Readers of this site will know that I’ve been writing about the so-called “work skills” or “employability” courses that JSA claimants are sent on by jobcentres. These courses are provided by the likes of Reed, A4e and a host of colleges, subcontractors and endless other operators on the take. People signing on at jobcentres tell me regularly that many of these courses are completely useless. The courses last for several days and even weeks, and people end up with things like a certificate in jobsearch, which they feel will be totally worthless in the job market, or find themselves taking part in exercises where they tear pieces of paper up and put them together again to learn teamwork and that kind of thing. People writing in the comments on the last story reported being told to make towers out of drinking straws, or to roll marbles down a tube, and then being told off for doubting the relevance of such an exercise. This is the kind of soul-destroying crap that you have to put up with if you find yourself out of work for any reason.
People must attend these courses if the jobcentre says so. I’ve certainly talked with people who’ve been told they’ll be sanctioned if they say No. This morning I was in Haringey outside the offices of work programme provider Urban Futures (subcontractors to G4S), where people were being marched across the road in a line to some sort of construction course that they a) didn’t want to do and b) seemed to be struggling to get started properly on – a number of people went back and forwards between offices muttering about paperwork problems, registration issues and totally pointless exercises, etc.
Anyway, yours truly has been sifting through guidance and trying to get the DWP to answer questions about these courses – lists of providers, big and small, and contractors and subcontractors, how much providers are paid for each person they take on a course (I’ve heard talk of some hundreds of pounds), the funding that is available and where it comes from, accreditation of providers and quality control (ha ha ha), monitoring of standards (ha ha again) and monitoring of subcontractor standards. I am intrigued to know how much money providers really make out of this stuff.
I also want to know if people on JSA can say No when they’re told to attend a course. They may feel that the course doesn’t suit them or their skillset, or that they don’t want to go on another one, because they just finished an identical one which was totally useless and did nothing for anybody, etc. The people in this story were actually threatened when they complained about the rubbish course they were on. I also want to know what the DWP thinks happens to people who refused to attend a course. (As I say, I know what happens – they’re threatened with sanctions, or they’re sanctioned. Still, it’d be good to know the so-called rules as the DWP sees them). Needless to say, the DWP has refused to answer any of this – emails ignored, requests for calls not returned, etc. This has been going on, or not going on, for weeks, so I sent an FOI. That’ll end up in the long grass under a pile of turds as well, but let’s not worry about that for now. Feel free to keep sending details of your experiences on these courses through. Ditto for any guidance and reporting you can find. I’ve been hunting around. Feel free to join in and to email your stories to me here. The stories people have already sent through are pretty amazing.