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Saturday, 9 August 2014

Interview with a Work Programme contractor.

I’ve been researching a story about social landlords involved in the Work Programme.
I wrote a news story about the experience of Bromford Support for InsideHousing hereI’m hoping to write a longer follow-up that covers the issue in more detail.
In the course of trying to speak to around 16 landlords on the programme, I learned that Bromford  pulling out of the scheme.
This was a shock. Bromford had been a high profile backer of the WP (see here, here and here). It was also criticised for its involvement in the scheme by campaign groups such as Boycott Workfare and Refuted.

I managed to speak to Bromford Support’s Managing Director, John Wade, at some length. It is clear that all is not well with housing associations involved with the policy.
Bromford along with other social landlords was never a prime contractor, landlords usually seem to be second or third tier sub-contactors to the scheme. This has implications in terms of the people who end up being referred to them.
In the course of my research it emerged that the types of barriers these people faced are commonly: homelessness, mental health issues, disability, debt etc. These are the people pushed into the Work Programme by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), then ‘parked’ by the prime WP providers because, right now, they are simply incapable of work.
‘Creaming and parking’, the use of mandatory work placements (aka workfare) and benefit sanctions were common themes in my conversations with housing association WP providers.
Anyway, below is a partial transcript of my interview with Mr Wade of Bromford, it’s worth a read.

Barriers to work
‘The big thing we realized is that most of the people referred to us were just not ready to get into a job. Generally now [Bromford continues to run a welfare to work scheme focused on its own tenants and residents, ‘Bromford Connect.’ And ‘Connect Extra’]. We are trying to identify which of our customers are not ready for work. Our focus is on those other issues, the barriers to work that exist now. At the point when we think someone has got enough control over those issues in their lives, or they feel they are in a better place, then we start to engage more around employment.’ ‘We run a six day course over six weeks with the initial aim of getting people to re-think themselves in terms of working out “am I employable?” and “how should I prepare for getting a job?”‘It’s about preparing them to play the game and understand how to get a job. It is uncanny how similar what we are doing is to the advice that is given to young people when they are first starting out. It’s about re-packaging themselves, getting them to think about how they can feel more positive about themselves and think about what they have got to offer.‘The success rate of people that go through the course is 60 per cent, the reason for that success rate is down to the fact it is focused on trying to do one thing only: to work with people who have already reached the point where they have decided they want to get back into work.‘By contrast, most of our Work Programme work was actually about addressing the pre-employment issues. We might be referred a client who was facing a debt problem, or at risk of homelessness and trying to get that sorted out. We’d end up helping them to sort the issue out, because that’s a major barrier to finding work: being homeless. But it’s not Work Programme work, it’s more like Supporting People (link) work.   
There is something wrong with the Job Centre 
‘It’s easy to take the Daily Mail view of people living on benefit: that these claimants are totally capable of work, but would rather scrounge and watch Jeremy Kyle, or whatever. But that’s not the situation of the people we were seeing, if indeed, such people exist at all.‘We were engaging and meeting with people who had been ground down by their circumstances and needed help and the overwhelming message was that they did not get that support from Job Centre Plus. Instead, their interaction with Job Centre Plus was merely confirming everything negative and bad that they felt about themselves: that they were worthless, that they were not capable of much. There is something wrong. ‘Our staff would meet regularly with people from Job Centre Plus, we worked really closely with them. When you meet them, they are the same people, decent people who seem to be genuinely motivated by wanting to help others.
‘But something is wrong with it. It’s about relationships, it’s about trust and it’s about people engaging with other people in a relationship of mutual respect and it’s about having the time to do all of those things. 
 Unpacking the lives of the long-term unemployed

 ‘When we engage with someone on our Connect scheme a lot of the focus is about getting people to put together a CV. But it’s more than that, especially for people who are long-term unemployed, for example. You ask people: “What have you been doing, what’s going on in your life?” They might not have been working, but they will have been budgeting, having to manage their time, meet deadlines and things like that. Basically they have been doing lots of things that that can be unpacked and re-packaged and be useful skills in lots of jobs.’

Friday, 8 August 2014

'Test, Learn, Implement,' the new slogan for Universal Credit

It is well worth a listen (scroll to 50 mins). The interview is part of Milligan's award-winning series of on the record lunchtime chats with politicians for Radio 4's 'PM' programme.
The light-hearted nature of the interviews reveals a lot. 

He loves Italy, the food, the country but denies he was the ‘Iain’ referred to in that infamous overheard reshuffle conversation on the Chichester to London train. But intriguingly he does know who the ‘Iain’ referred to was.
His lesson for aspiring SPads?
‘Don’t talk on bloody trains, ‘I know very well that both ends were not talking about me…’
On a sartorial level, it's not quite Dorothy Parker but:
‘Men who wear glasses on their head look silly.’
But it’s IDS’s ‘vocational’ commitment to welfare reform and how stories about poverty affect him that are really of interest in this interview. Plus a new DWP chant apparently doing the rounds at Caxton House.
‘I just know that I should be doing this…[welfare reform] I see this as a vocation… these stories about people in difficulty didn’t start the day I walked through the door. Of course those stories are sad and terrible, you want to find out about them, the speed with which you pick these up, is what you test yourself upon.
‘The reality is that the change [to Universal Credit] itself should ameliorate the problem, if you don’t change it, they’re still going to be screaming.
Universal Credit was supposed to have been rolled out in one go. Having missed the deadline, and learned lessons, the department has apparently adopted a new slogan. 
‘Our phrase is ‘test, learn, implement,’ says IDS.