In 2012 I was assigned to the Salvation Army, with no consent, under the Tory party's Work Programme initiative. This is my sad little story. Enjoy!
So in 2012 I was assigned to the government's Work Programme, a scheme intended to help unemployed people that most of us here I'm sure know to be at best a colossal waste of time. However one of the more devious elements of the scheme is that, in the words of the Tories, it was intended to be tailored specifically to the needs and issues of each 'customer', the preferred capitalist term for anyone unlucky enough to have to deal with the DWP.
From the start the whole thing stank: I had no choice of any provider - all of whom are privately run 'social enterprises' of one stripe - that was decided by the gods it seemed. I don't even think the Jobcentre adviser had any say. There were two providers, yet no one actually saw representatives from either since you were not seen by them, but by a subcontractor. So already this scheme, much lauded by those that created it, was a beacon of irresponsibility: those running it were able to (and probably encouraged to) sell their responsibility to a given 'customer' to someone else. In my case, that was the Salvation Army. Specifically their 'social enterprise' wing called Employment Plus.
Initially I assumed they were themselves subcontracted from the Salvation Army - a separate group of people hired by the god squad to deliver a service. But no, Employment Plus - at least in my experience - were firstborn Salvation Army members. My adviser's name was 'John' (not his real name), and he was a bully - just as Jesus intended I'm sure.
I dreaded my first appointment. Right from the get go there were problems: I had been double booked and sorting that out was met with needless resistance. I remember walking from the bus stop to the venue, a dismal small town church hall filled with the musty jumble sale and self righteousness odour. It was a very Christian venue for sure, and it made me wonder how a 'customer' with a different yet equally deeply held faith might feel. That might be a small issue (it didn't bother me as such, though I'm an atheist), but it's an issue that bears consideration: people are given no choice but to see people like this who are running this service, the Work Programme, from a partisan religious viewpoint. Does a Muslim get no say in having to sit dealing with the Lord's chosen, surrounded by bibles, crosses and Christian iconography while forced to dance to their tune in order to maintain his meagre income?
Then as now I had mental health issues, some of which were acknowledged by a DWP Work Psychologist (don't ask, I still have no idea what they are actually meant to do). This information was relayed to the adviser along with the contents of my Jobseekers Agreement (now known as a Claimant Commitment). The health information was summarily ignored while the contents of the JSAg were held up as gospel. The vaunted notion of a tailored individually focussed delivery was quickly exposed as a lie. I was told, quite plainly, that what was in that agreement (which itself is entirely dependent on terms set by the DWP), as well as a pointless assessment form sent prior to my appointment, was binding. I could not choose or express an interest in anything else, no matter what. Employment Plus' goal, I was told, was to search for jobs according to the JSAg and that I must change that if I wanted anything else. It got worse later, but bear with me.
The interview was not productive: I tried asking how they might help me with what I actually want, writing (don't laugh - at least not yet). I was told that was my 'long term job goal', which obviously means "yeah we're not interested" and my 'short term job goals' were of course already decided by my JSAg and that was all they were interested in.
When I asked what they could actually offer I was told they deliver four services: 'agency seminars', whatever that means, 'goal setting', which seems pointless if you're going to ignore those goals, and the bog standard CV and application form services. I have a CV, it's pretty threadbare, but I don't need it redesigned by people who would only redesign it for redesign's sake.
My efforts to appraise them of the mental health issues were summarily dismissed. I was told that, unless accompanied by a nurse, then such claims wouldn't be taken seriously. In fact it was explained to say that, in lieu of having a nurse (I don't, nor have I ever sought one), I therefore don't have mental health issues. Stunning Christian logic. A convenient way of completely ignoring issues that I'm sure a great many of their 'customers' have - assume that such people have medical representation (as if getting such is easy enough) and then assume if they don't they have nothing to worry about. I was advised to speak to a local charity (then called Friend, now called 1in4) could provide a nurse. I knew they couldn't, but I double checked anyway; the representative just shrugged wearily when I asked. A waste of everyone's time.
That was my first appointment. It ended with me getting agitated. I was then told that I would be contacted in due course about proceeding. This never happened. In fact it wasn't until November before I heard back from them. This didn't stop John from lying to the Jobcentre about my unwillingness to engage, effectively labelling me as lazy. This is a serious complaint; accusing a 'customer' of being lazy is a really serious proposition when dealing with the DWP as it's the easiest way to get a sanction. This came about because my GP at the time decided, against my better judgement, to write to the Jobcentre to find out what they were doing to help. The problem with GP's is they simply do not understand the benefit system; most of them are of a class - IMHO - that precludes them from really experiencing just how vicious and unpleasant the DWP and its schemes can be, and that's a real problem.
Fortunately nothing came of this, but the response made it clear that John thought I was not making an effort despite it being him that had failed to contact me. Though to be honest I had no desire to contact him at all, he was a joke.
My final appointment with him was in November. After that I complained and was then assigned to a different adviser, his manager in fact. She was better, in that she wasn't a bully, but she was just as bereft. She simply laid the blame for the debacle that is the Work Programme at the feet of the government, saying that organisations such as hers do not provide enough funding. The problem is, while an element of that may be true, the Salvation Army are happy to get involved when they sense there's money to be made, but, like the rest of the private sector, wash their hands of difficult customers and make excuses.
That final appointment with John ended very acrimoniously. Essentially I was told to hand over a copy of my CV. I had one with me and repeatedly offered to show him it, but that he couldn't keep a copy. I was told, threatened, that if I refused a 'compliance doubt' would be raised; we all know what that means. He claimed that he had to have a copy so that Employment Plus' 'Employment Engagement Coordinators' (inexplicably he used an acronym in a fashion to suggest common usage) would apply for jobs on my behalf! This to me is unacceptable - you mean to tell me that you are going to just apply for jobs, spamming my CV to whomever, on my behalf without my permission or even knowledge? Oh hell no.
I have since pursued this policy with their head office, anonymously. I was told that this is not policy and that such behaviour is not what Employment Plus is all about. I mentioned no names as making a bad situation worse seemed pointless. I was rid of John and to this day I would have nothing to do with individuals like this. He was a bully working in a sector where vulnerable people are thrown to the wolves. The Salvation Army likes to claim, usually around Christmas, that it's all about helping the homeless and feeding the poor - no doubt accompanied by a sermon. But I know from bitter experience that they are all too ready and willing to wield poverty as a weapon if they can make money out of it.