Tag Archives: work programme provider

Delays won’t stop Universal Credit’s ‘cultural change’ – to dishonesty, lies and threats

Sinking Shiplee: Howard Shiplee is the man who has been hired to spread the DWP culture of dishonesty and maladministration across all the major British social security benefits.

Sinking Shiplee: Howard Shiplee is the man who has been hired to spread the DWP culture of dishonesty and maladministration across all the major British social security benefits.

You know a Tory policy is in serious trouble when the Daily Telegraph starts publishing articles criticising it.

Today, Universal Credit is on the Telegraph‘s naughty step – not for the first time! – with current ‘director general’ Howard Shiplee (my word, they love making up impressive names for themselves, don’t they?) admitting it has been “plagued by problems”, as the newspaper’s headline puts it.

These include:

  • Technical problems in the merging of benefit office, HMRC and council IT systems
  • Bureaucratic problems
  • Scheduling problems as the scheme’s timetable has slipped further and further back
  • Personnel problems, with Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Failure Smith claiming official let him down, forcing him to employ private sector experts to get the scheme back on track (but it still isn’t)
  • Poor project management, including poor management of suppliers
  • Lack of transparency, with too much attention focused on what was working and not enough on what wasn’t

The plan was to roll out Universal Credit for all new claimants from October onwards, but this has been scaled back to just six Job Centres. It began in a single Job Centre in April, where calculations have been worked out on paper.

Ministers say the final deadline, to introduce the system for all claimants by 2017, will be met – but it seems increasingly likely that – if Labour wins the 2015 election – the whole plan will be consigned to the political scrapyard where, in this writer’s opinion, it belongs.

But Mr Shiplee said he was working on introducing the “cultural” elements of the proposed scheme while awaiting the development of a new IT system, and you need to know what that means.

It means spreading the culture of dishonesty, that has been bred and nurtured in the DWP’s handling of ESA, to the five other benefits that are to be merged into UC.

They are: Income Support, income-based Jobseekers Allowance, tax credits (child and working), housing benefit and budgeting loans.

“This is about changing the way we do business – and changing people’s behaviour by ensuring there is always an incentive to be in work,” said Shiplee. Meaning: We will lie when assessing your claims; we will intentionally mishandle your claim to make it appear that you do not deserve benefit and we will maladminister any appeals; if you do receive benefit, we will harass you to take part in our silly made-up programmes when you could be doing better things; if we find a way to cut you off, or you give up in despair, we will claim that as a positive benefit outcome; and if you suffer hardship, destitution or health problems up to and including death as a result, we will not record them because we can claim it is nothing to do with us.

That is my experience of the DWP, based on Mrs Mike’s experience with ESA.

You’ll be aware that she currently has an appeal against being put into the work-related activity group, based on medical evidence and the expert opinion of a work programme provider. The current word from the DWP is that she must undergo another work capability assessment.

The reason given is that she has claimed her health has deteriorated since her original assessment in 2012 but this is nonsense.

Her appeal was made against the original decision – based on that 2012 assessment. Another WCA won’t have any bearing on that.

Instead, the matter should have gone to a tribunal, as the DWP’s own decision maker failed to make a decision when the case was considered, in April.

That hearing could have taken place by now; instead the DWP has sat on its thumbs and done nothing, waiting for the time-limited claim to come to an end in order to claim – yes – a ‘positive benefit outcome’.

There was no communication with the claimant and therefore there was no way for Mrs Mike to know what was happening until she discovered her benefit had been stopped, a couple of weeks ago.

Now imagine that situation magnified to include not only every ESA claimant, but the many millions of UK citizens who claim all the other main benefits. What do you think will happen when this “cultural” change is applied to them?

Chaos.

Do you claim any benefits? Do you know somebody who does?

If so, you’d better do something about it, before it’s too late.

Disabled? There’s only one way to make Atos ESA assessors understand your condition

Insanity: Apologies for using this image yet again but it perfectly encapsulates the lunacy that is rampant in the Department for Work and Pensions, headed up by Iain 'I believe' Smith.

Insanity: Apologies for using this image yet again but it perfectly encapsulates the lunacy that is rampant in the Department for Work and Pensions, headed up by Iain ‘I believe’ Smith.

We’re all getting to the point now, aren’t we?

You know what point I mean; the point where we realise that we can no longer afford to believe our dealings with the Department for Work and Pensions – including any of its representatives – involve contact with rational human beings.

There is nothing rational about DWP decisions. We’ve known that all along, but now we have enough evidence to prove it.

Look at the Daily Mirror‘s story today: Almost half of the ESA claimants who are known to have progressive conditions like Parkinson’s, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis are being refused admission to the support group.

Instead, they’ve been put into the work-related activity group, which means they are expected to recover from these permanently-disabling ailments to a point at which they could look for work.

This is, of course, impossible.

All doctors know it is impossible.

Atos assessors are said to be doctors. Therefore they should know it is impossible.

An Atos spokesperson, quoted in the article, tried to cover the company’s arse by saying decisions are made by the DWP.

The DWP spokesperson said, “There is strong evidence working can be beneficial for many people who have a health condition.”

Like Parkinson’s?

A condition like that of the gentleman quoted in the report, who gave up working six years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and who can no longer do even basic things?

Nobody can say he didn’t try to keep going for as long as he possibly could. But he was repeatedly told he would be able to recover from his progressively worsening condition and work again, and now the DWP is refusing to carry out any more assessments on him.

Closer to home, Mrs Mike – my own long-suffering significant other – first began experiencing the chronic pain that eventually stopped her from working in 2001. She soldiered on for a further two years before being signed off work by her doctor after spending a lengthening series of time on sick leave.

Her condition has worsened progressively since then, resisting all attempts at treatment. She was granted Incapacity Benefit but this was changed to ESA last year. She was put in the work-related activity group but appealed against this after being told by a work programme provider that she would not be healthy enough to work by the time her benefit ended, and that she should seek reconsideration (or appeal) with a view to being put in the support group.

She did this, but the DWP has sat on the request for almost six months without doing anything, waiting for her benefit period to end so she could be signed off and claimed as a “positive benefit outcome”. This finally happened, two weeks ago.

They say she must be fit for work now. In fact, her health is worse than ever.

Irrational.

And – as this is the prevailing attitude at the DWP – we can say that the DWP attitude as a whole is irrational.

(We know the DWP monitors this site, so: Hello, DWP snooper! Are you aware you’re quite mad?)

It’s reminiscent of the stories about amputees being asked when their limbs were likely to grow back. That, too, was irrational.

It does offer a way out, for those people under threat from these idiots and the Atos employees working for them. Not a particularly nice way, as you’ll see – but probably the only way that will work:

Anyone going to a work capability assessment takes an able-bodied friend with them. As soon as they are alone with the assessor, the able-bodied friend rips the Atos employee’s lower jaw off and destroys it. It doesn’t matter how.

(I told you it wasn’t a particularly nice way!)

For the claimant, and their friend, this course of action leads to a secure future in prison, where their bed and board will be supported by the taxpayer (albeit at considerably greater expense than if the DWP had just put them in the support group).

For the assessor, it provides insight into the plight of those he or she has been working with; sometime in their own future, they will know exactly how it feels to have one of their own colleagues asking, “How long before it grows back and you can get back to work?”

Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that anyone should actually go out and perform such a heinous act on a (so-called) medical professional.

But I maintain that they will never accept the seriousness of your condition unless they are made to suffer it – or something similar – themselves.

The DWP: Where incompetence is described as a ‘positive benefit outcome’

Good shot: Work and Pensions secretary Iain 'Returned to Unit' Smith takes delivery of the nation's verdict on his management of the benefits system. No wonder Britain is falling apart, if the entire Coalition government works on similar lines.

Good shot: Work and Pensions secretary Iain ‘Returned to Unit’ Smith takes delivery of the nation’s verdict on his management of the benefits system. No wonder Britain is falling apart, if the entire Coalition government works on similar lines.

The Department for Work and Pensions is now such a shambles it should be a national scandal.

Not only do its ministers try to deceive you about its purposes and successes (12,000 people did NOT sign off benefits because of the cap, for example, and they still won’t tell us how many people died in 2012 while going through the ESA assessment procedure), but ground-level workers are praised if inappropriate action on claims results in a sick or disabled person being refused benefit or their claim being shut down. This incompetence is described as a ‘positive benefit outcome’.

I write from experience – Mrs Mike appears to be one such ‘positive benefit outcome’, despite our best efforts to prevent this.

Let me tell you a tale. I shan’t go into all of Mrs M’s details as they’re not really necessary and some of them are disturbing; suffice it to say that she has multiple long-term conditions.

She was subjected to a Work Capability Assessment for ESA in July last year, and received notification dated July 17 that she had been put into the work-related activity group, commencing August 14. This meant she would have until August 13 this year to recover from conditions which have plagued her for more than a decade; a totally unrealistic target invented by people whose main aim is to sell bogus insurance policies (see previous articles on Unum).

Being in the WRAG means that you have to try to prepare for work, with guidance to help introduce you back into the job market. Mrs M waited very patiently to be contacted about this, and was eventually called in to the local Job Centre Plus in December last year – one-whole-third of the way through her claim period.

Arrangements were made for her to have a telephone interview with a representative from a company that provides help in getting people back to work, but there were more delays. When it finally happened, the lady on the line told me: “I’ve spoken to your partner and from what she tells me, we can’t do anything to help her. She’s not going to get better in the timeframe within which we work. I know people with fibromyalgia and that’s just not going to happen. I recommend that you appeal against the decision to put her in the work-related activity group… Ask for a review of the decision, with a view to going into the support group. Go back to her doctor and request reassessment.”

We sought advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau over the possibility of making an appeal, and it seemed that there were legitimate grounds for doing so – not just the word of the work programme provider (my understanding is that this is the occupation of the lady who phoned us) but also medical evidence that had come to light after the WCA. So, with CAB help, Mrs M put in her appeal in February. She has yet to receive a response from the Department for Work and Pensions.

In May, however, she did receive another claim form. I filled it out for her (writing for prolonged periods increases the pain) and we sent it off on May 17. There has been no acknowledgement of receipt and the DWP has never mentioned it since.

This is unsurprising as we have had no contact at all from the DWP, from the time we received that form until yesterday (August 19), when Mrs M telephoned the Job Centre to find out what’s going on. Inevitably, this led to the phone being handed to me. “Oh yes,” said the man on the end of the line. “This claim terminated on August 13.”

So it seems the DWP is now in the habit of closing claims without informing the claimants. (In fact this is the second time someone I know has experienced this impoliteness; it happened to someone else in March).

We are now unexpectedly having to deal with the loss from our household income of more than £110 per week – that’s nearly £6,000 per year. We had hoped to avoid the possibility of this happening by means of the appeal, but the gentleman at the Job Centre helped us out there as well: “Yes, an appeal has been logged.” I asked what we being done. “It doesn’t say.”

So nothing has been done, then.

This is a serious matter. Firstly, the decision after the WCA was incorrect – Mrs Mike should have been put in the support group but was put in the WRAG instead. This could be because assessors are on orders to put only around 12 or 13 per cent of claimants into the support group, whether their conditions demand it or not, on the orders of ministers at the DWP.

Then there’s the nonexistent handling of the appeal. The DWP seems to be pretending it hasn’t happened.

Then there’s the repeat ESA50 form in May. What happened to that?

And finally there’s the complete – and no doubt intentional – failure to notify Mrs M of the termination of her benefit, a termination that should not have taken place if the DWP had done its job properly.

Is this what happens when the government lays off more than 400,000 public sector workers – the system seizes up because nobody can do the job properly anymore?

Fortunately – and full credit to him for doing this – my Liberal Democrat MP tweeted me yesterday evening and offered to help, so I have provided him with the details and hopefully something will come from that. We have a little cash coming in and a few friends who can help, so we are not in dire financial straits yet.

What if we didn’t have these safety nets, though?

By now, all readers of this blog should be well aware of the widely-reported statistic claiming that, on average, 73 people die every week because of bad decisions by the DWP – they either become depressed and commit suicide or the strain of going through the process worsens their health problem, the problem the DWP considered too inconsequential to merit receipt of benefit, until it kills them.

That statistic comes from a DWP report released more than a year ago and is now out of date. I have been trying to secure the release of up-to-date numbers but ministers have done everything in their power to prevent this and the only reasonable conclusion is that the death toll is now far worse.

A Freedom of Information request earlier this year was refused on the grounds that it was ‘vexatious’ and a demand for an internal review has been met with stony silence for more than a month. Today I emailed ministers to ask when they were going to respond or if I should just proceed to the next stage, which is a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

So you see, the DWP is in a terrible, terrible mess of incompetence rewarded and extravagant claims that amount to poorly-executed attempts at distraction fraud.

What if this is a microcosm for the entire Coalition government? What will be the result?

A weakened Britain, that’s what.

This blog has said it before and will say it again: They would kill us and call it ‘help’.

RTU’s breakfast – a ‘Soundbite Britain’ supplement

IDSbreakfast

Here’s the first ‘political blipvert’ created by Vox Political‘s fellow blogger at Another Angry Voice, on the subject of Iain ‘Returned To Unit’ Smith and the hugely expensive breakfasts he has claimed from taxpayers’ money.

It’s ironic that this should come on the day I find that Mrs Mike’s ESA has been terminated without notification.

Readers may recall she appealed against the decision to put her into the work-related activity group back in January this year, after being advised by a work programme provider that it was not possible to help her, in her current condition. The DWP says it is in receipt of that appeal. Clearly its officers have done nothing about it.

Now we’ve been told to claim Income-Related ESA and I’m printing out the forms as I write this article. It will be accompanied by a sternly-written letter of complaint which I will also forward to my MP, in the hopes that it might do some good.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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DWP brings in ‘hit squad’ as benefit sanctions rocket

Mark Hoban: He talks a lot of nonsense about work schemes.

Mark Hoban: He talks a lot of nonsense about work schemes.

The government has announced that people who come off the Work Programme will be “targeted” by a “hit squad”.

A press release from the Department for Work and Pensions says up to five “specialist advisers” will be based in individual Job Centres, and will be dedicated to “working with” people who haven’t found sustained work after two years on the Work Programme.

In other words, these people will be overworked because the government’s own figures show that the Work Programme achieves worse results than if the DWP had done nothing and let people find jobs on their own!

But don’t worry – in order to remedy the failure of its own system, the government is already punishing far more jobseekers than every before with the most extreme benefit sanctions possible! Yes indeed – in the year to October 2012, the total number of sanctions applied increased by more than 47 per cent, to a record 778,000!

That’s right. The DWP has punished more than three-quarters of a million jobseekers for its own failure to deliver a decent system to get them into work. Does that seem fair to you?

Those are the most recent (official) figures available from the DWP. It seems new figures were due last month but have been delayed indefinitely by the department. One has to wonder whether the total for the year to May 2013 has actually topped the one million mark – that would mean one-sixtieth of the population were deprived of the funds they need to live, and we already know that sanctions do not only harm individual jobseekers but also people who have had nothing to do with the benefits being suspended.

They force people to rely on family and friends for their survival; they damage family relationships and harm the well-being of low-income families who have to stretch their resources to help a sanctioned person, including younger brothers or sisters who have to rely on the money earned by their elders for their own sustainance.

I love the quotes from Mark Hoban on the government press release. Try this one: “The Work Programme is getting some of the hardest to help claimants into work despite a tough economic climate.” A lie. Parliament’s Work and Pensions committee reported less than two weeks ago that “the hardest to help jobseekers remain at risk of being ‘parked’—given little or no support by providers who assess them as being unlikely to find sustained work”.

Or this: “We’ll be stepping up the pressure on claimants, who will be expected to attend the Jobcentre more frequently, with rigorous monitoring to ensure that they are doing everything they can to find work.” In other words, Job Centre staff will do everything they can to get in the way. It’s only a few days since another fellow blogger reported on her own experience of being sanctioned by her local Job Centre, after she found work.

The dialogue in that article is so hilarious it bears repeating here:

“Why did you fail to sign in on Monday?”

“Because I was at training for my job.”

“Well why didn’t you sign in on Tuesday?”

“Because I was at work.”

“Why did you fail to look for jobs in the last two weeks?”

“I didn’t. I applied for around 20 jobs in the last two weeks.”

“But why did you fail to apply for any jobs since last week?”

“Because I got a job.”

Anyone failing to comply with the – I suppose it amounts to – harassment announced in the press release will face sanctions, including a three-year benefit ban for the worst offenders – anybody who repeatedly fails to comply. In practice, this could mean not applying for a particular job, or arriving at the Job Centre a few minutes late.

It’s only towards the end of the government press release that we find the real reason for all this fanfare: “An extra £30m will be available to pay for extra training and specialist help to prepare them for work.”

Riiiiight. It’s another bung for the ministers’ friends in the Work Programme Provider companies.

That explains it.

Local election campaigns begin – but where are the NEW contenders?

Get your votes out: But who will you support, if your local council is holding elections this year? The mid-term vote is always carefully watched, so your vote could sway predictions for the 2015 general election!

Get your votes out: But who will you support, if your local council is holding elections this year? The mid-term poll is always carefully watched, so your vote could sway predictions for the 2015 general election!

Hard though it may be to believe, in the midst of all the ‘Mrs T’ drivel, but life goes on and there are elections on the way.

The Liberal Democrats have launched their bid for seats on 34 councils in England and one in Wales, predictably, with a smear campaign.

Apparently, both their Coalition partners the Conservatives, and Labour, are inefficient and waste money on “vanity projects”.

This will be a hard criticism for the Tories to counter, considering they are about to waste up to £10 million of taxpayers’ – our – money on a ceremonial funeral for Baroness Thatcher that the majority of the people in the UK simply don’t want.

Apparently, MPs can claim £3,750 each, from the taxpayer, because Parliament has been recalled to pay tribute to her. If they all take advantage of it, that alone will cost us £2,437,500!

Praise is due to Labour’s John Mann, who the BBC placed among those calling the debate a waste of money. He said tributes could have been made next week, when Parliament is due to return.

But then, what is the Liberal Democrat plan to increase the Personal Allowance, that we are all allowed to earn before we start paying Income Tax, if it isn’t a vanity project?

Nick Clegg says the Liberal Democrats will spread “the burden of austerity fairly”, but if this policy really has made 24 million families in the UK £600 better-off than they were in 2010, that means the Treasury has received £14,400,000,000 less than it otherwise would have. Nearly 14-and-a-half BILLION pounds!

This is money that could have eased the severity of the benefit cuts on the poorest in society, or the government could have invested it in projects that would have created jobs, increasing the tax take and lessening the burden of debt repayments and benefits for the poor.

Noticeably absent from Mr Clegg’s speech, at the Eden Project in Cornwall, was any mention of what his party would do with any new council seats it picks up. Instead, he went back to the Liberal Democrat ‘message script’ that was thrust upon his party back between Christmas and the New Year. “Only the Liberal Democrats will build a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life” he droned.

Here in Radnorshire, Wales, people hearing that will be thinking those words are familiar, and asking themselves when they were aired before. Oh yes – it was last week, when our MP Roger Williams and AM Kirsty Williams were talking up the increases in the Personal Allowance.

So there’s no offer from the Liberal Democrats.

At least Labour’s Ed Miliband launched his party’s campaign with a solid commitment – he wants councils to be allowed to prevent payday lenders from operating in their areas, and to stop bookmakers from opening as well.

In hard times, it makes sense for gambling to be curbed – although it is a shame that the last Labour government allowed it to become commonplace before the financial crash hit. And payday lenders must be brought to heel – the huge interest rates they charge mean borrowers – who need the money because they receive such a poor pay packet from their fatcat bosses, don’t forget – fall even further into debt.

But Labour’s recent behaviour in Parliament has created deep mistrust of the party among its core voters. Labour betrayed the poorest workers in the UK, and everybody who is looking for a job, by supporting Iain Duncan Smith’s retroactive law to legalise his illegal sanctions against jobseekers who would not take part in his slave-labour ‘mandatory work activity’ schemes to raise cash for ‘work programme provider’ companies and commercial enterprises that took part.

If Labour wants to win that trust back, it needs to field prospective councillors who genuinely want to represent the interests of the people in their wards, with good Labour values – ensuring they get the best value for their council tax money, rather than turning services over to private enterprises who then make councils pay through the nose for inferior work, for example.

And what about all the new contenders that have sprung up since the Coalition came to power and started reversing all the good work the previous Labour government did, justifying it by saying the new austerity made it necessary (it isn’t)?

The National Health Action Party can be ruled out, I think. That organisation is a single-issue party created solely to attack Coalition members of Parliament, and anyone else who voted in support of the Health and Social Care Act, that allows private, for-profit companies to run NHS services.

What about the ‘No’ Party? This group claims the UK needs a fresh start, and wants to contend the next general election “on a massive scale”. In that case, they should start at local level. Political organisations of any kind won’t be trusted with Parliamentary seats until their members have proved themselves in the local arena and the May elections are a perfect opportunity to get started. Where are the ‘No’ candidates?

What about the People of the British Political and Lawful Rebellion Party, which says it aims “to put the People back into politics”.

This organisation’s Facebook page says: “It is time this country came together and started the mass political and legal upheavel required for a legitimate, lawful, peaceful and successful rebellion. As a newly founded political party, we take one-step at at time while learning to utilise our skills as individuals and collectively.”

Okay, then why not start now – in local councils? Then the ordinary people will be able to find out what they’re all about.

It seems too early for any wide-based, mainstream ‘Party of the Left’, of the kind Ken Loach has been pushing, to come together in time for these elections – which is a shame.

In the light of Labour’s actions on the Jobseekers (Back to the Workhouse) Bill, it is possible that there does need to be another mainstream, national left-wing political organisation – if only to remind Labour of what it ought to be.

One of the most telling comments about the late Baroness Thatcher was that she changed not only the Conservatives, but other political parties, meaning that Labour followed a similar course to the Conservatives when it came to office in 1997.

It’s time Labour remembered that there are other, real and workable alternatives – and started working on them.

David Dennis – Disregarded? Not anymore!

David Dennis, the author of Disregarded: The True Story of the Failure of the UK’s Work Programme, seems to have a hit on his hands. The book has attracted considerable interest, following my article earlier this month. It is therefore with pleasure that I am publishing the following interview with him, conducted by writer Alex Laybourne.

After reading the new bestseller “Disregarded: The True Story of the Failure of the UK’s Work Programme”, I knew I had to interview expose genius David Dennis. Not only did the book hit a chord with me, it has also hit a chord with readers and is currently flying high in the Amazon.co.uk chart. David is a curious guy, he doesn’t like to show his face. I asked him for a photo to include with this interview. He declined to share one and said he is choosing to remain anonymous. I asked him why, and thus our conversation began.

Q) So, tell me, why don’t you want your face out there? Your name will be on everyone’s lips soon. This book is hot! Don’t you want to be famous?

A) I’m not concerned about being famous, Alex. This book was written for the millions out there who are suffering and unemployed. Millions of faces, men and women, all different. Just one face can’t represent everyone or take credit for a small part in trying to improve things.

Q) David, how does it feel, now that you’ve got a hit on your hands to be away from the “Work Programme”.

A) Well, Alex, I guess it’s not exactly apt to say that I am away from it. It still haunts me and it makes me feel sick when I think of all those other people having to go and slave away day after day for the sake of a few quid.

Q) By “a few quid”, you really mean millions that are heading into the pockets of private companies – companies that could well afford to hire and pay employees to work for them.

A) Exactly– private companies are milking our taxpayers of money and our unemployed of their dignity to make vast profits. It’s disgusting to say the least and illegal to say the most.

Q) Illegal? Didn’t a court say it was legal?

A) A court might have said it was legal, but I think the definition of slavery fits like a glove. To work for your ‘benefit’ is to work for something like £71 a week. That isn’t a wage anyone would ‘choose’ to work for. Now, if the companies were happy to add in the rest to make it up to a living wage, that might be a fair deal people would agree with. There’s got to be some leeway given. Somebody has got to give and the unemployed have given too much as it is. It’s the private companies’ turn to put some money into the coffers if they want the benefit of workers.

Q) You believe those on benefits should get them for nothing then?

A) Of course not. I believe there should be a programme where people learn skills and get experience the fair way. REAL help needs to be offered. I do not believe sending people into a multi-billion pound company to stack shelves for free is in any way beneficial to those on the programme– it only serves to help a rich company that’s already rich.

Instead, let’s start getting people into university, college and supporting them through it. Let’s bring back jobs for people– real jobs. The government are paying their private training companies up to £14,000 for every single person on the work programme, over and above the cost of their regular dole. Couldn’t less money be spent sending people through college courses, university or other programmes where we would see a higher return? The way I see it, the unemployed are becoming less employable with every passing day on the work programme. I believe everyone can have productive work, work they enjoy and are fulfilled by, and I think it’s unfair to tar those genuinely unemployed with the same brush used to tar ‘layabouts’.

Q) So Dennis, you believe there are ‘layabouts’ milking the system?

A) I do, and I know that there are more than a few out there. The government has every right to try and keep those people from sucking precious monies from the public purse. But should it be to the detriment of those actually trying to find work? No, absolutely not.

Q) How many people did you actually meet who found work on the programme?

A) (laughs) Found work? None. Sanctioned– many.

Q) Sanctioned?

A) The sanction is the way the government and the system control the jobseekers– if they don’t do as they’re told, then they just cut the money off. If you miss an appointment or you’re ill, you can be sanctioned. Then, how are you meant to survive? There are “crisis loans” available, but good luck getting one. It’s a fear-based, bullying system.

Q) So, you believe the government are willingly cutting people off from benefits and squeezing them to try and make them drop off?

A) Well, I don’t remember saying that, but, yes if you’d like to put it that way– yes– I think there are probably mandates out there that ask the Job Centre to cut people off as much as possible.

Q) What’s the difference between the Job Centre and the work programme?

A) The Job Centre is one of those things that we all know about. It’s the first stop. You go in and see an advisor and they, on the whole, do try to help put you on the right track towards finding a new job. They have targets and regulations, but on the whole, they are pretty straight up and if you follow the basic rules, you receive your dole payment without issue.

The “Work Programme” is something else altogether. I think you could sum it up quite easily as ‘forced labour’. You are sent into a work placement, whether you want to or not; whether it suits your skills or not; and you work. For free. I’ve heard some horror stories and I, myself, had an awful time.

The other part is the “Work Programme” scheme to teach people supposed new skills and help them to write CV’s. The training centre I attended was a complete waste of time. The turnover of staff seemed as though there was a revolving door. The CV’s are useless and to my knowledge sending an architect to a basic maths course is just a weak way to waste money.

Q) Care to elaborate?

A) Sure. I was sent to a placement at a leading gardening store and was shown a health and safety video– then I was sent out to work in a busy warehouse without protective clothing– gloves or the like– legally mandated by health and safety law. When I complained, I was told it was too expensive and we didn’t need them.

As for the architect in one of my classes– there were also health and safety officers, accountants and other professionals sitting through a very basic maths course and to my knowledge many are still doing the same course six months on. As I said– it’s just a way to keep bodies in seats so these training companies can keep charging the government.

Q) Can you tell me which store?

A) The name doesn’t matter. Take your pick. I have heard horror stories from charity shops, supermarkets– you name it and it’s been heard of. As far as I can see, it’s the same across the board, no matter which store it is.

Q) So what do you intend to do now?

A) I am promoting the book. I have several interviews lined up. I had a journalist call me the other day offering to set up a TV interview– the works. I can’t wait– I want to fight for those guys who have no one to fight for them. I believe people should have freedom and choice. If you are unemployed then you shouldn’t automatically become a slave to the system. You should be assisted to find a career that is right for you.

Q) How does the programme affect working people?

A) Good question. Well, as you know, Slavery was abolished many years ago. If we bring back slavery– who will want to pay people to work? This system is bringing down wages across the board. The end effect will be simple– more people will become unemployed and then be thrown in as slave workers. The government will create a wider gap between the rich and the poor. The middle class will disappear and years of hard work will be thrown down the drain.

Q) I believe you are very brave to even attempt to sell this book. There are people out there who are going to call you a liar.

A) Alex, I know, and there always are. The truth is in the book and if people want to insist that those on benefits are having a great time, I suggest they try it for themselves. Let the Tories go down and work at supermarkets and perhaps they would be kind enough to give their real, well-paid job to a work programme worker. I can tell you, there are qualified people out there who would be able to do it just as well. I don’t believe all this crud about “knowing your place”. The world is there for those who want it– the world is everyone’s– it doesn’t  just belong to those guys with huge bank accounts.

Q) Have you got another book in mind?

A) Yes. I am half tempted to compile case-study interviews with people who went through the “Work Programme”. It would be an interesting eye-opener for all those who say that my experience was some sort of aberration. Let people see what real people are going through and let’s give everyone a voice.

Q) Are you a ‘Working Class Hero’?

A) No. John Lennon was a working class hero. I am just a guy who wants people to be treated fairly. I don’t believe in sitting at home on my arse all day. I believe in work and let’s get people into jobs that will give them a fair lifestyle. Let them add to the economy and let them enjoy the prosperity others enjoy.

Q) Thanks, David, I better let you go, you seem to be pretty busy!

A) I have got a long road ahead of me spreading the word of the silent majority and I intend to see it through to the end.

David was busy with other interviews at the time. I spent enough time with him to realise that he has a story here that is growing daily. His book is a hit and he himself is certainly driven enough to realise it. I wanted to give you a taste of what this guy is like. I have read the book and I know it’s a good one. Find it here and then tell David what you think of it.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Disregarded-Story-Failure-Programme-ebook/dp/B00AO6O9QG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1356273446&sr=8-2

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Disregarded-The-True-Story-of-the-Failure-of-the-UKs-Work-Programme/433776256677128

Would a Bill of Rights squash terrorism – or promote forced labour?

I have read only the BBC website report on the commission that was set up to decide whether we should ditch the Human Rights Act in favour of a new ‘Bill of Rights’, but a few things appear clear:

This is being treated as an argument between those who are pro- and anti- the European Union.

People are being asked to consider changes to human rights legislation as a way of combating terrorism.

Both – as we know – are well-worthy of debate, but I wonder why we’re not discussing the elephant in this room. We already had a very well-publicised human rights case in our courts this year, and it had nothing to do with terrorism; it was the case against the Department for Work and Pensions that was won by Cait Reilly, the graduate who was forced to leave her voluntary work in a museum to stack shelves at Poundland on the government’s Workfare scheme.

Oh, you still think she lost?

To refresh your memories, Ms Reilly took the DWP to a judicial review, claiming that being forced to undergo Workfare contravened article 4 (2) of the European Convention on Human Rights: “No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.” Mr Justice Foskett found in her favour.

He stated: “I would be inclined to grant her a declaration that there was a breach of Regulation 4(2) in her case … Her original complaint arose from what she was wrongly told was a compulsory placement on a scheme that (a) impeded her voluntary efforts to maintain and advance her primary career ambition and (b) having embarked upon it, from her perspective, did not offer any worthwhile experience on an alternative career path. It is not difficult to sympathise with her position from that point of view.”

I know, it’s entirely different from what the mass media told us, back in August when the ruling was made. They cherry-picked this for us to digest instead: “Characterising such a scheme as involving or being analogous to ‘slavery’ or ‘forced labour’ seems to me to be a long way from contemporary thinking”.

The judge was actually saying that, if Ms Reilly had been properly informed of the regulations, she would not have been led to believe she was being put into forced labour. He said the issue arose “from events that occurred in the early stages of the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme when the advisers with whom they communicated were less experienced” and added: “Whether the problems … were merely “teething problems” remains to be seen. The issues raised … were properly raised.”

He went on to say: “Whilst there may be others who have experienced similar issues and have had similar problems, the evidence is that a large number of other individuals will have taken part in the scheme, some of whom would doubtless say they have benefited from it.”

We have since found the opposite to be the case. On November 27, we all heard that, during its first 14 months, only 3.53 per cent of jobseekers who took part in the government’s mandatory work activity programme – of which Workfare is a part – actually found a job for six months or more. They would have had a better chance of finding a job if the work programme had not existed.

I wonder what Mr Justice Foskett thinks now, bearing in mind his words then?

Whatever the case, the government is ploughing ahead with the scheme, and one has to wonder why. It is an embarrassment. It doesn’t work. It has broken the law on human rights.

What if it wasn’t supposed to get people into work, though? What if it’s supposed to do something different?

What if it’s a way of providing a cheap workforce to companies that may (or may not) donate money to the party currently in government, thereby also ensuring that unemployment stays artificially high in order to discourage the workforce from seeking increased pay?

What if it’s a way of funnelling taxpayers’ money off to profit-making companies such as the ‘Work Programme Provider’ firms, that receive £600 for each jobseeker referred to them, plus £200 for the ‘activities’ they offer to prepare those jobseekers for the world of work (see my article on David Dennis’s new book, Disregarded, for a first-hand account of that waste of time)?

If that was the case, then a law that had already led to not one, but two court actions against the government (the other being by Jamieson Wilson, also considered and upheld by Mr Justice Foskett) would be… how can I put it?

Inconvenient?

It’s just a thought, but if you don’t see the sense in it, you might just as well be buying your own set of chains.

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.”