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Disability and Unemployment

Today I received an email from a mental health group I had contacted to get some advice on. Unfortunately it wasn't very helpful. Not intentionally of course; in fact I have no doubt of the sender's sincerity or desire to help. It's because the prevailing wisdom, the 'pro-work' message is now fully ingrained; that arbeit macht frei. It's also because the unemployment gravy train has seeped into every aspect of the employment support 'product' that there is no escape. 

I was given a link to this: the British Association for Supported Employment, which you might think seems a noble cause. However on closer inspection it is full of unfortunate messages. The first link thereon I followed, as the email recommended, was to see what BASE could offer locally. This just sent me to a list of local Work Programme style providers, my nearest being Seetec, who already have a reputation among the Work Programme crowd. The name has popped up too many times for me to believe that here they will offer anything that is remotely different to the WP. It will be exactly the same thing, in fact as I'm on it with another equally useless provider, there's probably a conflict of interest anyway: two shit companies fighting over the same pathetic scraps of meat. Two cheeks of the same backside.

I didn't read everything on that BASE site. It may be that they are one of the exceptions in this whole mucky employment support industry. But I doubt it. They are clearly an umbrella group. But what interested me the most was watching these two videos, here, on their 'learning disabilities' page.

Ok, this may be because the page is about something specific and I accept again the good intentions behind these videos, but this just reinforces stereotypes. The first video nobly espouses the value of a job as synonymous with our needs as social creatures and our needs within a capitalist system (which is something unique to our current situation not a core part of life on this earth - a rod we have made for our own backs). There is a person with a mental health issue of some kind talking about how great it is to have a job. First things first, I fully endorse his and the rest of our rights to self determination and to feel good about the choices we make and secondly it is absolutely right that all people should be free from discrimination and prejudice within the world of work (and beyond). However this all presupposed a notion of the value of work that has reached fever pitch now. 

In this age of recession we are told to work harder and to be grateful for what slender opportunities our betters deign to favour us with. We are also told, by way of justification for the constant hammering of the welfare state, that both work, and the reduction of benefits/welfare, are for our own good. We are expected to believe that welfare is a shackle, a burden and that, if we would only rise up out of our sick beds or off our sofas, we would be better for it. This is a half truth. We are social creatures but that doesn't mean work is the only means to provide meaningful elevating interaction, nor does it guarantee that finding a job will provide healthy human contact; how many people sit at their desks ipods armed disconnected from a banal workplace? How many do jobs where there is little opportunity for such human interaction? We need money to live, so of course even the NMW seems a treasure trove compared to the pittance the dole grudgingly gives up each fortnight, accompanied by the incessant message telling us to feel bad for taking it. But again that's because we have a capitalist system that indoctrinates a belief in a lack of abundance and a need to fight for what's available, any way we can!

The second video showcases how happy a number of disparate individuals supported into work. Again each of them deserves as much respect and as much of an opportunity as anyone else. Let me make that clear, because my criticisms of this video are greater. Frankly the piece seems to reinforce a notion of people with mental health problems, or at least those with learning disabilities, as lovable simpletons. Not one of these people has a job that is anything beyond portering or wiping down tables. Even if we assume, and I'm happy to do so, that their employers (who may be acting as much out of altruism and social justice as for any financial bonanza the state offers for taking a quota of disabled employees) don't mean to sound as patronising as they do, these jobs are low rent positions. Not one of them is involved in the running of the companies in question; they are cleaning rooms, wiping tables or washing up in a kitchen. 

Ok there are going to be some that aren't going to be able to undertake more intellectually demanding positions (whatever that may mean), harsh but true. I'm not here to deny reality. But again why reinforce a stereotype? There are plenty of capable people of all levels of intelligence and education in all levels of society, and there are plenty of smart people whose intellect is not affected by the mental health issues they have. Does supported employment mean they are too going to be compelled into washing up pots and pans? Is this the best we can do? What if some of the people in that video were artistically bright, we all know that can be the case with some conditions or disabilities. Where is the support for that? I bet it's not even discussed. No chance of giving them a paint brush or a guitar and working with their talent in areas that aren't minimum wage skivvy jobs.

This depresses me. I'm not here to blow my own trumpet, but I like to think of myself as reasonably smart, even reasonably creative. But when it comes to looking for work and getting support the focus, where it exists (and it certainly doesn't on the Work Programme), is narrow. When I told my 'Job Life Coach' I was interested in writing, he couldn't dismiss it fast enough. Meanwhile you are compelled into an entirely passive, reactionary process we know as 'jobsearching', but there is no reciprocation; you are not seen by a proactive organisation that goes out to find opportunities in writing - or washing dishes, if that's your thing. They do nothing, while you are expected to find all the answers and support yourself entirely on your own. 

These videos also say that only 10% of people with learning disabilities (and that may or may not include myself, if the Work Psychologist's report, such as it was, is any indicator) will ever find work. Yet what do we do with the rest? Hassle them through JSA or through ESA until they are forced on to the former and inevitably onto the WP.

"Supported Employment is all about working out which would be the right job and becoming employed. Most people find interviews very stressful so ‘working interviews’ are often used as a sort of job trial. It’s a chance to show an employer that the person can do the job well."

Sounds great, but if there's one thing I've learned about the Work Programme and dealing with these providers it's that the reality falls far short of the rhetoric. At best I worry that the likes of the Salvation Army and it's Job Life Coaches (I'm sure every provider has it's own cute moniker for its advisers) think it's all a matter of 'confidence building'; just give them a gentle pep talk to bolster them to pull their socks up - ie it's nothing serious really.

If we continue to patronise mental health issues, even if it's now with love and not hate, then nothing really changes and people won't be supported into any kind of meaningful work. How are you contributing to society if all you are there for is to wash some pots or hoover a hotel room? Of course people need some help and of course, where limitations exist, they can't be wished away but don't presume that because someone has a learning disability or is on the autistic depression or because they are depressed or anxious or whatever it might be that the best thing they could ever hope to do is wipe a table in a burger joint and that that is all they would ever aspire to.


  1. On form as usual!
    Well done - keep being angry.


  2. Avenging_Angel6 July 2012 at 00:41

    The work ethic is ballocks.

    Every proper job I've ever had created more problems than it solved. Devastatingly racist foremen, everythingist work mates, bullying, constructive dismissal, routine persecution of the different and complete disregard for the Factory Act are standard for the Underclass.

    As far as education goes, the most important part of it was apparently my arse on a seat for funding purposes. Now I'm better educated (in spite of government funded efforts to stifle it), many vocationally minded folk find me even more threatening.

    This blog is very good Ghost Whistler and I'd certainly call you creative, please keep on, thank you.

    1. Thanks.

      I think the work ethic is just another form of control; it's opium for the masses. NO wonder religious texts and dogma seeks to perpetuate it. In fact the whole work ethic is modelled on the Christian ideal of work now reward (ie heaven) later.

  3. Avenging_Angel6 July 2012 at 01:39

    Went to the BASE website, clicked on the member Association's page, and top of the list is a company called A4e.

    Shuffling down, there were a few others I recall as being on the boycott workfare shit list.

    Smells like a front. New Deal for the Unusual?

    On my brief and unfortunate contact with my local "Mental Health Care Team" I couldn't help noticing on the pamphlet they sent me that the words "Big Society" were put at the end of a list of allegedly helpful measures.

    My short time with the (possibly sincere and ethically sound) mental health worker was spent telling her what utter dross I thought Counselling was, so we never got round to discussing just precisely how much I will be avoiding "Big Society" in future, or why.

    Yes I agree with you, people with Learning Difficulties who WANT to work should be helped, and the word help should mean what it means in common English, not the DWPspeak version of the word help.

    1. I didn't see a members list. I really didn't look that closely. wading through webpages is something i find very difficult. I could say that's because I have ADD but of course noone would take that seriously, certinly not my new best friends on the WP.
      I saw Seetec in the list of local 'providers' and realised its just business as usual. It's the same old thing; whether you call it the Work Programme, New Deal, Supported Employment, you'll be doing the same thing and getting nowhere.
      I think what has happened is that everyone has bought into a patronising and wholly unhelpful view of welfare. Then in return the opportunities available are limited, partly because these organisations think that it's up to the individual to sort himself out (so of course they get to do nothing but rake in the cash).

  4. This reminds me of those adverts the Jobcentre used to screen during daytime TV. All those shiny, happy people laughing and joking at work in the call centre. And those sat at home thinking: "Wow, that sounds like fun". When the reality is like somewhat different, more like getting a bollocking for going to the toilet.

    Another funny advertising campaign was the "I've got the job!" posters emblazoned on jobcentres. When the reality is more like, after the first day on the job, as we moan amongst ourselves: "The lucky ones were the ones who didn't get the job."

    Got to love the way they play with your mind, trying to induce feelings of depression for being unemployed as they peddle the myth that the great panacea is a "job" and oh so much happier and how much "social interaction" is to be gleaned from stuck on your lonesome scraping shit of toilets seats.

    Excellent blg btw, Ghost Whistler - keep it up!

    1. Thanks.

      The posters and adverts used on websites are all like this now: happy clappy people in work/talking to happy clappy advisers, all designed to make you feel positive and put forward a belief these people will help. I can't abide it, it's all so dishonest.

    2. All the happy, clappy crap is just that - crap!

      As Poly Toynbee ( bless her cotton socks) observed in her book "Hard Work - Low Pay" we are all conditioned into thinking that being offered any old (shitty) job is equivalent to winning the Lottery.

      Also, it has been demonstrated (references somewhere) that being in a shitty job is far worse for someone's well-being that being unemployed.

      Great blog

    3. I haven't read that book. I'll have to look into it. JObs aren't intrinsically great, that's why they are called jobs!

    4. Quite! If work was that great you can be sure that the rich would have monopolised it by now.


  5. A Message from the Rich - Part II

    Naturally, we try to play you off against each other whenever it suits our purposes: high-waged workers against low-waged, unionized against non-unionized, Black against White, male against female, American workers against Japanese against Mexican against.... We continually push your wages down by invoking "foreign competition," "the law of supply and demand," "national security," or "the bloated federal deficit." We throw you on the unemployed scrap heap if you step out of line or jeopardize our profits. And to give you an occasional break from the monotony of our daily economic blackmail, we allow you to participate in our stage-managed electoral shell games, better known to you ordinary folks as "elections." Happily, you haven't a clue as to what's really happening — instead, you blame "Aliens," "Tree-hugging Environmentalists," "Niggers," "Jews," Welfare Queens," and countless others for your troubled situation.

    We're also very pleased that many of you still embrace the "work ethic," even though most jobs in our economy degrade the environment, undermine your physical and emotional health, and basically suck your one and only life right out of you. We obviously don't know much about work, but we're sure glad you do!

    Of course, life could be different. Society could be intelligently organized to meet the real needs of the general population. You and others like you could collectively fight to free yourselves from our domination. But you don't know that. In fact, you can't even imagine that another way of life is possible. And that's probably the greatest, most significant achievement of our system — robbing you of your imagination, your creativity, your ability to think and act for yourself.

    So we'd truly like to thank you from the bottom of our heartless hearts. Your loyal sacrifice makes possible our corrupt luxury; your work makes our system work. Thanks so much for "knowing your place" — without even knowing it!"

    1. Good stuff.

      At least the corporate classes deign to offer us some bread and circuses every now and again to take our minds off how they are fucking us over.

  6. A Message from the Rich - Part I

    Let's be honest: you'll never win the lottery.

    On the other hand, the chances are pretty good that you'll slave away at some miserable job the rest of your life. That's because you were in all likelihood born into the wrong social class. Let's face it — you're a member of the working caste. Sorry!

    As a result, you don't have the education, upbringing, connections, manners, appearance, and good taste to ever become one of us. In fact, you'd probably need a book the size of the yellow pages to list all the unfair advantages we have over you. That's why we're so relieved to know that you still continue to believe all those silly fairy tales about "justice" and "equal opportunity" in America.

    Of course, in a hierarchical social system like ours, there's never been much room at the top to begin with. Besides, it's already occupied by us — and we like it up here so much that we intend to keep it that way. But at least there's usually someone lower in the social hierarchy you can feel superior to and kick in the teeth once in a while. Even a lowly dishwasher can easily find some poor slob further down in the pecking order to sneer and spit at. So be thankful for migrant workers, prostitutes, and homeless street people.

    Always remember that if everyone like you were economically secure and socially privileged like us, there would be no one left to fill all those boring, dangerous, low-paid jobs in our economy. And no one to fight our wars for us, or blindly follow orders in our totalitarian corporate institutions. And certainly no one to meekly go to their grave without having lived a full and creative life. So please, keep up the good work!

    You also probably don't have the same greedy, compulsive drive to possess wealth, power, and prestige that we have. And even though you may sincerely want to change the way you live, you're also afraid of the very change you desire, thus keeping you and others like you in a nervous state of limbo. So you go through life mechanically playing your assigned social role, terrified what others would think should you ever dare to "break out of the mold."


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