I think it's about time I got angry about the government's employment programmes in writing. Specifically, the Work Programme and the Community Action Programme. I would also like to start by applauding Waterstones for pulling out of such a reprehensible programme.
If you're familiar with the case of Cait Reilly, you'll be familiar with the Work Programme. If not: Ms Reilly was volunteering at a museum to further her career aspirations of working in a museum. She was told to stop doing that by her benefits advisor and to go and get some "Work Experience" at Poundland where she'd get some real skills that could help her get a job. If she didn't, she'd lose her benefits.
Since when has shelf stacking given anyone a leg up in jobhunting? How is this more valuable than spending time in an environment that is relevant to your career choice? It's like taking someone who wants to be a dog trainer and telling them that spending time on a boat would really help them fulfil this dream. Eh?
To make matters worse, the Guardian have revealed that a number of major employers are using these people doing "Work Experience" as free labour, occasionally at the expense of their own part time staff. They're shelf stacking and taking deliveries. Perfect for tomorrow's lawyers, bank managers, chefs, teachers and IT staff.
Let's make the mix all the more baffling now, just to exasperate you further. Let's talk about the Community Action Programme. This is where unemployed people are told to go and volunteer for 30 hours a week for four weeks, or they'll lose their benefits, sometimes at a charity.
So, on the one hand, the government is taking people who want to volunteer and dumping them in Holland and Barrett and Poundland, and then taking people who don't want to volunteer and forcing them to do it. Hey, Right Hand, come here, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine called Left Hand!
It's by the by that voluntary organisations, dependent on funding that hardly exists anymore, are constantly having to restructure and re-shape to adjust to the financial and political landscape. What the hell are we meant to do with a full time volunteer for 4 weeks? We can't give them the work of a paid member of staff (as Holland and Barrett have been accused of doing in the Guardian article) and we can't create a project for 4 weeks that we won't be able to sustain beyond that. The sector wants long term volunteers like Cait Reilly, not someone who's with us because their benefits are being held to ransom!
The two schemes don't make sense, which we could blame the agencies forcing people into these ridiculous schemes for, but I can't, and here's why. These employment advisors are desperate to meet targets in order to get paid (they're paid after people get employed). This means they're giving knee-jerk, impractical, almost panicked instructions which adversely affect the lives of the already very vulnerable unemployed. I sympathise, I honestly do, but people ought to be coming first in a line of work such as employment advice. They're not allowed to though. As it stands, this government is forcing people into schemes that don't make sense, or they won't get their benefits, and is in turn, forcing organisations to force people into these schemes, or they won't get paid.
Call the negotiators. It turns out Britain's unemployed, and the agencies there to help them, have been kidnapped by the government. Something has to change.