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Positive Outcome or Positive Image?

On Twitter, using the Work Programme hashtag, you'll often find various providers advertising their success stories. This is just such a one, from Serco, who are one of the bigger sharks in this swimming pool. 

I can't verify or dispute any aspect of this story. Nor would I seek to denigrate what the subject involved has achieved. That's not the point of this post. If she feels she has been helped and is moving forward then good luck to her. I don't know any of these people involved, nor have I ever dealt with Serco, but I just cannot help but get a negative vibe from reading it.

So we have someone that's been out of work for a while and has apparently got low confidence and self esteem. That's something the Work Programme is very quick to say about its customers. What worries me is that becomes an easy trigger for them; just decide someone needs 'confidence bulding' and you can call in all the weird devices or procedures and bring them to bear. Of course this helps in the process of making them money. 

Perhaps that's just too cynical, but we have a government hell bent on selling the NHS to the likes of Serco. Is it then surprising for the government to cede authority over people's emotional and mental well being? I am extremely wary about the Work Programme being used in this way. Are these advisers trained to help people, or do they just roll their eyes at the bedraggled in the way Hayley Taylor did in her first TV outing on Benefit Busters, when dealing with a single mother on the A4E back to work programme supposedly helping her deal with her massive debts (or the woman she decided had alcohol dependency issues without showing much in the way of compassion nor expertise).

I am greatly concerned about this, and about facing this. These providers are working for profit. They are chasing targets and so they are motivated to get results - but not necessarily in the customer's best interests. Like the government you will be expected to 'be well' by a certain period, or you will likely be seen as faking it or making excuses - in my case 'putting up barrirers'. This doesn't help people, and it certainly wouldn't help me.

"she was very nervous, lacked confidence and struggled to maintain eye contact. She knew she wanted a career in care but had no idea how to pursue her dream."

Could it be that dealing with an complicated cumbersome and overbearing bureacracy has helped create this state of being? Could it be that dealing with the Work Programme exacerbates this? Why is a career in care, something fundamental to a decent society, regarded as a 'dream' as if it were pie in the sky?

"After attending one-to-one support for confidence building with her adviser Rebecca, she then attended a pre employment training session associated with a career in Health and Social Care, as well as application support and interview advice. As a result, Jackie secured a 13-week paid placement as Trainee Health and Social Care Assistant and is delighted with the opportunity."

Sounds great, and if it's working in her best interests then fantastic, but I, again, just can't help being cynical. What does the confidence building constitute? Was the adviser trained in these matters? Is she a properly accredited therapist or counsellor? If so, how does that square with being a Work Programme adviser? It's my experience that such people are not trained in health matters, and were quite happy to admit as much (even though they know full well their remit includes dealing with people that have health problems).

This troubles me greatly: can we really expect to be helped by people working from as biased a standpoint as the Work Programme? It sounds Orwellian to me; confidence building is an easy phrase to use. It's not hard work to just decide to traduce the sum of a person's experiences and issues as requiring 'confidence building'. Then you just stick them on a simple course no doubt full of Fairy Jobmother happy clapper urban guru bollocks, tell them to 'think positively' and everything's hunky dorey. But just as Rebecca the adviser could be dealing with someone who is little more than a bit down in the dumps, she could be dealing with someone that has a history of abuse and trauma. How would she know? Worse, would that be seen as the customer deliberately impeding their 'journey' into work? Care works at it's own pace and cannot be coerced nor compelled by government initiatives or right wing ideology.

"provider continues to offer regular in-work support over the telephone and face-to-face through the Training department within the Adult and Social Care team."

Regular support over the phone? How on earth can that be considered support? Or is it just the adviser keeping tabs on the person to make sure - however covertly - she stays in work for the prescribed time period at least. 6 months of that and they get paid. How on earth do you properly care for someone, which is really what this comes down to (and is something that's in short supply these days), through a phone call - and just who or what is the 'Adult and Social Care Team'? Again it seems very very scary to think that these organisations, which are not like the NHS - a state funded health service not motivated (or shouldn't be) for profit, are giving this kind of service. Doubtless if one questions the efficacy and motivation of such people, as I'm doing right now, one is branded a shirker and is again accused of 'putting up barriers'. That to my mind is reason enough to call it into question.

Personally speaking I'm more than happy to be seen by trained objective professionals from the NHS. I'm not quite so thrilled at the prospect of being serviced by the private sector because of the motivations involved. Are these people answerable in the same way as state social services or NHS care? 

In the end the subject of the article is reportedly doing well so I can't assume otherwise. Maybe this is just one of those cases where the Work Programme has genuinely helped someone - it would be irresponsible and ignorant to assume that no one is being helped. But the statistics say that only a tiny percentage, way less than would be helped by default, are being helped. It's impossible to judge the true nature of this outcome until a few months down the line: will she have found a full career doing something she wants to do, or was it only ever a few months 'experience' dressed up by Serco so this kind of article sells a positive image?

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