Something for nothing: workfare

In the past quarter, between March and May, the number of UK people out of work has fallen by 65,000 to 2.58m. The ONS says “the overall unemployment rate is now 8.1%, dropped 0.1% than the previous quarter” and though there are still over a million people aged 16 to 24 unemployed, youth unemployment also fell by 10,000.

The number of people in employment rose by 181,000 to 29.35m, the highest for almost four years.

Chris Grayling, Employment Minister MP, said: “This is an encouraging set of figures in what is still an incredibly difficult economic climate.”

I got a letter the other day. To clarify this: I don’t own a company and I’m not an employer. But for a few years I was a sole trader using a business name/website, and I still sporadically get advertising calls/letters for that business name. Mailing lists never die.

The Youth Contract – Supporting local businesses in Edinburgh

The letter was from Ingeus, who are doing their bit for the UK economy by taking fees from the government for “helping people out of unemployment”. Ingeus in the UK is now 50% owned by Deloitte, one of the “big four” accountancy firms who helpfully lend staff and donate consultancy work to government departments.

But it was founded by Therese Rein, one of the richest people in Australia, married to Kevin Rudd, Australia’s former Prime Minister.

The Australian dollar story:

Ingeus’s accounts also show the group earned $6.62m from its sale of 50 per cent of its British operations — Ingeus UK Limited — to financial services firm Deloitte, in a deal brokered in February last year and finalised the following month on March 23.

Just one week later, Ingeus UK Limited was awarded a major British government unemployment-to-work contract which it described as “by far the largest contract won by the group” and which was expected to “significantly grow the group’s revenue”.

That contract marked a major short-term windfall for Deloitte, with Ingeus valuing its 50 per cent stake in Ingeus UK Limited at $10.97m as at December 31 last year.

The group delivered after-tax profit of $10.19m for the year to December, down from $18.85m the year before. Ingeus holds an impressive $33.5m cash.

So they can well afford to do mass mailings to address lists they’ve bought from who knows where. Even if they may be a little bit out of date.

As a valued local employer we wanted to inform you about a new Government initiative that may be of benefit to your business.

Nice! Of course it instantly gives away that this is a form letter, since I don’t employ anyone.

Tackling youth unemployment is a major priority for the Government and on 2 April they launched the Youth Contract. Through this initiative a significant subsidy for £2,275 will be available to every employer that recruits a young, long-term unemployed person who is currently participating on the Work Programme.

Hm. That’s very nice of the government. Not counting the extra costs (national insurance, etc) of taking on an employee, assuming that I could call this person an “apprentice”, that £2275 would pay for 25 weeks at 35 hours a week, no cost to me. While once upon a time, an apprentice might have to be learning a skilled trade and the employer might have to prove it, these days you can be called an “apprentice” if your employer is teaching you how to stack shelves in Poundland.

As the UK’s leading provider of the government-funded Work Programme, Ingeus is helping hundreds of businesses like yours in Edinburgh to find reliable, committed staff and we currently have a large pool of enthusiastic young people looking for work.

A question asked just two days ago on a Consumer Action Group discussion thread:

Ingeus seem to think that my fortnightly signing on at the Jobcentre is separate. My contract is with the Jobcentre and not Ingeus.

They (Ingeus) expect 3 jobs applied and declared to the Jobcentre and then as many jobs as they say I must apply for and declare applications to them on paper unless I want to be reported to the Jobcentre for possible sanctions.

Are they allowed to force me to make many, many applications far in excess of what my Jobseeker Agreement stipulates? I always exceed the mininum requirements for activity that the Jobcentre expect of me.

Well, yes, Ingeus can do just that. After 13 weeks in the Job Centre’s work programme, a claimant is transfered to Ingeus or other Work Programme company, who can and will instruct them to apply for as many jobs as they say – regardless of whether a claimant is actually qualified to do the job.

From another responder on the thread:

But the question, really, is whether or not the providers offer a service that is in any way helpful, because every moment you spend jumping through their hoops is one moment less spent on productive jobseeking.

Then there’s the cases where the provider tries to coerce a jobseeker into work that is of dubious legality. We had one guy complain that they were trying to force him to work for a company looking to pay the apprentice rate NMW (£2.25 ph or so) on the basis that he would be an “Apprentice” door to door salesman. What’s that all about?

This attitude is neither helpful to prospective employers:

For starters, it’s making HR officers’ lives hell as they still have to process the job applications forms that land on their desk by the THOUSANDS of people being forced to apply for jobs they have no chance of getting simply so they can still get their JSA. My sister-in-law is an HR manager and when they advertised for ONE highly specific job, she got nearly 3000 applications in 2 days, out of which under 10 were from people who had the relevant qualifications.

Secondly it depends on whether they are legitimate job applications or workfare ones. If OP is being made to apply for certain jobs simply so the agency can charge fees each time to the State that’s very wrong indeed.

Nor to genuine job-seekers:

I’m on the Work Programme. Every two weeks I have to visit the WP provider and ‘look for work’ on the computer in front of them. As I have already applied for more than 50 jobs in the last two weeks, I will find nothing new to apply for. My WP agent is not happy with this and brands me as ‘lazy’.

The next time I don’t apply for any jobs for two weeks. When I visit the WP office I apply for 10 jobs. The agent is happy and thinks I am a good boy.

See what the problems is? I am discouraged from doing my own homework as it is not monitored by the agent and I end up applying for less jobs and eventually this is not helping.

But supposing I was a struggling new business, needing to employ people but in the Catch-22 of start-ups, not really able to afford to pay them until they start bringing in new business? Obviously people won’t work for nothing.

We pride ourselves on helping businesses by taking the hard work out of recruitment, providing a cost-free service that also helps the local community to prosper. We support local job-seekers by providing employability and skills training and our service doesn’t end there. Our job-seekers also receive two years’ free in-work support once they start work to help them develop their new careers.

The “employability and skills training” certainly sounds good. But I know from direct personal testimony that the “training courses” they run are almost valueless – inexperienced trainers, inadequate material, and claimants sent to “train” without any regard for the skills they have or the areas they want to work in, just warm bodies pushed into a room with a flipchart and an “instructor”, a fee to Ingeus for every “course” run. The trainer may not even be paid: Ingeus is one of the preferred bidders on the government’s mandatory work experience programme. Nothing I have heard about Ingeus suggests it provides good value to unemployed people:

The provision for everyone inside isn’t much better. There are only four computers available for people to use for job searching and only five seats for people waiting to see their advisors. Today, this resulted in more people waiting than there were chairs. When you get to see your advisor, there isn’t any privacy, with other clients within 2-3 feet. Given that some of the issues that the work programme is meant to address are health and wellbeing related, this can’t be appropriate.

Part of their contract with DWP states that they have to provide two mandatory bits of training – Job Search training and Interview Techniques. While I agree a large number of the people referred to them will need help with this, it’s a waste of time and resources to put everyone through it regardless of need and/or ability. My interview technique is, according to feedback, excellent. Where I have lost out has been to other candidates with slightly more experience in specific areas. This is not something you can learn to overcome. When I used to contract I would have an interview every two to three months as part of getting my next placement. This really hones your skills. These mandatory courses are exceptionally blunt instruments that won’t give the right support to those who need it and will alienate those with a good grounding in the skills.

We have an office in your area with a dedicated specialist who can work with you to meet your recruitment needs. Call us on 0800 321 3160 to be referred to your local specialist.

In all honesty, even if I did think employing an 18-to-24 year old at apprentice wages for six months was a splendid idea, which I don’t, Ingeus is not where I’d turn to find new workers. Why support an Australian billionaire and a lobbying accountancy firm? Not to mention that the real stories – not the glossy testimonials provided by DWP – are invariably less than happy about Ingeus’s value as a recruiter:

A couple of weeks ago I had two interviews and my first appointment with Ingeus. I’d got the expenses forms in advance from JCP as I was supposed to do, attended the interviews and then submitted the forms. I was then told that Ingeus were responsible as I had been signed over to them before the interview dates, despite not having had an appointment with them. Today I went to Ingeus and tried to get reimbursed, only to be told that as I hadn’t got the travel pre-approved they couldn’t pay me. As one of the interviews was in London and the other was in Cambridge, this involved considerable expense. Train failures on the day of the London interview meant I had to drive, despite having already bought the tickets (to save money). As a condition of getting JSA, I have to attend every interview I’m offered. As a result of this fiasco, I’m over £120 out of pocket. JSA is £67.50 a week, so this is a significant amount. Something like this throws your whole budgeting out for weeks.

According to the boxed testimonial at the foot of this letter, though, at least one supermarket is making use of Ingeus and getting subsidised by the government for doing so:

“I can’t overestimate the amount of time, money, and hassle Ingeus has saved us. The people we interviewed understood our company and our roles – there were no time wasters. Ingeus’ services are free; we even used their premises for all the recruitment activity.” Graeme Cooper, Operations Manager, The Cooperative Food

The Cooperative have said all along they don’t do workfare – only apprenticeships. For which they get subsidised by the government at £2,275 per new employee.

Whilst other retail business have had to yield to public pressure to force their withdrawal from the abomination of schemes which force unemployed workers to work in their profitable businesses without wages, neither the Co-operative Group nor Scotmid Co-operative Society took part in these exploitative workfare schemes in the first place. – Mary Lockhart, addressing the Scottish Labour Party Conference in Dundee, March 2012

It is impossible to find out which businesses are using workfare in Scotland but it’s clear that Ingeus and A4E are taking fees from the government for every warm body they “place”:

Payment-by-results, when results are defined as getting people back to work, is always going to mean – for companies motivated purely by profit – that the people who are easy to find jobs for will be those targeted for “placement”: the genuinely hard cases will be avoided as unprofitable, or passed on to the small local charities for whom A4e will become their only source of funding – though A4e will take its 25% fee for “management”.

Today, Chris Grayling is enthusiastic about the success of the Work Programme, pointing to falling unemployment figures over the last quarter as evidence that it is working. Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said:

“The labour market continues to defy the laws of economic gravity, with employment up and unemployment down, despite stalling growth forecasts and stuttering confidence. The downside is that, for now, we have a seemingly entrenched pattern of falling productivity and subdued pay affecting the competitiveness of employers and the living standards of employees.”

The Scotsman noted that it seems premature to rejoice:

The jobless total, which includes those who are unemployed but not eligible to claim benefits, dropped by 4,000 between March and May.

Scotland’s unemployment rate is now 8 per cent, just below the average of 8.1 per cent for the whole of the UK, the official figures showed

Although unemployment is down on the previous quarter, the figure is still 10,000 higher than the total from 12 months ago.

But perhaps the goal of Ingeus is simply to make life so unpleasant for unemployed people that they will do anything rather than sit through another “interview” with Ingeus advisers again?

My experience of Ingeus was that they speak to customers like dirt; they bully and shout at you, sometimes to the point of tears. Their advisors did not have a clue what to do if you are highly experienced and educated.

As a Psychotherapist/Counsellor that lost my job from the voluntary sector, I was told by one of the advisors “What is it about you and your faults that mean you have been unemployed for a year?” I answered that in the current climate people like my self that help people in voluntary and public sectors are being made redundant in their hundreds and thousands thus no jobs”.She replied “I don’t know anything about that sector of work so I don’t know what to say about getting a job in that area, but I could get you some work experience in a shop in the mean time”

Surely it’s her job to know about the job market and how would stacking shelves enhance my career? Also why is it my fault I was still unemployed when I was doing everything necessary to get work?

Alex Andreou in the New Statesman, on the expectations of companies like G4S that they will be able to get whatever numbers of unemployed people they need to make up the “staff requirements”, though they do not plan to pay them nor offer them permanent work:

I studied the sentencing remarks of Judge Michael Kay QC with interest. “The promise of pay was a monstrous and callous deceit”, he said. “The conditions were squalid and at times they were starving. The way in which these defendants, for their own financial benefit, brutally manipulated and exploited men who are already plumbing the depths of despair is pure evil.”

And I think to myself, what is the difference, really, between the victims of that case and a group of jobless people being herded on to a coach from Bristol, under threat of losing their benefits, dumped underneath London Bridge to spend the night, with no food or toilet facilities, made to strip in public to change into their uniform, until having to stand there in the lashing rain the next day to steward a celebration of privilege?

To which one person responded (31 years employment, 8 months job hunting before signing on for JSA):

I was promised training as most certificates that I had achieved are no longer valid,for 11 months I was scheduled and rescheduled, but funding was allocated to the WP, assigned to the WP informed I will be working 30-42 Hrs per week in order to keep the £71 (sorting at a recycling plant) While still required to apply for 12 positions every 2 weeks,during this period 2 sick days are allowed,no holidays and as I live within 5 miles transportation costs will not be met. Do not want to sound like a whinger,but there is not a chance of being taken on as they have an abundant supply of free labour,so what is the point?

But Chris Grayling, who knows all about getting something for nothing, says:

“This Government is working hard to help people back into work and for the past three months we’ve seen unemployment coming down, but we’re not complacent for a minute. Through the Work Programme we’re helping the long-term unemployed into jobs and the £1 billion Youth Contract is creating nearly 500,000 opportunities to help young people get a job through work experience places and wage incentives to cut the cost of taking on new staff.”


Filed under Benefits, Poverty, Supermarkets

2 responses to “Something for nothing: workfare

  1. This all resonates rather too much for me! especially this …

    “My experience of Ingeus … Their advisors did not have a clue what to do if you are highly experienced and educated.

    Surely it’s her job to know about the job market and how would stacking shelves enhance my career? Also why is it my fault I was still unemployed when I was doing everything necessary to get work?”

    I was told my CV was the reason I wasn’t getting interviews; it is apparently too wordy and I was advised to only show the previous 10 years – I had to point out that (a) at my career level 95% of my applications are done by application form and my CV is barely ever used and (b) if I cut off half my career then I do not show employers the range of my skills or knowledge.

    The Work Programme seems to be successful at only one thing – putting incompetent people in jobs as Work Programme staff – I am not qualified to work for them (not that I would wish to) in this “target driven industry” because I don’t have 5 year’s sales experience … can anyone tell me at what point people who are out of work became an “industry”?

    • can anyone tell me at what point people who are out of work became an “industry”?

      When the job of finding people work got outsourced from the civil servants at the Department of Labour* to the private companies who were thought to be more “efficient”.

      *(my great-aunt was one of them for forty years, and I’d love to hear what she’d say about the current DWP if she’d lived)

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