You may or may not be aware of the government’s strategy to have state-run social welfare taken over by various religious charities and groups (since it worked out so well in Ireland). One example is the Ipswich-based jobseeker training course which is run by the YMCA – specifically, YMCA Training. The scheme appears to consist of having claimants spend thirty hours a week in a YMCA office looking for jobs on computers. Comrade Andrew Coates has been lucky enough to experience this shining example of faith-based welfare in action.
The YMCA promises high quality services. It says that ‘We are dedicated to inspiring individuals to develop their talents and potential and so transform the communities in which they live and work.’ There are two centres in Ipswich, one for young people on the town outskirts. The other, Dencora House (popularly known as ‘the Den’) on an industrial-commercial estate in another far-flung suburb, Whitehouse. After varying periods of unemployment (dependent, for example, on age), the workless are assigned, in their majority, to a ‘course’ of thirteen weeks at these units. In theory, after a short period of CV and presentation skills induction, participants should be sent on ‘placements’ in various enterprises, local government, or the voluntary sector. The latter is an important growth area. In many cases taking over from ’community service’ ordered by the Courts. Then you have to attended a session back at ‘the den’ to do ‘jobs search’ – sit in front of computers (never enough available) looking at a page of ads, filling in a few forms – in fact what you would normally do anyway if you’re looking for work.
The last time I was obliged to undergo this rigmarole there were the following complaints. Dencora House is in the middle of nowhere. It is very hard to get to from a lot of East Suffolk (its catchment area). It costs £1,70 pence each way on the bus there, from Ipswich that is. From other places, plenty of rural districts, it’s double, even treble. Dole is just over £60 pounds a week, New Deal is £15 plus, minus (yes) the first £4 of your travel expenses. The rest of the journey’s cost is covered. But you had to queue up every Friday with all your tickets to get this back. In some cases this meant £30 to £40 – laid out beforehand on the Dole money just mentioned. Next, placements have been known to be thinly disguised exploitation of free labour. A training scheme offered for some over 55 year olds was on learning to ‘lay bricks’ (guess what the qualification is worth). Then there was the fact that even then some people never found placements and were stuck in the Den all week, doing little. At around forty people there during peak days there was also the question of health and safety – one men’s toilet for about 35 men. Anyone getting stroppy was threatened with being ‘exited’ (charming word) – that is suspended form all benefit whatsoever. Finally there was the simple fact that the process rarely lead to work for anyone who was not already highly employable.
Switch to the present. Numbers of those thrown out of work swell and swell, even in relatively prosperous East Anglia. Yesterday I was told by someone on his way to ‘the Den’ that there on many days there are around 170 people there. Sometimes just two members of staff. The jobs supplement of the Ipswich Evening Star has roughly five pages of ads – at most. Those at ‘the den’ have to work through them – there is an even worse ratio of participants and computers. Many, hell of a lot in fact, are now obliged to spend their whole 13 weeks at Whitehouse. Even those with a placement promise spend weeks waiting for it to be processed. Staring at the walls and the odd screen. Waiting for the few toilets to be free (large waiting list there as well). They are thrown out at lunchtime for an hour. Believe me the charms of ASDA, a chippie and a small café are about all the area has to offer. Any complaints? Exit! Get really angry? Exit! Want an alternative? Exit!
Personally, I’d rather starve.
Yeah, you are supposed to be there for 1 week of induction then get stuck in a placement… everyone seems to be doing 30 hours job search a week… not far from full time hours. Then the job search sessions are not supervised anyway! Always under staffed.
4 pages of job search sounds good… then when you realise that only one page are small adverts (the rest are big box adverts) then short list out jobs you can do (there seems to be a lot of caring jobs etc. around which aren’t applicable) you end up with just 3 or 5 jobs to apply for and everyone applies for them so you stand no chance even though you apply for them anyway as you need a job (better then staying there and getting so little money)
I am quoting loads but you should read this post in full and also the comments. I’ll just quote some more from Dan.
Dencora House is understaffed and over populated with people. YMCA Training loves exiting people for silly reasons to narrow this number down. Please Note: They are still paid for the whole 13 weeks whether you spend one morning or an entire 13 weeks there.
YMCA Training do not have a good relationship with a good pool of businesses – even though in Ipswich alone they have (or did have) around several members of staff working placements out. Over the last 5 years both the Jobcentre and YMCA Training have employed over paid staff (I applied for information of the YMCA Training one) to engage in partnership with businesses and the Jobcentre. The Jobcentre had a controversial post (in my opinion) of a salary over £30,000 a year to bring more businesses on to the database. I only see about 40% of the jobs advertised in the Evening Star (expensive) on the Jobcentres database (free).
I can recall a JCP staff member coming into an crowded room of Jobseekers to do a speech (planned by YMCA Training) into giving us a firm talking to into not getting ourselves exited from the course to cause them more work as she is sick of all the overtime she was getting dealing with new claims. hello? We would all love to help you out and get into paid employment.
YMCA Training do not have a good relationship with a good pool of businesses – even though in Ipswich alone they have (or did have) around several members of staff working placements out.
YMCA Training has severed a lot of ties with local employers and this has become the main reason why people are not offered on to work placements.
I would say that staff members (when in) reading out ‘activities’ on ‘Write down the names of the companies next to the logos’ and ‘What are the name of these companies that used these slogans on TV adverts?’ as a time wasting activity are not beneficial to the job seekers or learning or training these people anything let alone anything transferable into a job. It makes you (whether you are 18 or 60) feel so small like you are back at nursery school with those child-like classroom activities.
The [OFSTED] report also concluded about the lack of availability of computers and lack of private use of telephone.
There is even more on the Ipswich Unemployed Action site.
We are not moaning about having to attend a course – generally we all like to develop ourselves and meet new people – but your treatment on the course is like being an object – a ‘thing’.
Many people are dismissed for trivial reasons and lies to lower the numbers of the already overcrowded rooms in the centre.
Going to the toilet or getting a drink of water outside allocated breaks is a possible dismissal offence and so is taking a plastic cup of water or cup of tea or coffee outside the centre (the small break-out areas are not enough to hold the people in attendance so people venture outside).
This kind of thing isn’t new – it is called ‘customer feedback’ and most organisations value it. YMCA Training do not. Andrew provides the punchline.
This morning I went to Dencora House, Ipswich. For my ‘New Deal’ induction at YMCA Training. A little while in and I was summoned. YMCA manager and colleague. Copies of this Blog, and the Ipswich Unemployed Action’s, on the table.
Apparently, the chief said, some people are upset about this kerfuffle. Deary me.
The upshot is I face being suspended from all benefits for exercising my (see YMCA Induction Pack), ‘freedom of conscience’. Apparently human rights do not apply to the out-of-work on the New Deal. Still no doubt they’ll find some way of justifying themselves. YMCA Mission Statement, ‘Motivated by its Christian faith, YMCA Training’s mission is to inspire individuals to develop their talents and potential and so transform the communities in which they live and work.’ Needs some creative re-writing.
I am really hacked off about this. Obviously we need sanctions for claimants who abuse the system, but cutting off someone’s benefits because they wrote about the system on a blog?
If we’re getting the whole story from Andrew – and he doesn’t strike me as a bullshitter – then this is an illuminating case study of faith-based welfare in action. ’This is our basic service, and if you don’t want to use it or if you raise questions or challenge us in any way, we will cut off your income. Stop writing or starve.’
This is why faith-based welfare doesn’t work, won’t work, can’t work and shouldn’t work.
Andrew, stay strong. Keep up the good work and don’t let the bastards grind you down.