This testimony is by someone who used to work for one of the private companies which place people into workfare. The person didn’t want the company to be named since “this should not be a campaign against specific organisations, the whole thing is rotten and needs to be understood.” It provides an interesting insight into the attitudes and practices that are rife in the target-driven environments of these private companies.
As an ex-employee of a company that was delivering the government’s Flexible New Deal in 2010, I can verify that many questionable policies and procedures were taking place at the time I was working there.
The Flexible New Deal was the government strategy of forcing the long term unemployed (18 month+) back to work. An unenviable task, and the DWP contracts out the service to companies that out-bid each other to cut costs and corners wherever they can.
A worthy idea in many ways, it is good to have a specialised service whose aim is to encourage, coax and incentivise the long term unemployed back into the job market by training, re-skilling and confidence building for those who may have lost their way.
After a little while there however, I became increasingly uncomfortable with many of the practices that were endemic in the culture of the organisation.
Foremost was the practice of ‘trial periods’. I know numerous customers who having applied for jobs they saw advertised at our centre, were told they were obliged to take part in the trial period, which went on for up to 4 weeks, only to be told at the end of it they were not suitable, with little explanation given. If they objected to this sort of treatment, the obvious response to this, we were told by our managers, was to wave the threat of docking their benefits.
You have to understand, that this was basically a sales environment. Everything is target based, and naturally if targets were not met, this was not good for our company retaining the contract, nor good for our jobs.
This meant the phone canvassing team was measured on the performance of how many leads or how many jobs they brought in, simply overlooking any measure of integrity from many of the companies we were asked to refer customers to jobs with. There were numerous occasions where profuse apologies were made, after sending clients to a company that was running an illegal car clamping operation, or other similarly disastrous events.
Furthermore, we were told to assure clients that that we were able to reimburse travel fares for journies between home and our centre (many people were obligated to be there for 3 days a week) and for travel to job interviews. As well as subsidising the travels fares of people before they had received their first paycheck or those on ‘trial periods’. However, whenever miraculously the petty cash did appear perhaps about once a week, there was never enough to ensure all were renumerated what they had been promised.
Many people were left in difficult circmstances, such as having to choose between attending their mandatory job session that week, or paying their electricity. Despite this repetitive lack of refunds, we were actively encouraged by managers to promise clients their travel would be covered, when it was becoming evidently clear that the amount it cost the company wasn’t being tolerated.
On top of this, there developed a prejudiced two tier system insofar as how different customers were treated. Not explicit but nonetheless inherent in the service. For instance, their was a large minority of people, who had reached our service after being made redundant at the beginning of the economic crash, generally from well paid or high flying jobs in the city.
The service as a whole, reacted to this with discrimination and confusion, blinded by the articulate and well presented city type who were classed by us as “work ready”. We went to great lengths to ensure that this ‘special class’ of people did not have to endure the punitive measures that were set out for the rest of the cohort if they failed any of their job seeking obligations. Many of this ‘special class’ often refused to consider opportunities of less than £50k or more, and this was routinely tolerated. Other jobseekers in exactly the same position save for the fact they were used to minimum wage and perhaps less interpersonal vigour, were relegated to the cattle class and rigorously pursued, and then penalised if they were not shown to be taking opportunities presented to them.
Thankfully, I did not last long in this company.
I found this whole episode incredibly depressing, having worked in the public sector most of my life, I was used to high professional standards and assisting people to make genuinely permanant, positive changes to their life. This ‘revolving door’ approach to dealing with unemployment does nobody any favours. It does little to equip people with the employability skills and confidence they need, and as we have seen leads to the exploitation of people, many of whom are vulnerable or have learning disabilities.
With the jobcentre becoming an incredibly Orwellian misnomer, having more to do with bureacracy than finding people jobs, the UK needs to seriously invest in an employment service that meets people’s needs, rather than treating them like cattle to be herded into minimum wage jobs. With this investment there would be more availability of opportunities, and more social manoeuvrability for people at the bottom of the ladder. This type of service as I’ve described does nothing to dig up the roots of long term unemployment and is a mere sticking plaster to the inequality and social decay that is occuring as a result of ecomomic policies that stretch back way past the last Labour government.