Pretty sure the government wants death, depression and crime for people who are out of work

A few thoughts as we kick into the year. Interviews from people who’ve been sanctioned at the end of the post:

As you’ll no doubt have read, the work and pensions select committee meets this coming week to hear evidence about benefit sanctions, with sanctioning connected to crime and depression.

Okay. I suppose that hearing will at least draw attention to the sanctions problem and the extent of it. It’s the What Next part that I wonder about. A lot of people know how things are. I spent many hours speaking to JSA claimants at jobcentres in 2014 (have posted some of those interviews below) and at least some of those people had complained to their MPs about sanctions and their treatment at jobcentres. Like many people, I can tell you now that there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that stopping jobseekers’ allowance – already a meagre amount of money – to people who have nothing leads to crime and depression. You don’t have to look too closely to understand that that is the whole point of the sanctions/jobcentre/work programme exercise: to push anyone who struggles for work to the edge in one way or another and to terrorise everyone else into tolerating rotten pay and treatment just to keep a job. There’s very little mainstream opposition to that idea. I certainly don’t count this.

Three points of note from 2014:

1) Nobody I met ever got a job or even a job interview through their jobcentre. Not a single person. Everyone I met who found work did so through their own networks, applications and contacts. Jobcentres exist to administer goverment benefits policy and to channel people to the work programme and so-called skills courses, in my view. Wonder when jobcentres will be wholly outsourced.

2) Quite a few of the people I met who were signing on were actually employed for some of the time – on zero hours contracts, or short-term contracts, or on such low and irregular pay that they needed hardship loans and some JSA support. This is one of the many reasons why I find Labour’s ongoing justification of sanctions regimes in some form or other utterly misguided (I have other words, but am keeping it clean for the New Year). Pisstaking JSA claimants aren’t the problem. Pisstaking employers are the problem. That’s where the entire political emphasis should be. People I spoke to weren’t signing on for the lulz, believe me. They were signing on because it wasn’t possible for them to support themselves in an ongoing way at current rates and means of pay. Or they were stuck in workfare “jobs” that should have been paid and paid properly. Tinkering with sanctions policy hardly addresses the fact that sanctions in any form are about terrorising people into insecure, low-paid work and keeping them there. Let’s stop pretending that sanctions are about “mutual obligation” and other long-dated bollocks. Continue reading

DWP: You’re free to say No to pointless courses as long as you’re happy to be sanctioned

My word.

I unearthed this nugget as I went through emails on my glorious post-Christmas return:

You’ll remember that I’ve been trying to get information from the DWP about the ridiculous “work skills” and “employability” courses that JSA claimants must attend – you know, the courses where people have to roll marbles down a tube at a meaningful angle, or tear a piece of paper up and reassemble it with the help of other people to learn teamwork and so on. Some people even report being threatened when they complained about the (non) standards on this “training” to their course providers.

I’ve sent a number of FOIs about the costs and point of these exercises.

One question I asked was whether or not attendance on these so-called “work skills” courses was mandatory and if people had recourse if they wanted to refuse to attend. People regularly tell me that they’re forced to attend courses that have absolutely nothing to do with their line of work – or anyone’s line of work, come to think of it. Others say that they’re forced to attend courses that are very similar to courses that they’ve attended before. Often, these courses were completely useless the first time around. People wonder why they must return. They suspect the main lesson they’re learning is that when you’re unemployed, officials can humiliate you – often in repeat fashion – however they like.

Anyway. Interesting answer from the DWP on the compulsory nature of this. Basically, the department told me that people could refuse to attend these useless courses, as long as they were happy to be sanctioned for refusing. If people wanted to say that the course proposed for them was pointless and a waste of everyone’s time and money, or that they’d been on a near-identical course with no result – they could do this while appealing their sanction.

Brilliant. What could be fairer:

“A claimant may refuse to attend a course for the reasons you mention, but the consequence of doing so is that they may be subject to a benefit sanction. Claimants have recourse if their benefit claim is sanctioned. They can lodge an appeal against the decision. As part of consideration by a DWP labour market decision maker, claimants are given the opportunity to provide details of why they refused to attend and within this they could include their view on the relevance of the course in improving their prospects of employment.”

Pretty sure that this is a long way of saying “people must attend these useless courses, or we’ll cut their fucking money off.”

This part of the response suggested the same thing:

“Where it is identified by the DWP work coach that a work skills or employability course is best suited to addressing the JSA claimant’s main barrier to employment, then attendance on the course is mandatory.”

So. You’re out of work and your jobcentre tells you to attend a “work skills” course. You tell the jobcentre that you’d rather not travel across town several times a week to roll marbles around, a) because you’re an adult and b) because you’d prefer to do something useful – for example, to look for a job using your own contacts because the jobcentre and your useless work programme provider have never once got you a single job interview. Your jobcentre adviser says “that’s absolutely fascinating” and then cuts off your benefit money. Who says this process is unequal?

Bet the companies that provide these courses at god knows what cost think the system is brilliantly fair. They get bums on seats (££££) and a group of captive, cowed “students” who they can threaten with sanctions – and more – if anyone in the group dares to complain about standards. Trebles all round there, comrades. It’ll be a Happy New Year for that lot.

“They sanctioned me. No money. I went to Tescos to steal. I don’t care.”

I still have quite a few transcripts from interviews with people on JSA that I haven’t posted this year, mainly because I sometimes run out of time.

Am posting some of them this week to give you a little more insight into a system in total meltdown.

These first two are about lives in a kind of meltdown as well – people who have been to jail, can’t get work and probably won’t, because this isn’t an era that does second chances. I can see a lot of people passing judgement on these two individuals. Can’t see too many of the judgement-passers offering solutions, though. I think there’s a feeling now – certainly among politicians – that certain people deserve to be on the scrapheap and should be made to stay there.

This first interview I did recently with a man on the work programme in North London. He’s on a community work placement (30 hours a week unpaid workfare) as a security guard in a local charity. He freely admitted he’d not had a CRB/DBS check for his charity placement, even though he’d done time in prison. I’ve raised this issue before and am still working on it – people on community work placements being placed in 30-hour-a-week unpaid workfare jobs in advice, security, or roles with young people without CRB checks. Am doing more on this at the moment, so this first one is brief, but read the excerpts for now and/or this story for more background.

This first man said his conviction was for ABH. Here are some excerpts from our discussion:

“I’m doing [working in] security on a 30-hour a week placements. What a waste of time it is. I am supposed to be doing security and I’m sitting around doing sweet FA. I’ve got a criminal record. They [the charity] have got several offices, loads of computers, four of us doing it [the security job]. If I was doing it [the security job] properly [as a paid employee], I would have to be CRB checked.

“There’s about 15 or maybe 20 people from the work programme. There’s also a load of foreign students doing internships. They are there for four to six weeks. I’m there for 26 weeks. I’m only two weeks into it and it’s a complete waste of my time. Security involves just standing around and going up and down the blinking corridors. I’m going out fundraising as well – doing bucket collection. I did a couple of days bucket collection down out the front of the shops.”

More on this in the New Year.


This second interview was with a man who was signing on in West London. He was also an ex-prisoner. He talked in detail about the realities of life for people who end up in jail: you go to prison, you get out, you can’t get work, you sign on, you get sanctioned, you steal because you haven’t got money, you fall in with the old lot to get more money, and on it goes. Doesn’t matter whether or not you think that should happen, or whether Iain Duncan Smith thinks people in this guy’s situation should pull themselves together of their own accord, or whatever. This is the reality. This is how things go. I’ve spent a bit of time this year with guys who’ve been in and out of prison, so will post more of those interviews when I’ve transcribed them. I should catch up with the guy in this interview again in the New Year (he was in and out of the Scrubs). Doubtless he’s still doing the same sorts of things. Can’t see that he’d have too many other options if I’m honest:

He said:

“If you put the money in an alcoholic’s account, he’s just going to spend it. And then get evicted [for not paying rent]. Which is what they [the government] want. If I was on Speakers’ corner, I would say that. Because I have suffered here [at the jobcentre] from sanctions. I had to go shoplifting, because they stopped my money. When the police arrested me, I told them why. I told the courts – it was because [I was late] five minutes [to the jobcentre]. There’s no flexibility. I even produced a replacement bus ticket because the bus broke down. I was still sanctioned. When I signed on, they didn’t tell me that “your money ain’t going to be there.” Very nasty. So when I signed on, I went to draw my money. Nothing there. I didn’t eat for a day or two and my electricity… I went to Tescos to steal. I don’t care. Continue reading

Reasonable adjustment for disabled people who sign on for JSA? I think not.

Let’s start with a bit about the ritual humiliations people have to put up with when they claim jobseekers’ allowance:

I was at Kilburn jobcentre early this morning. Everyone had to come in to sign on between 9am and 11am, because the jobcentre was closed this afternoon. This meant that the signing-on exercise was even more pointless than usual. I was at the jobcentre today with Eddie, the 51-year-old man with learning and literacy difficulties who I’ve been accompanying to the jobcentre for about three months. He’s no closer to getting a job than he was when we started. Today’s effort certainly would not have helped. His jobcentre adviser didn’t even look at Eddie’s jobsearch sheet. The adviser just said hello, made a couple of notes in the computer, and that was the end of that.

Staff wouldn’t say why the jobcentre would be closed this afternoon. Whatever the reason, they should have just excused everyone from their sign on sessions this week rather than making them come to the jobcentre for two minutes. “We’re cattle,” several people said as they were herded quickly to advisers. There was already a crowd outside the jobcentre by 9am when I arrived. The whole thing was just pointless. People had to make a trip all the way to the jobcentre in the rain for a rubber stamp. Daily sign on regimes are the same. People can’t argue the toss, because they’re unemployed and so they’re not allowed to challenge anyone, or any point. They have no rights. They can’t complain. They just have to follow meaningless, pointless and patronising instructions. I do sometimes wonder when being unemployed became such a hideous crime. The freedoms people lose are not just financial. They might as well be tagged.

It really is like that. Today, a security guard tried to stop me from accompanying Eddie to his appointment. There is inevitably a scene like this. The guards look constantly for reasons to get in everyone’s faces. They pick people up for no end of so-called infringements. Last week, a security guard tried to confiscate my coffee, even though it was nearly finished. They tell people off for eating – a problem for Eddie, who is diabetic and sometimes needs to eat the biscuits he always carries with him. Today, it was You Can’t Go With Him, which was laughable – and new, at least for us. Eddie is entitled to have someone along, particularly as he needs help when he’s writing things down. It’s never been a problem in the past.

“You can’t go upstairs,” the security guard said today.

“I always go with him,” I said. “I go with him when he signs on.”

“You can’t go up there unless you’re signing on,” the security guard said.

“They said that it was all right,” I said. “He has trouble with his reading and writing, so I go with him to help.”

“You can’t go with him,” the security guard said. I mentioned the reading and writing again, and he thought about it. Then he said it was all right. Then, we went upstairs for the sign on session that literally last a minute.

Continue reading

“Missing” Community Work Placement timesheets and work programme provider cockups…?

Data protection, anyone…?

Intriguing story here: I heard a whisper (quite a loud one tbh) very recently that work programme providers Urban Futures, who are subcontracted by G4S to put people on the Community Work Placement in 30-hour-a-week workfare jobs, might have lost/misplaced/didn’t have/couldn’t find attendance timesheets that were filled in by people on their CWP workfare placements. My word, I thought. I understand that these forms are crucial for reimbursing claimant travel costs, claiming these travel costs back (presumably from G4S or the DWP? – I’d like Urban Futures or someone to tell me) and submitting accurate records. I’m guessing that without these papers, companies can’t do any of this, or do any of it with any accuracy. I wanted to speak to Urban Futures about this, and about the way all this works (if works is the word). I rang and rang and rang. You’ll see below that finding someone to speak to Urban Futures isn’t easy.

Still. Very interesting stuff.

Today, I spoke to Embrace UK, which is one of the charities that takes people on these workfare placements. The charity seemed to know exactly what I was talking about. They confirmed that people from Urban Futures had recently turned up, said there was a problem with their timesheet records (ie they didn’t have them) and asked Embrace UK if they had copies of timesheets to confirm that people had attended their workfare placements at Embrace. The charity said that it was angry about the request, but agreed to help in the end because they thought that without that confirmation, people on CWP placements might not get reimbursed for their travel or childcare costs, etc: “Don’t know if they have lost the time sheets, or misplaced the timesheets, but they came to us to, yes, to find a copy of timesheets.” The charity said that Embrace UK doesn’t keep complete timesheet records itself – “it’s not our job.” I wonder if that means we have a scenario where any “missing” timesheets – if they were/are missing, of course – might be completed in a retrospective way?

Who can really say.

Anyway. Personal data. I’ve seen copies of a few of these CWP timesheets in the last month – the ones I’ve seen belong to people who keep their own copies for themselves. There’s a lot of personal data on those papers. People’s full names are written out on them and details of their workfare placements (when and where) are also recorded. Information about their weekly jobsearch activity also appears.

Which means we potentially have big questions here. One big question is – are these timesheets missing in action and if so… where are they? Here’s another big question – apropos of nothing at all, of course – what are Urban Futures’ data protection procedures?

Unfortunately, this all remains a mystery, for now at least. I rang Urban Futures off and on throughout today – but their main office number was not answered for quite a while. I first called about ten minutes after I’d hung up from Embrace UK. There was a sort of crackling noise and then the call ended. After that, I got an automated message telling me to try again later. I knew perfectly well that the number was the right one. It was the same one I rang a couple of weeks ago when Urban Futures was ignoring me for this story.

Being a resourceful sort, I tried the number for a second Urban Futures office across the road from the main office in Wood Green (by happy coincidence, I was outside those offices yesterday, so I knew there was a second office across the road). I asked to speak to someone – and got an earful of music. The music went on for about 12 minutes. Then I was cut off. I rang again. The woman who answered the phone said that “they” must be busy across the road in the main office and that she would try to transfer me. More music – and then I was cut off again.

An hour or so later, I tried the main office line again and got through – to two guys (one after the other) who insisted that they couldn’t comment and that I should call an 0845 media number. The problem was/is that the media number doesn’t work. I was given the exact same number a few weeks ago and it didn’t work then. I just tried it again. It still doesn’t work (doubtless it’ll magically be fixed seconds after I post this). Anyway – I argued the toss with one of these guys for ages and said Tell Me More About The “Lost” Timesheets and he said No Comment, and round and round we went. We did this for a bit and then he told me to call the media number, or to call G4S, or wait until the media number was fixed. Then he suddenly had to whisk himself off to a meeting.

Pity. I want Urban Futures to explain what is up with the timesheets – that is, of course, if anything is up. Ahem. I want to know how many timesheets are lost if they are indeed lost, what “lost” means in this context, how lost they are and where any lost ones might be. Could they, for instance, be lying around somewhere in a pub or on a train? Just wondering. I have other questions, too – namely, does Urban Futures outsource its administrative functions? Does it, for example, outsource things like timesheet filing and storage? Could it be that people’s personal information would be at risk if a whole bunch of timesheets with personal data on them were…who knows where? What – just in the general sense – are the penalties for work programme providers who lose timesheets, or don’t have them, or can’t find them, or that kind of thing? Maybe I’ll find out if the media number sparks back into life.

Intriguing. As I say.

Eff all and total silence from the DWP: update on the JSA Work Skills Courses Are Useless post

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.

Learning difficulties and need support to sign on and avoid sanctions? Too bad.

Back to Kilburn jobcentre this morning for a Thursday signon session with Eddie, the 51-year-old man with learning and literacy difficulties who I’ve been working with as he’s tried to get his fortnightly jobsearch done and avoid sanctions.

The jobcentre was pretty chaotic this morning – understaffed, I think, and tense. Most of the seats in the waiting area were occupied by people who were waiting to sign on. A number of people were pacing around.

Eddie was one of them: “I want to get out of here,” he kept saying to me. “Let’s get it [the signon] done and go.” Eddie hates the jobcentre and he seemed fraught this morning. He said there’d been some sort of fight between a claimant and adviser and/or Security just before I arrived. I knew something was up, because I’d seen four or five coppers climbing out of their car and heading into the jobcentre just as I turned up at about 9.30am. By the time I got upstairs, the police were all hanging around on the first floor in the waiting area and I could see a couple of coppers talking to people in a side room.

They unsettled Eddie. He can barely tolerate being in the jobcentre as it is. He can’t sit or stand still when he’s waiting to see an adviser. He gets up and down and up and down from the waiting area seats. I watch Security’s eyes following him. Eddie’s been signing on for four years and he knows that his chances of finding work through a JCP are zero. I know it, he knows it and everybody here absolutely knows it. Nobody at the JCP lifts a finger to help find him work, which means that he’s trapped at the jobcentre now in a weekly signon loop. If you want my opinon and I’m sure you don’t, I think that the system basically sees him now as work programme/work course fodder. The jobcentre sends people in Eddie’s situation on the work programme and on so-called work skills courses, and providers charge for it all, but nobody does anything practical to help Eddie find the work he wants to do and has done successfully for years. Nothing here is geared to helping people sort their situations out.

Eddie worked for years as a kitchen assistant, but was made redundant four years ago. He wants another job. He really does want another job. He talks about little else: “I could work in a hotel kitchen, or a hospital kitchen. I want to do that job, but they give those jobs to someone else.” There’s nobody to help him to find a job though – nobody to call employers on his behalf, or put him forward as a candidate, or set up interviews, or to talk employers through his literacy difficulties, or to sort out any adjustments that he might need.

The jobcentre should be doing those things for him, but it is not and it will not. I’ve posted before about Eddie’s struggle to apply online for jobs – he finds it almost impossible to navigate around a jobsite or to run a jobsearch and to complete an online application on his own – and I’ve posted below about the problems he has completing a paper application. He finds things easier if someone is around to help him. “I couldn’t hardly read a newspaper when I left school, but the courses I did at the college helped me and they were better.” There’s no doubt in my mind that the jobcentre has given up on Eddie entirely – if it was ever fighting his corner in the first place. When we go in for his signon appointments, advisers glance at his jobsearch record, set a date for his next signon appointment, then wave him goodbye. Today, his appointment lasted about five minutes. The adviser we saw looked utterly exhausted and harassed. Continue reading

Threatened when we complained the “work skills” course was useless: more stories from the jobcentre

Update 19 November:

Talked to the DWP and asked for responses to these questions:

– How charging for these courses works
– The fees that providers charge for these courses
– What sort of quality control the DWP have in place for these courses
– Whether or not attendance on these courses compulsory for people who are claiming JSA and if the DWP instructs jobcentres to sanction people who refuse to attend a course (certainly people are sanctioned for not attending)
– What sort of reporting the DWP does on course attendance, quality, cost and outcomes.

That was on Monday. So far – nothing. Even reminders have been ignored. So – will ring again.

You can see from the comments people have left on this article how ridiculous these courses really are. You also know that someone is making plenty of money out of them.


Original post:

One I’ve been thinking about for a while:

Another phenomenon worth touching on when we’re talking about pointless jobsearch activity is the so-called “work skills” courses that JSA claimants are sent on by jobcentres. These are the courses that are provided, if that’s the word, by the likes of Reed, A4e and other of the usual suspects. People must attend these courses if the jobcentre says so. It’ll be news to nobody that people are told they’ll be sanctioned if they say No, and are indeed sanctioned if they say No. You can see that in the transcripts below. (I’m wondering if these courses ARE actually mandatory – or if people can say No and are just told they can’t, as they are told with everything else).

These courses have intrigued me for a while, because from the start, people have told me that so many of the courses are utterly meaningless. One man at the Kilburn jobcentre told me earlier this year that while he was sorting out a support worker job and waiting for CRB checks to come through, he was sent on a course where he was taught to tear up paper for teamwork purposes. “They sent me on this stupid course at Wembley. It was just a two week thing – a waste of time. They teach you how to stick a piece of paper back together as a teamwork thing. They said I’d get certificates for it. I said “there’s no way I’m putting that on my CV. You’re having a laugh.”

I started thinking about this again recently, because I’ve noticed that the JSA claimants I’m speaking with each week at jobcentres are getting angrier and angrier at the absurdity of these courses. It occurs to me that the anger is escalating. People are already furious at being forced to work 30 hours a week for free on community work placements and about the torturous daily sign on process. One guy at the North Kensington jobcentre (you can read more about this below) reported that his course provider took real exception when people on the course got together and said that the whole exercise was pointless. He said that the course provider pretty much got to the “Let’s Take This Outside,” point when people complained. “We got threats from the providers…I had no choice. I had to go on the course, or get no money.” Continue reading

Police, daily #JSA sign on and workfare. “It’s like being tagged.”

Back to North Kensington jobcentre yesterday – where that jobcentre’s sensitive leadership called the police as the unemployed workers’ group I was with handed out information leaflets to JSA claimants who must deal with sanctions and workfare. The coppers didn’t seem to care much about the leafleting when they arrived – although they did ask if the group could ring the local police station with advance warning of its next leafleting activity. Which was amusing. Highly. I can’t see advance phone calls to the police and copper-convenient leafleting sessions being organised in a hurry myself. Liaising with the police – particularly before an event – isn’t anyone’s bag and I don’t think there’s any requirement to do it. Jobcentres are just getting very touchy about anyone who might let people on JSA know that there are groups of claimants fighting workfare and sanctions. And that they can join in.

And anyway, the many people on JSA who I talk to want this unemployed workers’ group to keep turning up and challenging jobcentre management. I’ve written before about the concerns that people who attend the North Kensington jobcentre have raised about jobcentre advisers who bully the people they’re supposed to support, and about the pointless, oppressive daily sign-on regime that many claimants there are now subject to. “It’s like you’re tagged,” one woman who must sign on daily told the group yesterday. “You can’t go out of London for a day. You can’t even really go out of your area. You got to be around every day to come in here and sign on.”

This woman had another problem, too – and it’s one that will ultimately affect you, whether you’re in work or not. The jobcentre centre had just given her a letter which told her to attend a G4S meeting this week about starting a Community Work Placement. Continue reading

30 hours a week at all kinds of jobs on workfare. Your job is next

I’ve got more to add to this story, which I will do over the weekend – here’s a starter for now:

This is a photo of a timesheet from a London JSA claimant who is on a Community Work Placement at a charity called Embrace UK:


The Community Work Placement scheme is one of this charming government’s we-will-make-you-work-for-nothing “concepts” for people on JSA. Instead of finding people proper paid jobs, the government forces people to work for their tiny benefits for 30 hours a week and for up to 26 weeks in a local charity or organisation. This is workfare, pure and simple.

This claimant is a 44-year-old man who signed on a couple of years ago, because he was not able to cover his bills with the money he was making in a small business he wanted to build (he was self-employed). His work programme provider is Urban Futures. Urban Futures is a right bunch of charmers with a reputation for bullying. The company has recently come to the attention of Boycott Workfare and Haringey anti-workfare campaigners. Urban Futures appears to be delivering Community Work Placements in some sort of contract formation with the equally repulsive G4S. I tried to get hold of Urban Futures on the phone yesterday to ask about the concerns re: bullying, their involvement in CWP, how many people they were sending out to work for nothing in local charities and how much their contracts were worth. I gave up after being passed around to several people who didn’t seem to know what I was talking about and/or didn’t want to know and/or finally said the only person I could talk to was out of the office. I may try calling again next week, or I may just visit their Wood Green offices and lie on the floor in reception until someone responds to me. It’ll be Option B at this rate.

Anyway – the man whose timesheet you see above must work 30 hours a week from Monday to Thursday at the charity on workfare. On Fridays, he goes into a local Urban Futures office where he has to carry out his weekly jobsearch activities. He must apply for about 18 jobs on Fridays. Here’s one of the sheets he recently filled in for that.



Two points for now.

The first is that this man’s CWP commitments are cutting into the time he has available to find paid work and to develop his business, which is what he wants to do. He said that the hours he spends on the workfare placement and in the Urban Futures office “prevent me from building my own business. I think I would have found another job much quicker [if I wasn’t on CWP].”

The second point is that he is involved in quite an amazing range of tasks at the charity and he should get a proper wage for all of it. I think sometimes people who aren’t yet affected by these things have a vague (and snobbish) idea that workfare means a bit of weeding in public parks (a job which, may I say, is a real job that also should be properly paid). I don’t think everyone quite grasps the reach workfare increasingly has, or how far into the workplace the government intends it to go.

This charity provides a range of advice, outreach and support services for people in the area. I spoke to the charity yesterday and the person there confirmed the range of work that people on CWP were involved in – and added that people were also working in data entry and administration.

“I’m involved in the sexual health [advice] team and the youth development group,” the man on CWP told me [a comment which, incdentally, piqued my interest re: CRB/DBS checks. The charity told me that people on work placements were supervised by DBS-checked staff or volunteers at all times when on outreach with young people as per DBS guidance. The ultimate responsibility and enforcement of this is a topic I’m particularly keen to pursue with Urban Futures. It is my understanding that providers are responsible for complying. I wonder how many pursue this tirelessly. I asked the DWP about this, but haven’t heard back. More on that soon]. “At the moment, I’m doing presentations for black history. I do presentations for new arrivals, homeless groups and things like that. I’m involved in the marketing team… You need good IT skills and good communication skills. [You need to be good at] public speaking and any sort of project type management, really. I’m doing all that for the JSA. It’s a lot. ”

Indeed it is. There’s an awful lot of work being done here – for free. Paid work as a concept is under real threat – and that’s paid work of all kinds. As this man said to me when we spoke – people in so-called white-collar work may not be particularly aware that “their” kind of job is being done now for nothing. “They’ll have doctors and lawyers on workfare soon,” he said. I wonder, you know. I could see Iain Duncan Smith getting off on that.