Nearly new year. The only celebration of the season worth a damn in my view. I'm not a religious person, but there are definite benefits to marking the end of one year and the beginning of another. I won't be doing that in any kind of social way. I can't afford to travel to somewhere and drink something. Besides the people I know will be with their families and kids. I have neither (not sure if that's a blessing or a curse) and I don't really drink (never really formed a relationship with alcohol; I rarely imbibe except the occasional cold bottled beer).
So where do we stand right now? I could mention IDS (hashtag Tory shitbag) and his rant in the Telegraph today, but instead I'll let Channel 4's factchecker debunk his hysteria instead.
This has been my first year on the Work Programme - technically 9 months as I started in April, 13 months after signing on, which was itself 2 months after my ESA appeal ended. I never expected to win so I barely contested it. Maybe things would have been different otherwise, though given that ESA is time limited if you're in the WRAG (as I may soon be) I would have ended up on JSA anyway. Besides, regardless, I'd be on the Work Programme either way. ESA = Employment Support Allowance, expect it is nothing of the kind. It's a benefit for the sick denied to the sick. The government claims it wants to help people back into work, but then manages to sabotage it's own efforts while then branding claimants, who naturally fail the ATOS test, as scroungers. We can't win. It's spectacularly Orwellian.
Perhaps 2013 will be the year this changes.
I certainly think there will be changes next year, and not for the better. This will be the watershed for those of us resisting this government. Unfortunately as it stands the unions seem to again have abandoned the cause. I'm sensing a groundswell of real palpable anger now; a sense of total frustration. This will spill over, in my opinion. Perhaps when Universal Credit kicks in (or fails to), or maybe sooner, when the cuts really start to bite, or maybe when some new piece of Tory hate is announced. I won't be surprised if we see more rioting, perhaps even more serious rioting. There has to be an organised civil response to this vile government, but it has got to be effective.
So what have we learned from the Work Programme? What have my two appointments taught me, in preparation for number three, on the 14th of January? It's clear the whole scheme is misrepresented; the government claims it gives competent caring organisations, with experience, a free hand to help people in whatever way is needed. I have even seen the provider's own adviser job description agree to this. However the truth is that free hand manifests as a rigid doctrine that demands conformity for their benefit: make us money and it's a success. Resist, for whatever reason, and you can expect a 'compliance doubt' to land a sanction in your lap.
There is no discussion with these people: they are not interested in listening to your story, they are not interested in your problems or issues despite that being their apparent job description. In fact if you have problems - maybe health related if you come from ESA - you will be treated as idling and making excuses. Do not expect help or support. Expect instead to do what they want, where and when they want. The Programme is not set up for the convenience of the claimant, it is set up for the provider. You will attend in their house at a time of their choosing; that they pay your expenses is not a boon, it's further expense to the taxpayer. The scheme does nothing for rural communities.
Expect your interests, skills and talents, to be traduced; these count for nothing. This is because of the soporific way advisers operate. Want to be a writer (or even to investigate any opportunity that may come from having some interest or even skill therein), forget it. That requires 'experience' and 'training' two things the Work Programme is systemically incapable of providing, except at a ridiculously basic level: 'CV training' or 'employability training'. That magic word: employability. It's a perfect example of the adviser mentality, inventing something out of thin air and then using it as a hoop to make claimants jump through. What does it mean? Is it simply code for 'be polite, don't drop your trousers in front of your boss, don't spit in the office, don't punch customers on the nose'? Common sense surely?
Ok there are people that lack even basic skills some of us take for granted. That's fair enough, but lumping them in with everyone else will breed resentment from both ends.
So what do providers want? Well in my case, personal data and authority over that information it seems. Do they have a right to that? I hope not! With the introduction late in the year of the awful Universal Jobmatch system it seems more and more of our rights are being curtailed. We have less and less authority over our own decision making processes. Why am I not entitled to even see the people, let alone vet them, that the provider would pass my details to? Isn't that absurd?
This must be resisted at every level. It cannot be lawful that I have to concede control over personal data in order to maintain a claim on the only source of income I have. In the meantime the issues that the provider accuses me of using as a 'barrier' to work (or at least the opportunity to apply for jobs that don't exist or that aren't suitable) are explicitly and furiously ignored.
That's where we stand right now. The Work Programme is still going; it's still limping along like a wounded animal, bleeding into the environment. It is, on every level, incompetent unhelpful and dictatorial. The staff are untrained and uncaring and the environment inappropriate and hopeless. That will be our future as well unless we fight for it.
Goodnight Britain, and happy new year.