Monday, 10 December 2012

Right, just printed this off in the scummiest internet cafe in the whole entire world. Going to drop it off at the Job Centre now. Wish me luck!

Dear Sir/Madame,

I hope you find the following relevant. It is my account of why I think I am not suitable for the Launchpad course and following work experience.

Please bear in mind I have only been ‘officially’ seeking work for the last six months.

In the last 7 years I have done various placements and personal projects to improve my chances of finding work, including applying for an MA (for which my funding unfortunately fell through), writing and having a book published and volunteering in a primary school for six months.

When my daughter started school full-time I approached the Arts and Literature Collective ‘Mercy’ with a view to interning for them. They took me on and during my time with them I managed a team of interns, put on a successful exhibition in Liverpool, did research and promotion and helped to publish a book of art and poetry. I would like to pursue this kind of work and now have excellent references and an up to date CV to assist me.

Primarily however, I have been training as a Horticultural Assistant. I undertook an evening course ‘Introduction to Gardening’ in 2011 which I paid for myself. I also did the first part of a Permaculture course which is a recognised qualification.

In 2012 I did a City and Guilds Level 1: Certificate in Gardening which I successfully completed. I went on to find and take part in a ‘Striding Out’ course on how to start your own business with a view to perhaps starting my own gardening business while also continuing with my creative work. I have included a copy of the certificate I gained.

In June this year I enrolled onto the City and Guilds Level 2: Certificate in Gardening which I was due to start in September. I was also volunteering at the nursery where I did my course. It was around this time that I was told I would have to take part in the Launchpad course. I was told by my job advisor that I would not be able to do the second part of my gardening course as Launchpad is mandatory. This would also mean giving up my volunteering.

I have since spoken to my advisor and her manager about the course being mandatory and they have confirmed that this is the case.

Subsequently I did not start the City and Guilds Level 2. Not to be deterred I asked at the plant nursery if I could do a work placement there, which they agreed to, but was told by my advisor that I do not have a choice where I do my 4 weeks work experience. This doesn’t make sense to me as I do not want to work in retail.

I went along to the first day of the Launchpad course and explained my situation- that I felt I was already making credible steps towards employment. Even A4E said they didn’t think I was suitable for the course. I was told they had a different programme that would be more suitable for me which I agreed to take part in for 6 hours a week as I think it would be beneficial for me.

Launchpad’s ‘Module objective’ is the following-

‘To progressively develop ability and confidence in managing personal circumstances, overcoming barriers and developing skills, such that participants are better equipped to make realistic decisions about returning to the labour market’.

I really feel that I have been making realistic decisions. I believe that to do a course on how to motivate myself when I am already enthusiastically trying to do what I want to do does not make sense. I am currently looking for somewhere to start my City and Guilds Level 2 in January.

I’d like to make it clear that since being on JSA I have been actively seeking work and have applied for many jobs- obviously I am prepared to work part-time while I continue training. One position I applied for recently had received over 200 applications. However, this will not stop me from getting a job as I am positive and resourceful.

One of the last paid work positions I did was as an HR assistant, screening CVs and application forms. I know how to write a convincing application. I feel within the next two months I will have a job. But I cannot do this if I am working in Poundland or similar getting experience in a field I have no interest in and that will ultimately only look incongruous on my CV.

I'm a single mum who wants to balance working towards the good of society and the people around me with bringing up a healthy and happy daughter. I believe I can do both and the best way to go about that is to pursue a meaningful career in subjects that I am becoming proficient in.

I hope you can take the above into consideration. I am not, perhaps the typical benefits claimant (if such a thing exists), and being pigeonholed is extremely frustrating. Being treated as if I am trying to get out of working even while producing evidence to the contrary has really affected my morale. I feel I have done nothing but try to help myself yet I now face losing my benefits which seems somewhat upside down. I have included some references.

Thanks for your time

Monday, 3 December 2012

Today I had to go in to discuss the situation with my advisor and her boss. It was alright, I have been told I can do the 6 hour a week course but that I have to fill out a 'Skills Conditionality' form which will go off to Scotland to be assessed. If they think my reasons for not doing the course aren't good enough then I will lose my benefits.

My advisor basically lied and said I hadn't told her I wanted to do the gardening course. She also said I'd never mentioned that I'd like to be self-employed, which is also a lie. I spoke about all the things I've been doing to improve my situation- but unpaid work doesn't count as 'work' in terms of how confident or job ready I might be, which seems a bit strange as I have been constantly challenging myself since being 'unemployed'. The stigma surrounding people out of work is not doing me any favours at all.

I didn't mention the appalling DWP figures- that only 3.5% of those doing the Work Programme have actually found work, but I will put that on the form, along with references from my non-employers etc- I am going to do a KILLER statement.

After her boss had gone my advisor was unnaturally nice to me, much nicer than she's been for ages- perhaps she's realised that I have my eye on all this. I asked her what has happened to other people that have refused to go on Launchpad and she said that I am the first person to refuse. It makes me a bit sad really- more people should stick up for themselves. The threat of sanctions stops people from voicing their concerns and forces them into unpaid work, without any choice at all.

I have been reading about A4E, the company that provides the courses and they come across as shockingly bad- the allegations of systemic fraud and poor performance are rife, which basically just reaffirms my belief that I'm better off looking for work myself- without having to put up with motivational bullshit and box ticking and all the other demoralising and patronising things I hate about these courses.

Meanwhile, new graffiti has sprung up near to where I go to the Job Centre. A bit dramatic maybe? When you look at what ATOS are doing then maybe not so much.

Friday, 30 November 2012

So I have written to my Job Advisor's boss. It's not at all fun all this you know.

Dear Ms ----

I am writing to you to request a change of Job Advisor.

Currently I am being advised by ----, and although she is always polite to me I believe that she has not fully considered what is best for me in my current situation.

She recently referred me to the Launchpad course for single parents which she claims is 'mandatory', yet I have researched this and found out that this is not the case if a claimant is already undertaking voluntary work or is already in training. I finished a Diploma in Gardening in May and was planning to do the second part starting in September but was told by ---- that I wouldn't be able to do this as I
had to start Launchpad. This was misleading.

I have now missed the opportunity to take part in this course. I am not sure this makes sense. I have read this in a DWP document:

'This module will be aimed at lone parents who have no recent work experience, who may need support to overcome a number of barriers'.

I am not that person. I have been gaining work experience and know what I want to do. I don't feel I have any barriers to overcome as I am resourceful and make the most of every opportunity. I really want to get a job. I even made steps toward organising a work placement at the nursery where I was volunteering, but was told by ---- that I could not do this as I would have to do a work placement chosen by the Job Centre in retail. I don't want to work in retail.

I went along to the first day of Launchpad, explained my situation, was told that I wasn't right for the course, and that there was another course more suited to me, that was for 6 hours a week.

On telling ---- this, she phoned A4E up and is in the process of trying to get me back on the 8 week full-time Launchpad course/Workfare placement.

“The following steps must be taken on every occasion you want to mandate a participant to do something:

Ensure that the activity is reasonable in the participant’s circumstances

I do not believe that going on Launchpad and the subsequent Workfare placement is a reasonable course of action for me.

I hope you can place me with an advisor that understands my circumstances. I have an appointment with ---- on Monday at 11.50 and would prefer not to see her as I feel she does not have my best interests at heart. This has made me feel very demotivated and I always come away from our meetings feeling as if I am being difficult instead of actively trying to make my life better.

Thanks for your time

I can tell you that her bosses name is Jolene, which means when I go in on Monday to speak to them both (I have awoken the dragon) the only thing that will be in my head the whole time is this:

'I had to have this talk with you/my happiness depends on you/and whatever you decide to do/Jo-leeeeene'. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Today I went down to Room 8 to try and start applying for jobs. I was told that I haven't been registered on the course yet, which is a bit annoying as I told the Job Centre on Monday that I would be doing this alternative course.

The man there said my dimples would get me in trouble, I think they probably will. Tomorrow I have to explain to the scary Job Advisor why my course has been changed- I have a feeling she'll be pretty annoyed, she doesn't like the fact that I question everything.

While I was in Room 8 I heard a man shouting at one of the helpers- 'I'm not stupid!' I don't know if this is a good sign...possibly not.

I have been given a piece of paper with my new course details on. Under 'Target customers' it says-

Customers with little or no experience of current job search techniques and channels. They will have a basic understanding of IT.

I'm not sure this is me. I think my CV could probably do with some work but I know how to look for jobs. I also think that my IT skills are probably above average- in fact in some areas I have quite a lot of expertise. What does this mean for my experience of the course? I'm not sure yet. I took my laptop along today and was told that this is not allowed, which seems a bit odd.

I wonder if I am being unreasonable or antagonistic in some way, all this is here to help me. I will try and use it in the most positive way and keep my head down.

In other news, I have been looking all over for another place to do the second part of my Diploma in gardening, but as far as I can see they all start in September, so if I want to continue with this I will have to wait until next year now. I am going to write to Organiclea to see what they suggest- they may have a solution.

Dimples eh?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

So, I was there for exactly 49 minutes. Amazingly, by using my top notch reasoning skills I have managed to be put on a different course that will be far more useful for me and is 6 hours a week. It would have been helpful to have been told that there was an option by the Job Centre beforehand however as I could have started the second part of my gardening course or applied for some of the Internships that have now passed me by. But for now I am free! 

Here is the place where I will be doing my 6 hours a week. On entering the room it was clear that no one was very happy to be there. One girl in a bright pink Paul's Boutique tracksuit was visibly upset. One lady had done the course before and was quickly ushered out- why she was there was unknown. 

Another lady (and it was all women) had been told she would be there for a few hours on a Tuesday and was gutted- she was in the process of setting up her own baking business and had commitments to that. We were both told to wait outside for Ben (our motivational leader) after we had explained that perhaps this wasn't going to work for us. 

Ben was a cool guy and called the programme a 'farce'- he said to me that he faces this situation every day, that he loves helping people but understands that there are many people who feel they are helping themselves already and that the Job Centre also have their hands tied as they have to refer a certain amount of people to him. 

At this point Paul's Boutique girl stormed past us and out the door. She had also been told the course was just one day a week. I wonder what will happen to her, I'm pretty sure she'll lose 3 weeks money if not have her benefits stopped altogether. I feel sorry for everyone involved really- one lady said she had not worked for 16 years and looked really scared, I hope the course helps her out. 

Before I left I called Ben a 'visionary' just to cheer him up- he seemed pretty pleased. Next time I'm there I'd like to talk to a few more people about their experiences and also use this blog to connect with other people and perhaps interview some of them as well. If you want to talk to me feel free- I can be found on Twitter at @eehammond. 

'It's my life not yours'. Yep.

Monday, 19 November 2012

I am a single mum. Tomorrow I start the government’s ‘Launchpad’ programme for single parents. It will last for four weeks and if I do not attend I will lose my JSA. After this I will be referred to the ‘Workfare’ programme, the Orwellian sounding work scheme that I will also have to attend if I don’t want to lose my benefits. I have been told that my placement will probably be in a charity shop or possibly Poundland, if I get really lucky. The fact that this is unpaid work and does not necessarily lead to a job is also problematic, some ( would say hugely unfair.

On paper, it seems like a good idea to get people out of the house to improve their skills and confidence, and for some it possibly works. The problem is however, that if you are already doing an Internship or voluntary work in an area that you actually want to go into (not Retail) then you will have to give this up to go on their course/placement. Similarly if you are training to do something you want to do then you have to stop that too.

In the referral letter the Job Centre claim that I have ‘not worked’ for seven years. I've been on Job Seeker’s Allowance for six months and before this I was on Income Support while looking after my child. It’s old fashioned but I consider this ‘working’- though maybe not in the conventional paid (therefore ‘worth something’) sense.

During this time I also volunteered in a school, did an Internship, taught poetry classes and had a book published. I have also done two gardening courses and volunteered at a plant nursery with a view to perhaps becoming a gardener. I wanted to pursue this but didn’t continue as I was told at some point I would have to go on the Launchpad course.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m sure that the course will be helpful for some people and I’m not saying I will not get something from it too- the problem is that it assumes that you are not trying to help yourself. At no point have I felt ‘unemployed’, I am a resourceful person and use my time well. Since being on JSA I have applied for many jobs but the fact is there really are not enough jobs to go around.

Admittedly, I was sceptical about this to begin with, but having searched for a job that fits in around my other responsibilities, with a view to not paying loads of money for childcare (the after-school clubs generally have massive waiting lists), I am beginning to think that this is the case. David Cameron’s drive to get everyone back to work, no matter what their circumstances is causing a kind of employment pile-up.

If I want to be a cleaner or similar, I can- I admit it. Maybe there's something wrong with not wanting to do this kind of work- beggars can’t be choosers etc, and I have worked as a cleaner in the past. But the fact is that to have any kind of quality of life- to do a job I am even a little bit happy in- I’d like to do something that I’m interested in. Perhaps nowadays that really is for the privileged few, I don’t know.

That is the reason I’ve taken it upon myself to look for opportunities. I told the Job Centre that the nursery where I did my gardening courses would be pleased to offer me a work placement, while I took the second part of my Diploma, but I was told that I ‘had to do the Workfare placement, the same as everyone else’. There are also a hundred Internships I could apply for that I would really enjoy and that would help me get into a field that I'm interested in. The fact is that by trying to get me back to work, the government are actually stopping me getting a job.

I see that something has to be done to get people working again, however this one size fits all approach is unhelpful. Sometimes coming back from the Job Centre I feel totally disempowered, as if I have done something wrong. Making people feel like this is not going to help the economy at all- wouldn't it be better to try and understand each person’s unique circumstances, stop treating them like children and go from there?