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Programmed - Meet the New Boss...

So I'm back. From my first appointment on the two year sentence that nothing - including employment - will get me off of. What an utter waste of time.

First the surroundings: even though I knew it was the Sally Army (calling themselves Employment Plus instead of Salvation Army Employment Plus), I thought it might be in an office in a building that's part of what is a small church facility. Nope, there is no such thing. It's a small salvation army church with a small dining room/kitchenette at the back. I'm seen by the adviser, P, in the hall itself. He's set up a laptop with a printer attached as if it were a jumble sale. The whole place had that musty jumble sale/charity shop smell. We're sat between the rows of pews and the 'stage'; I've got a big old bible open on a shelf within arm's reach and on the other side of the stage is a lectern with a mic with the legend 'Jesus is Lord'! P is wearing salvation army uniform (that blue jumper they wear). No other markings, though at a later point he identifies himself, as the organisation had over the phone last week, as being a member of the Sally Army (as opposed to a group funded by them in the way they are subcontracting from Jobfit).

There is no one else present except for another adviser and I think he's with a client; they are in the dining area bit so I can't tell. I don't know whether or not other people will turn up, but as it transpires they don't. Consequently I made a fuss about privacy because even though I'm sure the Holy Ghost is discreet, we're in the middle of a bloody church and anyone could listen. These are all the facilities they have and the tone P uses in response sets the tone for the rest of the appointment: he constantly talks to me about how they do things with a bit of a smirk as if to suggest that it's perfectly obvious how things are done and that I should know this and that I don't means I'm a fool. It's quite defensive actually and I don't really care for it.

Quite honestly the appointment was a bit of a disaster in terms of what's supposed to have happened. But that, again, is in part down to the way things are done, according to P, as opposed to what I've been led to believe including what Jobfit have actually told me. As I said yesterday I spoke to Jobfit to find out whether they had forwarded the info that was included by the JC during the referral process. Jobfit assured me they had and I believe them (they verified said info and knew who I was because they had to verify that to). One thing I didn't mention yesterday was that the person I spoke to, again P, at Employment Plus (EP), wasn't someone that Jobfit had heard of! They mentioned a Samantha (no ladies present this morning just P and another fellow). What is going on?

Again, this morning, P is adamant - though he never explicitly says this - that he hasn't received the info. Instead he says that it doesn't matter because I have to explain all this stuff to him there and then. I think it matters because later on he questions whether Jobfit including writer as my short and long term career goal (it's in print on the action plan thing I was sent when the appointment was booked). He focuses instead on retail and customer service which, stupidly, I tell him I have done before (I couldn't really get out of that as it's part of the jobseeker's agreement info, along with the health overview, the DWP included with the referral paperwork already mentioned, writer was part of that). He completely ignores writer saying that what's on that action plan form, which I show him, is meaningless 'those are just goals, in the future' (duh!), so why is it on the form then if it has no bearing on the process at hand? He doesn't answer. So not only are the facilities inadequate for discussing personal issues (where necessary), but they are admant that they don't have the info passed on to Jobfit and that said info is irrelevant. Also they admit they can't help with mental health issues because it's totally not their remit. So the million dollar question is: what am I doing here, what is the point of this?

I could go on about the appointment ad nauseum, but I want to distill my experience and what it means more succinctly than usual. So here's the nub: even P admits, in fact we abandon the appointment (he starts to mellow out at this point, as do I because the whole thing is such a farce), that the Programme isn't what it's being sold as. At all. Now of course you'd have to be monumentally naive to believe the bollocks the Tories have been spouting. But the truth is, this is no different to the schemes of old, including the Working Links course I was on a couple of years ago. It's exactly the same: these people are there simply to facilitate a jobsearch. They are there to get you into any kind of work, along the lines of what's on your JSAg, as soon as possible. This talk of helping people realise long term goals and achieve a sustainable outcome is complete bollocks. Complete and utter bollocks. P is also adamant that this is the same for all the providers, across the board (including Jobfit's local rival, JHP, whom he tells me he has worked for before). It is essentially no different than the JC; no different than the Programme Centres of old. All it can do is offer a bit of jobsearch, some stamps and maybe the odd CV printout. Maybe - maybe - if you have particular needs that can tick a particular box (P tells me that literacy funding is currently en vogue) then it might be different, your mileage may vary.

In the end they can't really offer anything. We have a broo ha ha about writing, as I mentioned. He claims it's a long term goal (ie they completely ignore that as a job goal even though Jobfit and the DWP have recognised it) and that without proper training it can't even be considered. What training do I need? I'm not looking for any particular specialisation and I happen to be able to write (and at great length as these posts attest). I'm open to whatever opportunities the WP can offer in respect of writing - isn't that what it's for? Nope. Not at all. I ask what help he can provide for training and that's when I find out just how little these people can offer. No training. They have no budget for much of anything beyond refunding bus fares and printing CV's it seems (unless, as I say, it ticks a box, then they can 'draw down' funding streams). No mental health specialists/experts, no training, no facilities that aren't in a religious timewarp (it's like being sent to 1975 for some careers advice), not much of anything.

Again we get into the discussion of having a mental health advisor. As if these people are available on tap. Again the implication that, by not having such an adviser, I'm not to be considered ill. The fact that I'm on JSA further exacerbates this because the rules (apparently, at least according to P) say that people on the WP from JSA are ready to work, end of.

Quite honestly I'm exhausted at this point. P mellows out somewhat because I think even he can start to sense the dissonance of experience here. What I've been told and lead to believe is bollocks, even if you factor in a margin for bullshit when digesting Grayling's propaganda. Yet I'm still left wondering why Jobfit don't know who P is or why they have the information and yet both P and EP say otherwise. How can that information not matter? It answers the questions he's asking (even though, apparently, I still have to give those answers in person). I'm looking at my appointment letter: "we will carry out an in depth assessment of your barriers to work and individuals needs". There was nothing of the kind, just a short questionnaire covering basic skills (can you read, can you write, as well as what do you think comprises the skills required for retail and customer service - or whatever work EP think you should be looking for). The questionnaire does ask what health issues I have (as well as am I addicted to anything, do I have a criminal record, etc, the usual), but they can't do anything with those barriers. So why am I here?

I think at this point P realises there's something wrong. He relents and says that he's going to discuss things with his boss while I discuss things with my GP. He assures me I won't get sanctioned as I've signed the form to say I've turned up etc. I believe him (and in any case, he suggested curtailing the appointment and taking a different path so if they decide to play bollocks then so be it, I can't account for them being wankers if they so choose). He refunds my bus fare and offers me the chance to fill in the assessment forms at home, in my own time (i tell him I wont' be rushed and he accepts), to return at a later date. But even if I change my claim to ESA, which seems to be the most appropriate benefit for me (ATOS' bullshit and both the Psychologist my own GP's benign ignorance notwithstanding), I'm still obliged, like some kind of unemployment Johnny Blaze, to the Salvation Army Employment Plus and their outdated 1970's church hall facility. This is hardly the 21st century and it's hardly the progressive manifestation of modern thinking on welfare reform.

Frankly it's the same old same old.

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