After you’ve been unemployed for a year, you have to volunteer for The Work Programme to carry on receiving Job Seeker’s Allowance. This is a strange definition of volunteering as it’s effectively compulsory. I already do genuine voluntary activities to maintain my work related skills and benefit my community.

The Work Programme is ‘delivered’ on behalf of The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by a number of providers, most of whom are private sector. The one I have to deal with is Ingeus, an Australian company. They are based in a building that has a number of access issues:

  • The doors require a force greater than the 20N specified in Part M of the building regulations;
  • The lifts are on a mezzanine level, not the ground floor;
  • This level is accessed by a ‘porch lift’ that has no operating instructions, no safe working limit, a faulty safety interlock and side rails that are loose;
  • The handrails on the stairs are flat bar stainless steel with sharp 90° edges that also don’t comply with part M;
  • There is no accessible parking within 300m of the building;
  • The access to the building is via a shared use foot and cycle path.

None of these make an already stressful experience any easier for disabled people.

The provision for everyone inside isn’t much better. There are only four computers available for people to use for job searching and only five seats for people waiting to see their advisors. Today, this resulted in more people waiting than there were chairs. When you get to see your advisor, there isn’t any privacy, with other clients within 2-3 feet. Given that some of the issues that the work programme is meant to address are health and wellbeing related, this can’t be appropriate.

Part of their contract with DWP states that they have to provide two mandatory bits of training – Job Search training and Interview Techniques. While I agree a large number of the people referred to them will need help with this, it’s a waste of time and resources to put everyone through it regardless of need and/or ability. My interview technique is, according to feedback, excellent. Where I have lost out has been to other candidates with slightly more experience in specific areas. This is not something you can learn to overcome. When I used to contract I would have an interview every two to three months as part of getting my next placement. This really hones your skills. These mandatory courses are exceptionally blunt instruments that won’t give the right support to those who need it and will alienate those with a good grounding in the skills.

When you get ‘put on the books’ of a provider, responsibility for reimbursement of travel to interview expenses shifts from Job Centre Plus (JCP) to the provider. A couple of weeks ago I had two interviews and my first appointment with Ingeus. I’d got the expenses forms in advance from JCP as I was supposed to do, attended the interviews and then submitted the forms. I was then told that Ingeus were responsible as I had been signed over to them before the interview dates, despite not having had an appointment with them. Today I went to Ingeus and tried to get reimbursed, only to be told that as I hadn’t got the travel pre-approved they couldn’t pay me. As one of the interviews was in London and the other was in Cambridge, this involved considerable expense. Train failures on the day of the London interview meant I had to drive, despite having already bought the tickets (to save money). As a condition of getting JSA, I have to attend every interview I’m offered. As a result of this fiasco, I’m over £120 out of pocket. JSA is £67.50 a week, so this is a significant amount. Something like this throws your whole budgeting out for weeks.

It seems to me that the whole Work Programme is poorly executed, under resourced, designed to alienate and not joined up with the rest of the process. As well as fortnightly appointments with Ingeus, you also still have to attend fortnightly appointments with JCP. This duplication is a ridiculous waste of resources and seems further designed to emphasise the control JCP has over your life. The aim is laudable, but the system falls way short and will only serve to waste public money, often generating large private sector profits. Not exactly the best use of limited resources in the current economic climate.