Work Programme must empower the unemployed - but does it?

Wed, 30/09/2015 - 13:15 -- nick

The Work Programme is the government's flagship support system for unemployed people.

It rolled together a range of other provision in an attempt to simplify things and launched in 2011 to much fanfare, but it has been downhill ever since.

We know those organisations - almost all huge private sector companies - who deliver it are still not giving all workless people the same level of service, with the disabled and ill often ignored in favour of those who need less help.

The charity Mind has found that being on the Programme makes mental health problems worse, while others have told of suicidal and starving clients and a drive for advisers to push sanctions, taking away meagre benefits for any reason.

It hasn't seen particularly good results either; only 48,000 found long-term work in the first three years, even though delivery agents have been accused of 'parking and creaming', only putting real effort into those who are ready for work.

Behind some of these problems is the way those agents get paid, and the way the coalition arranged contracts from the beginning. They receive very little money until a client has got a job and stayed in it for at least six months, a design flaw which invites neglect of those who are less likely to get work.

We have heard little of the culture inside those organisations, even as so many jobcentre workers have revealed details of the sharp practice in their own offices.

But now a Guardian article lifts the lid on this world, showing that contempt for the unemployed has infected at least one London-based provider.

One young client was told in his first group session that “95% of people on benefits are unemployed because they don’t want a job”, a shocking and obviously untrue statement that is almost designed to disempower and strip confidence, key attributes for anyone looking for work.

Advisers were clear that each individual bore full responsibility for not getting work, a strange conclusion when there are still three times as many jobseekers as there are vacancies, but in line with the Tory line that unemployment is a personal moral failing.

This line has been used to justify a huge increase in sanctions since 2010, and the author of the article makes clear that staying clear of having benefits stripped takes a huge amount of energy, energy which should be put towards looking for work and building the resilience that any unemployed person needs.

This backs up our view that sanctions, far from being the motivating tool the Conservative government wants to pretend, are a direct threat to jobseekers' ability to find work. No-one can really believe that being hungry and unable to afford to keep yourself clean and warm is a sound basis on which to impress an employer or develop skills, yet this is the way that the Tories believe the workless are best motivated.

19 year old Dominic, the client featured, put it best:

“The main aim is to place people in such an awful situation that they either make a make a minor mistake, for which they will be sanctioned, or they stop claiming of their own accord because they can no longer bear to be caught up in a broken system.”

Surely we, and the Work Programme itself, can aspire to better than that for some of our most disadvantaged citizens?