Disregarded: New book exposes Work Programme’s failures – from the inside

The Coalition’s Work Programme is a sham system designed to funnel money from the government to so-called ‘providers’ – private companies whose idea of training forces participants to prove they have the simplest literacy and numeracy skills before placing them in six-week limited positions for companies keen to exploit free workers.

That’s the grim message in Disregarded: The True Story of the Failure of the UK’s Work Programme, by David Dennis. He’s a man who knows his subject – the book is the result of his own time as a participant.

According to the book’s publicity material, “shocking descriptions of his time spent at a for-profit skills training centre show that the unemployed are considered a scourge on society and are treated as such.

“Despite the government’s assurances that the scheme is working to reduce the millions of unemployed, Dennis shows, through his own experience with the programme, that it is inefficient, inept, and fundamentally unhelpful to those who need it most – those hungry and able to work.”

That’s it in a nutshell, according to the author. “What I witnessed at my training centre was a complete shambles and a waste of time for everyone involved,” he told Vox Political. “I spent about 12 months there, on and off, and I don’t know anyone who got a job through them.”

The book itself makes the situation explicit:

This programme essentially uses the unemployed as unpaid slave labour forces for six weeks’ duration for some of the country’s largest companies – highly profitable companies that can absolutely afford to hire people for a decent wage… This would not lead to paid employment… This was a simple case of a company taking advantage of a recession.

“The classes are not put together with a view to the skills of those on the programme,” explained the author. The architect with 20 years’ experience and the recent school leaver both find themselves in the same basic maths class. Literally, we were doing computerised tutorials that were primary school level.”

I arrived early for my first interview at the learning provider building. The building had several stories and as soon as I entered I could see what the entrance requirements were– long term unemployment. The lift, with its dank smell of urine, was unappealing. I walked four flights of stairs and finally reached the right level. “Training” the sign shouted. I walked towards it and opened the door. 

The entrance room was small, a pot plant in the corner and a dishevelled man sat behind the desk. 

“Name?” he asked.

“David Dennis,” I replied.

“Occupation?” he said with a grin. “Oh wait, you haven’t got one!”

“I will have someday and I’ll be paying your wages,” I bit back.

“Sure,” he said with a grin. “Take a seat.”

I sat down as he picked up the phone and dialled through to explain that Mr Dennis had arrived.

“Dennis, David?” the woman said, as she entered the waiting room. “Follow me,” she said without even looking at me. I stood and followed her into a classroom. “We need to do a diagnostic test to see if you can read, count and do the most basic of learning.”

“I can,” I replied. “I have GCSE’s and A Levels and I received very high marks.”

She didn’t take any notice. “You have one hour to complete these tests.”

“Excuse me,” I said as I began to feel like the invisible man. “I can talk, you know.”

“I do not wish you to talk,” she snorted. “I wish you to do your diagnostic tests,” she explained. “I do not wish to hear about tests you passed once upon a time.”

I was shocked. I sat down at the computer and took the diagnostic tests.

To my mind, they were a complete joke. Questions such as: Where does the full stop go in this sentence? “Anna walked down to the beach” Well, let’s see? Where does a full-stop normally go? Where does the capital letter go in this sentence? “the alligator swam through the water”. Ninety-eight more of these basic literacy questions followed. The maths assessment was equally as ludicrous. I was completely insulted by this absurdity. The very fact that not only had I passed my GCSEs and A-Levels, I had received very high marks on them, should have exempted me from this degradation. There was obviously no pre-vetting process based on previous educational credentials.

I dutifully completed the test and waited for her to come back. Eventually, an hour passed and finally she returned.

“Have you finished?”

“Yes,” I replied with a smile. “Within about ten minutes.”

“You rushed them,” she accused. “Don’t blame me if you have failed.”

“I didn’t fail them,” I replied. “I know where full stops go and I know how to add and calculate percentages.”

Without listening she took the computer and looked at the results. I had scored highly and I thought I had proved my worth.

“You did alright,” she said with a shrug. “We can improve on that though.”

“How can you improve on 100%?” I asked.

“Those tests are the easiest we have,” she said . “We expect people to pass with at least 20%.”

“Well let me have a bash at your others,” I asked as I grew older every second.

“No,” she said dryly. “You are not ready yet.”

“I see,” I replied, already knowing what the game was. This woman knew she was stuck with me and needed to show some improvement to claim payment from the government. This way she could say that I had started favourably with the lower test scores and passed the higher ones with her guidance. What a complete scam.

“You will begin intensive revision on Monday.”

“I thought I was going to learn ‘retail’ here?”

“Well, you’re not,” she decided. “You must learn Maths and English first.”

So that was the game plan. This company would teach me skills I already had mastered and then charge the government for the pleasure of it all.

“I was told by my advisor that qualifications gained in school were irrelevant and I should not put them on my CV,” he said. “The mandatory CV template is useless and allows for no self-expression.”

“I was also sent on a Workfare assignment to “a leading gardening company”, and again, that was a complete farce. I have 13 GCSEs and three ‘A’ Levels and they sent me to do manual labour – and here’s the good part: When I asked for protective gear like a pair of gloves, which were mandatory in the health and safety video we watched, not I, nor anyone else, received them.”

The book reveals that there is a high turnover of staff on the Work Programme: “In the months I was on the programme, my tutors and advisors changed endlessly. There was no continuity and the calibre of the teaching staff was appalling. To my knowledge, none had a teaching background and many were completely unprofessional.”   Sanctions are used to discriminate against the unemployed and used to bully them, the book states.

And ex-prisoners attend the Work Programme skills sessions along with school leavers. “I find this to be not only socially irresponsible, but again indicates everyone just gets lumped in together without regard to personal experience or qualifications,” said Mr Dennis.

“I was approached by an ex-prisoner with an offer to get into less-than-legal dealings. Had I been desperate or more vulnerable, I could have easily fallen into a deep trap.”

Disregarded is available from Amazon as either an e-book or in a standard, print version. My understanding is that it costs just £2.

I’ll leave the last word to Mr Dennis: “It’s a good-ol’-boy system between the owners of these companies and Cameron’s cronies. Either that, or just a pass the buck situation whereby the government can say they’ve “handled the problem” by putting it in the hands of these training centres but with no obvious supervision or managed thought from the top.

“This programme really needs to be exposed for what it is – a way for these private training companies to take taxpayers’ money from the government. They certainly aren’t helping those in true need.”

37 thoughts on “Disregarded: New book exposes Work Programme’s failures – from the inside

  1. Billyboy

    And of course, as a reward for funneling taxpayer money to them, the polticians responsible are given seats on the board (I note John Reid’s a director for G4S) or perhaps a consultancy (David Blunkett’s a consultant for A4E). It’s criminal. It’s theft from the public purse by crooked businessmen and corrupt politicians, nothing more.

  2. Martyn Everitt-Bronze

    Since starting the Work Programme 18 months ago. I have not been offerred any workfare placements or any training. What I have had is four advisers of differing levels of uselessness, showing me how they think I should look for jobs. I’m 55 years old, I’ve run my own business twice and they think they know better than me.

    1. David Dennis

      Martyn, I was in “training classes” with people from all walks of life– several former professionals and business owners who, through no fault of their own, found themselves thrown into ridiculous mandatory classes which taught absolutely nothing. It was a complete waste of time for everyone and they must have been completely demoralised (as was I). I hope my book highlights this failure of a system– but then, it was never meant to actually help the unemployed, was it?

      1. Welfare to Work hub

        Hi David, this is fascinating, congratulations on the book. Welfare to work hub is a site dedicated to the merits and failings of the Work Programme, and we are looking for people who have experienced the programme first hand for an interview. Would you be interested in talking to us?

      2. Tim

        I recently was sent on a BTEC in Employability Skills. This was essentially a week long course in how to apply for a job. It was presumed that we didn’t even know how to read a job advert correctly.

        The fact is though, that these courses are not designed to be deliberately patronizing (although they are in practice), they are simply designed to be cheap. All they need to run is a tutor with the bare minimum training and a few hundred sheets of paper. It gets the numbers crunched for the government targets and the money rolling in at maximum profit. There is no consideration for the benefits of these courses, its simply about money and keeping up appearances. Usually they dangle the carrot of further more useful skills based courses in front of the claimant to make him/her more complaint i.e. if you do this useless course, you will be eligible for an IT course of Sage Line 50, or CSCS card training, but when it actually comes to going on these its like getting blood out of a stone, there’s endless excuses as to why it hasn’t happened yet and months of silence. This is simply because these courses actually cost money to run, so they try and implement as few as possible.

        Its madness.

      3. Tim

        To further the point about number crunching, there was one guy on that particular course who did genuinely need help. He obviously lacked the literacy skills to complete some of the tasks. Did they help him? No they took him of the course instead. Clearly they were more interested in the number of pass grades than actually helping those in need.

      4. Ghost Whistler

        And you can bet your buns this cuases further social division as frustration sets in with people of different levels. Some will feel, rightly, patronised, others will feel sneered at. The whole thing stinks. My own experience has been enough to confirm the programme, all 2 appointments i’ve had in 9 months, is a complete sham. They ignored health issues, demand access to personal data with no concern for privacy and issue threats and bully people. As an anxiety sufferer I find this completely unacceptable. We have to bring this disgusting programme to an end, but where is the resistance? Where are the unions?

    1. Billyboy

      I’d guess the same they donate to Labour. There’s the problem, you see, they’re all at it so no party wants to stop it.

  3. Angie

    I had the same experience when I was sent on a program I had to do tests and I was given 45 minutes I finished in 15 and was told to do it again, I went to school in an age before the modern teaching methods came in, when teaching the basic multiplication table was part of a maths lesson when we had the 11+ and GCE’S “O” and “A” level. The program is one size fits all I was sent on a computer courses one of the people on the course was a computer engineer, one lady did not have a computer did not know how to start one up, I was a teaching assistant for 30 years in 3 different countries but know one wanted to know about my experiences I was told “that was in the past”.

    1. Eric Greenwood

      last time i was in a4e, i ended up teaching the other “clients” how to use the computer get a email address, because their computer teach couldnt be bothered to do it. They said we will help fund the PTTLS course they didnt and i still taught.

  4. gemmagoodman

    Very interesting piece on the Work programme. I run a blog on the Work Programme and am really interested in hearing people’s views who have been referred onto the Work Programme but have found that it’s been ineffective, badly run and hasn’t helped them in any way to get employment.

    If anyone would like to get in touch and share their story tweet: welfare2workhub and i’ll be in touch.

    It’s essential the public have a voice to hold the government and their policies to account.

  5. scarecrow78

    The whole thing is – as has been stated time and again – a complete waste of time.

    I was put on the WP in July 2011 and have another 7 months left. During my time there I have been through one useful training programme – an ECDL course at Learn Direct. Everything else has been completely pointless, consisting of CV courses (3 of these since starting the WP), letter writing (2 to date) and other basically useless modules. When is the government going to listen to the people forced to take part in these awful schemes and do the decent thing and abolish the lot of them?

      1. Eric Greenwood

        let local people run it, let the local unemployed run the work programme in that area. who knows more about the local jobs situation that locals and who knows more about the unemployed than the unemployed. As a4e said to me they are not here to get you a job, they are there to get you Job ready

  6. Gissajob

    Thanks are due to Mr. Dennis for this expose of the racket that is the Work Programme and its associated “training” scams. I too have experienced the Kafkaesque world that he describes, the worst instance (so far!) being conscripted on to a half day course run by self-styled “Masters of Neuro Linguistic Programming”.
    This really should be a national scandal but I doubt that it will ever get the publicity it deserves because there seem to be too many well oiled fingers in too many lucrative pies (many funded by European Social Fund money).
    Apologies for any grammatical errors in my post – I have yet to receive the inestimable benefit of a basic English course (no doubt it will be my turn soon).
    I’d take this opportunity to tell those approaching the end of their 2 year sentence on the WP that the CAP comes next. This is draconian, hard core workfare, If you want to avoid it you need to check the letter that mandated you onto the WP (probably coded WP05). If this letter doesn’t contain a reference to the regulations then it should be challenged by a complaint to the Job Centte. Successful complaints so far have resulted in being withdrawn from the WP (for 6 months). After this there could be a further 2 year WP sentence – but believe me that is infinitely preferable to the CAP.

  7. David Dennis

    Hi Gissajob,

    Thank you for the kind words. Believe me, I am going to make sure this whole thing gets blown wide open to the best of my ability. I have interviews lined up, articles being written, and an iron will. There will be no way in hell I will stand by anymore watching the unemployed get kicked around by a government that not only panders to the rich, but panders to them at the expense of the poor. My next book may well be about the CAP and with a little luck, all those people on the training courses will turn around and demand a fair and legal benefits system– if there are enough people standing against it, it will end.

    1. [email protected]

      I second that. I left New Labour’s sham of an employment programme which was laughingly referred to as the so-called ‘New Deal’ as I didn’t see the point in being put into a small room miles away from where I live to look for very few real job vacancies on old computers with not enough chairs. I am still unemployed yet won’t go to the job centre whilst they continue to carry-out this draconian and worthless crap. I must be one of many thousands who should be signing-on and getting real help from the job centre to find a suitable vacancy but aren’t.When, oh when, is the British government going to realise what the real problem is in this country?

  8. sian morris

    On my second Work Programme appointment I was threatened with a second sanction (the first sanction was invalid and I am appealing) for not signing the Data Protection consent forms. Bob Taylor (Work Programme boss) absolutely blew his top.

    1. Martyn Everitt-Bronze

      I’m not a lawyer. But to the best of my knowledge you can’t sign away a statutory right, whatever the contract says.

  9. Stephen Bunting

    Thanks for writing the book David Dennis – although you couldn’t have written anything before the dole sent you on a basic English course, could you?

    I walked off a training course after being given a basic English course. I commented that, as I a qualified English and Drama teacher, I could hardly be in need of itt. Of course my dole was stopped…

  10. scott

    i read this with great interest having just got back from wp providers seetec Manchester, on getting back i have revived a letter stating ”we have been told that on the 5/11/12 you were notified to attend on the 14/11/12 but that you failed to do so please answer the questions overleaf 1)please explain why you did not attend seetec on the 14/11/12…….2) did you contact seetec about your appointment ? if so please provide details,such as who you spoke to,when and what the outcome was.. i have a letter off my doctor to go with this letter which i will send not sure what good it will do any advice please feel free to email me @ [email protected],i will also add i to have had nothing but hassle from them this is my second letter regarding fail to attend in 12 months, i am at my wits end and as a result my mental health is suffering, regards scott benns

  11. iMatt

    Just bought this book on Amazon five mins ago! Just had to as I have had dealings with thew W2W sector. One of the most corrupt sectors in modern times!

  12. Cathy White

    My friend has a mental health condition. Under the last government he was on a scheme to find something suitable without pressure. Under this government he was declared fit to work by atos without having any of his medical notes looked at, and as he couldn’t sleep for weeks before that meeting because of how the government talk about people like him, he didn’t have the strength to appeal. They said that they recognise he has a disability but still has to look for work. At the job centre they talked to him like dirt and told him to apply for unsuitable jobs, but when he mentioned his condition, they were angry and put him on a work programme, but when he got there and told them about his mental problems, they were also angry and said they don’t help with that, as just get paid to force people to take jobs. He now feels worse than when he was first signed off work.

    1. Ghost Whistler

      I’ve had a similar experience. The Salvation Army (of all people) claim that, unless you are on ESA, the WP isn’t there to help you or even to acknowledge the existence of any issues you might have. Even if those issues are mentioned explicitly in the info passed on by the JC. They will ignore all of that and use it against you. Quite honestly, it’s a nightmare.

      1. Martyn Everitt-Bronze

        I was on ESA then ATOS took me off ESA and put me on JSA. A year later I’m pushed into the Work Program, that was 18 months ago, I’m still unemployed and I’m still struggling with depression. All the WP does is give me more problems and more stress. I have not even had an interview from the jobs I’ve applied for in more than 2 and a half years.

  13. Smiling Carcass

    Though working now- through my own efforts with zero help from any government scheme or agency- I experienced a similar situation. Told by advisors I was required to attend voluntary schemes I said ‘do you realise what you just said? I have to attend voluntary schemes?’

    A bit of waffle and ‘yes, they’re voluntary but you have to attend’!

    Basic maths, English and no recognition I had recently passed and HNC and HND in Applied IT with Staffs University.

    I passed their ‘tests’ with 100%, though had to do the ‘training’ so they could tick their boxes; training consisted of me sitting on my own at a computer doing their ‘tests’.

    I suffered this because the end result for successful clients was funding for a balance truck licence. When I finished in record time, with record 100% scores- they made a big point of telling the other people there this- I asked about the funding for the balance truck training. I was told I couldn’t get it because I had done too well in the assessments and tests! I apparently needed the basic maths and English training, despite my recent qualifications, but didn’t need practical training that might have led to a job, albeit outside of my chosen field. When I complained and said this was the only reason I had attended their pseudo-voluntary course, they told the benefits agency I had become aggressive and threatening!

    The maths was thus- calculate the area of a square room; then, calculate the area of an ‘L’ shaped room; they nearly got me there! Damn tricky!

    The English consisted of ‘Use the correct word in the following sentence-

    “I went to the shop to ___ some milk”

    Options- by, buy, bye.’

    These were actual questions.

    I had just written long theses on building computers, social networking, designed and implemented a website, learned floating point binary calculation, designed excel worksheets to calculate compound interest in an actual working situation, excel sheets to calculate running costs for a car hire company, designed a database for a pet’s home including ordering and stock control and networking amongst many other things.

    I don’t think anybody could argue I needed to be calculating the area of an ‘L’ shaped room or completing sentences I would exppect a ten year old to be able to do.

    With no disrespect to their other clients, some of whom definitely had learning difficulties, the course was remedial. I would have been put to better use helping them and being assessed on my ability to do so.

    This happened over two years ago- before the new raft of legislation, so nothing, it appears has changed.

    Which proves the authors point- it is to hand taxpayers money to their buddies’ companies.

    1. Martyn500

      I remember in the 80s we had Topps, that was probably the last proper training scheme we had. Everything since has been a shambles.

  14. Another Fine Mess

    “forces participants to prove they have the simplest literacy and numeracy skills”

    This is just so that they can access extra funding, on top of the dwp attachment fee.

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