Work for just a fortnight and there is a chance you will end up losing three weeks of Housing Allowance. I have been stung twice before, once of my own accord and once with your help. I am unwilling to risk being stung again – I am unable to afford to live as it is, without accruing further debt and arrears.

I chased up this offer of employment, but my advisor could not tell me who had called me, and insisted that you do not have any contracts with The Hydro. She promised to investigate, aware of all the concerns I have listed above. It proved to me that I was correct to no longer raise my hopes on the back of anything you tell me. You have never achieved anything on my behalf.

To conclude, this has been the feedback you requested. It details, or addresses, every complaint that springs to mind when I think back over the past 730 days during which we have been acquainted. Two full years of empty promises, false hope, incompetence, ignorance, and downright inconvenience. I leave in exactly the same position as I started, only more bitter and jaded. You have achieved absolutely nothing, in my interest at least. You have wasted your money, you have wasted our time, and, since that first day when my future advisor walked into the pillar, nobody has even had the good grace to make me laugh.

I doubt that you will reply to any of this – for a start, it is going to take somebody an afternoon just to read it all. There is nothing you can really say anyway, save for a stock response about “taking my feedback on board.” If all you have is a stock response, please do not send me it.

Oh, your questionnaire asked, if I recall correctly, how likely I am to recommend the Work Programme to others. Not at all likely.

Not at all.

[me]
Glasgow, August 2013

References, listed on embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com

Losing the parks job: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/hello-world-you-are-absurd/
An overview of the Work Programme: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/the-work-programme-doesnt-really-work/
Mandatory jobs fair attendance, and driving license funding: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/free-to-do-as-youre-told/
Why the jobs fair was useless: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/further-down-the-spiral/
Follow-up post about G4S and the jobs fair: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/the-work-programme-still-not-working/

 

 

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The Work Programme Doesn’t Really Work.

On the face of it, The Work Programme seems a good idea – an initiative set up to help the long-term unemployed find work. The problem is, there are too many people out of work (the figure just rose by another 28,000) and not enough jobs. Companies that aren’t cutting back on staff numbers are instead largely cutting back on hours and terms of employment. The benefits system isn’t designed to cope with zero-hour contracts (no set hours per week, so you can end up doing sixty one week and none the next, or anything in-between) and if you work over sixteen hours a week your Job Seeker’s Allowance gets stopped. That means casual work is out, as is anything part-time that works out at more than two days a week. Even being in work doesn’t pay.

Personally, I’ve been told that I need to be looking for full-time, long-term work for it to be financially viable to sign off the dole. If anyone knows of any full-time, long-term work that is even being advertised (let alone attainable) you’re in a better position than me. There is an undeniable stigma attached to being unemployed and claiming benefits, even though an increasing number of people who have worked their whole lives paying into the system now find themselves at its mercy. It’s just been announced that the Work Programme is taking on everyone that gets released from jail in the UK. So we are in good company, at least. Those of us with degrees, who have worked and will work wherever and whenever it is available, are now at the same societal level as ex-convicts.

My own experience with the Work Programme, well, I could fill a book were I inclined to post all of my personal affairs publicly. They are set up to get people into work, and so far, for me, they have found the following:

– 6 weeks call centre training, which quickly became five days training and five weeks answering their phones, unpaid. I refused, on the grounds that if it sounds like work and looks like work then it is work, and should be paid at the minimum wage or higher.

– 15 days with the Royal Mail, which earned me enough to lose my benefits, but didn’t pay me enough to cover all my outgoings. That full-time, short-term work left me financially worse off.

– 6 months cleaning Glasgow’s parks, a job that I lost before I started it after they read my mandatory medical history form and decided the problem with my knee, that bothered me 16 years ago, meant I was unfit to do a job involving walking. Despite the fact I walk everywhere, literally for miles to get home, and have no other means of transport.

There was one job came up in that time in my industry, a job that I found (or it found me), a job that I have dreamed for years of doing. It was created with specific funding though, the criteria of which meant I couldn’t apply, as I graduated “too long ago.” I appealed to the council funding department, who couldn’t do anything as it was taxpayers money and they had to be accountable for it. I emailed the council directly, pointing out that I’d be less of a burden on the taxpayer if I was in full-time work and paying taxes. There’s so few permanent jobs in my industry (theatre) anyway that if you find one within the specified two years of graduating then you’ve either been damned fortunate or have left to work in a call centre. They didn’t reply. I emailed my MSP too, making the same points, but all I got was a “thanks for contacting me” auto-response. Six weeks later, having heard nothing further, I emailed him again to tell him he’s lost my vote – and didn’t even get an auto-reply.

The Work Programme have broadened my search criteria, with my full consent, to include carpentry, joinery and general construction work, and I’ve been looking at jobs proof-reading and other similar roles too, based on the fact I read a lot and write quite well – if not always concisely. Their latest tactic has been to give me the address of a website to visit, where I am asked eighty questions about the kind of things I would enjoy in a job. Using my answers, the site lists the roles for which I am best suited, and it has been agreed that I will go through their suggestions looking for career-change options that might be viable in the current economic climate. So what was the outcome?

I am told, by this website that will succeed where they have failed, that I am best suited to working in:
– Music, dance, drama and theatre technology
– Building technology, furniture making, construction crafts, mechanical and manufacturing engineering (including fabrication and welding)
– Printing, publishing, graphic design
And
– Museum work, cleaning and related services.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen – after several months, a few false starts, and the intelligence of this website, the jobs I am best suited to (according to the Work Programme) are the ones I did my degree in. Uncanny! I’m also suited to construction work and in printing. So what have we learned from this? Yes, that’s right, the Work Programme is a complete waste of time, money, and effort. Certainly for anyone halfway educated.

Given the state of those three industries, and their reliance on temporary freelance workers, I will now be looking for any full-time jobs that become available which offer the chance to clean museums. Apparently that is all that is left for me. Although, the construction options did tell me of apprenticeships that I “can apply for once you’re sixteen,” and I look forward to going back in time fourteen years once I figure out how.

In the meantime, now that I finally know which vocation to pursue, I would like to pass on that hope to the other 2,669,999 of you.


Letters Designed To Enlighten And Entertain.

I worked for Royal Mail for fifteen days in December, through a recruitment company whose staff were stand-offish and disinterested, and whose communication was sorely lacking. I made a formal complaint, they invited me to initiate a Grievance Procedure, then wrote to me detailing the outcome of their “findings.” I had the right of appeal, and exercised it. Figuring that I’m unlikely to get anywhere with them, I responded with satire. I’m still waiting for a reply, but here is my letter to them.

ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED, ADDRESSES REMOVED, AND SOME PERSONAL INFORMATION REDACTED.

Regional Operation Manager,
Manpower UK Limited.

Dear [REDACTED],

I write to appeal against the outcome of my recently-held grievance hearing. My purpose in writing to your head office in the first instance was to avoid dealing directly with the branch I hold my grievance with, in order to avoid bias in their handling of the situation. The response I received by post today is heavily biased, with seemingly unfounded assurances, incorrect information, and printed so hurriedly that one page of it is upside-down on your headed notepaper. I think if Charlotte had taken my complaint in any way seriously, bearing in mind the reason for the grievance was the aloof nature of one of her staff members, she could have ensured she printed the whole letter the correct way up.

I understand that my “assignment with Royal Mail” was worded in such a way as to provide you with the ultimate get-out clause: that just because it was heavily implied over a number of instances that the job would last until March, it was not guaranteed to do so and is therefore perfectly acceptable that you let me go after just fifteen days. What I resent, and what I complained about, was the fact that I had to phone Eddie, with whom I’d had no prior dealings, on the Friday before Christmas to find out if I had a job to go to that day, or not. A little bit of communication wouldn’t have gone amiss.

His attitude during that phonecall suggested that, being the Friday before Christmas weekend, he couldn’t get me off the phone fast enough, and I was being bothersome by asking him questions about whether or not I had a job to go to. He told me several times that “everywhere’s shut for Christmas” and refused to acknowledge or even listen to the fact that I was scheduled to be in, which blatantly contradicted his statement.

When I went in to get my wageslips (which I found you don’t print and make available in hard copy, presumably because you can’t guarantee that they won’t be posted out printed upside-down or back-to-front), Eddie gave me my personal log-in details, and details of my pay, indirectly including my National Insurance number and without checking any form of identification. I saw this as a breach of the Data Protection Act, and he also gave me full contact details of one of your internal accounts department staff, which was contained in an emailed screenshot that he printed for me. That was printed on blank paper, so it’s impossible to gauge if it was the right way up or not.

Charlotte, in her letter, assures me that she “can confirm that Eddie did verify [my identity]…by checking [my] passport details at ID on file.” Firstly, the latter half of this sentence makes no sense to anyone who constructs their sentences in English, and secondly, she doesn’t explain HOW she can confirm this. I guess she asked her staff member, who works in her office, about whether he’d followed company procedure. Amazingly, he seems to have agreed in the affirmative, almost as if he’s aware that his boss is carrying out a grievance procedure. Again, this was why I didn’t want it conducted by the people he works with on a daily basis.

Charlotte also states that she “can not find any evidence to suggest that [Manpower Branch staff had a general dismissive attitude towards]” me – I’d like to know where she looked for evidence. Presumably she asked her colleague. With whom she works, in the same office, every day.

Finally, Charlotte apologises for “any breakdown in communication” that I feel “may have happened” and she “can confirm that [I am] now in receipt of wage slips and P45 as requested.” Earlier this week I emailed her asking where my P45 is, the one that was allegedly issued weeks ago and that should apparently take only ten days to come. She said then that she would look into it, but without replying further she can now “confirm” that I am in receipt of it. I will be if it ever arrives. This seems to show the same casual and dismissive attitude to my case as demonstrated by her colleague Eddie in the first place. This letter lacks any real attention to detail, and seems so rushed that she didn’t even put your headed paper in the correct orientation before printing it. Then posted it without checking it, or she would have noticed that she only got one of the two pages the right way up.

I feel I can paraphrase her response fully below:

Dear Mr Mills,
Eddie is a nice man, because he works for us. He may have lied through his teeth but – because he works for us – we automatically believe him. You were only ever a short-term employee and so anything you say is worthless and suspect, as you don’t work for us.
I’m sorry you wasted my time, here’s some empty answers rounded off with an incorrect assertion.

I had my doubts that initiating a grievance procedure would be worthwhile in any respect – I only attended because I was invited to do so, on a day that I was already in town anyway. This letter I have received reinforces my initial impression of your staff – uninterested, rude, dismissive, patronising, casual in their demeanour, lacking in attention to detail, and just plain wrong.

I would like to take this opportunity to sarcastically thank you, as a representative of Manpower, for wasting so much of my time. Not only did I end up in debt and rent arrears because of the full-time short-term work I did for you, and miss out on money (tax credits) to which I should have been entitled, I have also had to enter into correspondence with Manpower, [REDACTED – names of seven other government/local authority departments and subsidiaries], that has now dragged on for four times as long as the actual job (or “assignment”) lasted. And still it continues.

I fully anticipate that you will continue to toe the company line as regards my employment, or “Brief Distraction” as it would be more fittingly termed, and will protect your own staff over and above any complaints made by your casual and exploited temporary workforce. At this point, all I want from you is the P45 that I am NOT yet in receipt of, as soon as possible, and ask that you remove all of my personal details from your files – most importantly the copy of my passport that you allegedly possess for checking “at ID on file”, anything containing my National Insurance number, and my bank account particulars.

I trust that you will do this at the earliest opportunity and that, if you decide to respond to this, you will make sure you have all of the headed notepaper facing the same way before printing. At this point, that’s the least I expect.

Yours sincerely,

[Me]

PS: This letter will not self-destruct, but at this rate I might. Sixty-two days and counting, sorting out the mess created by fifteen days of employment.

– END –