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The New Support...Same As the Old?

So I've taken up with a new social enterprise; they are called Team North Somerset (or something - it's hard differentiating actual names from buzzwords and slogans). They get lottery funding until the end of 2019 (Brexit? Coincidence?) with which to help.

And to be fair, so far, they seem pretty decent. I'm not going to lie - they are certainly a vast improvement over previous agencies. I think that's because it doesn't come with a DWP pricetag. So far they are not holding my ESA to ransom, unfortunately the government are.

I should caveat that this could change at any moment. It's been my experience with these agencies that, at first they are willing to put you at ease. But later on they stop caring. Again this might be because of the connection of these groups to the DWP and a payment by results motif. But one must always be guarded dealing with these groups. That's unfortunate, but necessary.

However the fundamental, structural, issues remain: this group, like all the others, doesn't have the power to change the systems that govern us. While my adviser, who seems perfectly friendly and willing to help, says they can help, if I lose my ESA - which is likely - they aren't going to be able to do much. They certainly won't be in a position to put food on my table.

While they may agree that the system is shit, and they may shake my head at the nonsense, they aren't doing anything to change that. I don't even know what they can do. It might seem unfair to hold them to that standard, but I believe if you're operating a these kinds of social enterprises then you do have that responsibility. Particularly if you're dealing with people on benefits, knowing that entitlement can be called into question at the drop of a hat.

So far the focus has been on voluntary work. I have to say this is a little frustrating, if predictable. Voluntary work is the easy answer, but, for all it can do (which I do not dispute), the fundamental flaw remains: you are not earning an income. It's no good me doing volunteer work if I don't have any money because my ESA gets stopped, and, like the agency itself, my employer certainly won't do anything to help. If I end up signing on there's every chance I'd have to give that up just to abide by an arbitrary claimant commitment. We've seen that before.

I'm not against voluntary work at all; far from it. My issue is that it's a dead end. I don't really want to do a job I wouldn't do for a wage just because it's 'experience' - and employers won't care about that anyway because that's the nature of the labour market. It's been my experience they've never cared about voluntary work experience anyway. They can always find a candidate who has 'real' experience and that's how they vuew it. I've no desire to work for free just to work for free.

As regards mental health support? Well that's the other reason for promoting voluntary work (and one of the reasons the pursuit of it frustrates me). It feeds into, in a very soft way, the arbeit macht frei worldview.

Unfortunately, as with all these agencies, this group has no mental health support. They are not doctors. This is just what I've commented on before: the lack of connection between all these different aspects. Mental health affects all of life, but we do not take a commensurately holistic approach to dealing with it. Sure there is a greater chance of finding a more compassionate work environment in a voluntary capacity - I guess - but it doesn't alter the fact that work, in the capitalist mode (and voluntary work operates within that system), is alienating and exploitative. If you don't find the right volunteer capacity that could become even worse since you don't have the comfort of a wage to live on - and you're still dependent on a fickle benefit system.

So it's a tentative 'ok' from me, for now, for this group. They have shown a willingness to help, in some degree, but that support is limited because of structural reasons beyond their control. They do offer support with bus trips, but that's not the same as endorsing a full time bus pass which would be the most useful thing, and that's perfectly illustrative of the way things are. Bus travel is still horrifically overpriced, but nobody is willing/able to endorse the solution to that for people who need it. Instead help is offered piecemeal.

Time will tell.


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