Transcripts from the jobcentre: inside a Work Activities meeting for a man with learning difficulties

Reposted from Kate Belgrave

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This article is about a work activities-type meeting between a jobcentre disability employment adviser and a JSA claimant who has learning difficulties and some literacy problems. The article includes excerpts from a transcript of a recording made at this meeting earlier this year. There are longer edits from the transcript at the end of this post for people who want more detail.

I’m posting this to give people an idea of the way that some of these interviews operate. I also want to show you something of the combative relationships between people who must use public services and people who provide services on the front line these days. I have a lot of these recordings. I’m pretty sure I’ll look back on them as evidence that Iain Duncan Smith decided, perversely, to take people in need and frontline officers, and set them onto each other in jobcentre buildings and housing offices. I suppose that really would be somebody’s idea of entertainment today.

The JSA claimant (or “customer”, as this jobcentre likes to call people) in the transcripts below is a 52-year-old man I call Eddie* in these articles. Eddie worked for many years as a kitchen and catering assistant. He says that he was made redundant by his last employer about six years ago and hasn’t found work since.

As I say, Eddie has learning and literacy difficulties (he finds writing a challenge in particular). He has health problems: he’s diabetic and seems sometimes to struggle to manage his diabetes. He also becomes stressed easily and finds change difficult to deal with. He often says that he wants change – “I should be in a job by now. I want to live in a quieter place, in a proper flat” – and he hands out CVs around town, but he hasn’t found work yet. I’m guessing that his age and health problems work against him, especially in manual assistant jobs. He also loathes the bureaucracies that he must rely on for change: the council and the jobcentre. He resents all officers, good and bad. When I ask Eddie for his views on officers, he usually says that they are all useless, should be sacked, or sent to jail. We never get much further than that.

Anyway – the meeting.

It isn’t the easiest interview that I’ve attended. As soon as we arrive, Eddie tells the jobcentre adviser that he isn’t well. He says that his blood sugar is high and that he must see his GP. The adviser clearly doesn’t believe him – or, at least, decides that there’s no real emergency. Eddie cut last week’s appointment with the same adviser short for a similar reason. “You had lunch?” the adviser asks “You have to stick to really regular times to eat, otherwise you’re going to get issues.” I’m no medic, but I do wonder if writing the diabetes problems off so fast is such a great idea. Eddie’s face is sweaty, he has tiny red sores across his cheeks and he does seem tired and irritable.

Nonetheless, the subject is dropped for the time being. The adviser has other concerns. It becomes clear very quickly that this adviser wants Eddie to sign up for voluntary work, or for a Work Choice employment programme with the notorious welfare-to-work company Seetec. Work Choice is the so-called employment programme for disabled people. Work Choice is not mandatory, but there’s a relentlessness to the adviser’s pitch and a refusal to drop the topic which makes me wonder how voluntary it really is. The adviser wants Eddie to sign up for voluntary work, or a Work Choice programme, today:

“Did you have any more thinking about doing the voluntary work to help you? To [get] paid jobs?”

“Do you remember what I said about it – that [voluntary work] sort of breaks that gap in your CV?”

“It would be really good for you to start the voluntary work if you can do it. I can refer you to Seetec as well.”

Eddie resists. He often resists. He often resists furiously. His response to jobcentre instructions and pressure is usually anger and then a resounding No. I’m not sure of the exact reasons why. I know why I’d resist, but I’m not Eddie, obviously. Point is – I don’t believe that anyone at the jobcentre knows why Eddie resists either. I don’t think they know, because nobody at these appointments ever asks. Some advisers tell Eddie off (very publicly and loudly) for not participating, or for his lack of enthusiasm and gratitude for the chance at voluntary work and Work Choice, but they never ask why he is so reluctant to participate. I would have thought that was a key question for an outfit that is purportedly keen to tailor services to individuals, but nobody ever digs to those sorts of depths. The DWP takes a one-dimensional approach to the long-term unemployed: people are told to take voluntary work, or to get on a work programme, and that’s about it. There’s nothing textured going on. I suppose the assumption is that Eddie resists because he’s idle, or because he’s difficult, or because he’s too comfortable where he is.

Eddie, for his part, sets great store by paid work:

Eddie: I need a paid job. I have to look for that.

JCP: I know, but you have been unemployed for six years.

Eddie: Which I shouldn’t be.

JCP: Yeah.

Eddie: Especially in catering jobs, which is what I had been doing. I should have been in ages ago.

Sometimes, I ask Eddie for his views on voluntary work. He usually flies off the handle when I do. He says that unpaid work is for criminals and addicts, and that he should have a proper paid job as he did when he was younger. He acts as though I have insulted him badly when I talk about voluntary work in any context. It takes me a long while to work out that I have insulted him badly. I suspect that he thinks that I’m saying – and the jobcentre is saying – that people who struggled at school and with writing are only good for unpaid work. Eddie reacts very badly to proposals that he suspects are about a low rank and exclusion:

Eddie: I need a paid job. I have to look for that.

Another problem at the jobcentre is that most of the options open to people in Eddie’s situation and at his age are garbage. Today’s adviser is basically saying that Eddie can either work for nothing as a volunteer, or for low pay on an employment programme job. That’s it. Those are the bones you’re thrown when you’re an aging, ex-manual worker who is falling out of the race. The adviser tries to pretty the choices up by implying that they might lead to something better, but “better” is very much a matter of interpretation here. “Better” at this end of the so-called jobs market very likely means low-paid, insecure, manual or shop work – for someone who is aged 52 and not in brilliant health.

That prospect doesn’t exactly thrill me, I must say. I’m not too young myself. None of this is as far away as I’d like it to be. I know, though, that the state has decided that anyone who is unemployed is always better off slogging it out at voluntary work, or at low-paid work, and into old age. Charity shops are a thing on this front. People I meet at jobcentres – especially people who are over 50 – live in fear of placements in charity shops. Stories of people forced to stand all day and made to unpack and clean filthy clothes abound on the circuit. I’ve certainly met people who’ve been made to do that work on forced placements (“[we had to] steam clothes and stand on the shop floor putting clothes out. You were on your feet all day, with the manager pushing us to work harder and harder.”).

I note that today’s adviser tries to tell Eddie that he won’t be forced into charity work. This adviser is obviously aware of that on-the-ground fear. Eddie clearly isn’t buying the reassurance, though. One of his (also older) friends was recently told to take up a charity-shop job from an employment programme placement, so he’s very much of the view that people are still being lined up for that work. Well-paid (let’s say £15 or more an hour), secure and decent work with an excellent pension plan might have something going for it, but – yeah. Nobody’s being offered much of that:

JCP: I think I gave you the flyer for [the voluntary sector recruitment company], did we? It’s just something to do in the meantime as well.

Eddie: Yeah but if I get a job before then, that’d be good.

JCP: That would be excellent.

Eddie: There are a couple of places, a couple of jobs… I see no jobs in here [he looks at the flyer].

JCP: But even cleaning jobs… unless you’ve got experience, they’re very hard to get… Right. I can give you the [flyer]. Here’s another one just in case…I haven’t got much time…because I can’t do much today, because you’re telling me you’ve got to go. Again. Obviously, I don’t want to cause you problems that way, so I’ll give you this one [flyer]. Have a little think about voluntary work. It’s just really to give them a bit of background about you. You can choose what you want to do. They’re not just going to put you into like a charity shop and leave you to do that. Because you’re looking for catering, they’ll try and find something in that sector. But as an adviser, anyone else, even if they didn’t have a health issue, if they haven’t worked for a long time, they will often do voluntary work to help them move into paid work. It shows an employer that you’re doing something, keeping your skills up.

Eddie: I’m doing things every day.

JCP: But what are you doing in terms of catering, or working for an organisation, or someone else?

Eddie: I’m looking to do catering, which I should have been doing for a long time. This is ridiculous, especially in London. There are so many catering jobs out there.

I think that another reason for the resistance might be that Eddie struggles to cope with a barrage of instructions and forms. We certainly get a barrage of forms today. The adviser starts to pull me into things, telling me to take the voluntary centre application forms and Seetec’s address so that we can visit the site in advance of Eddie taking a course. This happens a lot: advisers quickly look to pass the (hard) work of filling in forms and handling people’s concerns on to someone else.

I do what I usually do – I say yeah, fine, great, whatever, give us the forms and the address, and we’ll leave and talk about things between ourselves later on. We don’t really, though. We know the options. We don’t need to discuss them again. Eddie either accepts that he must take voluntary work and short stints grinding it out in employment programme jobs, or he doesn’t. He either buys into the notion that voluntary work and employment programme jobs will lead to decent work that pays enough to cover his rent, or he doesn’t. Those are the choices. As I say, the government line is that all work is great, no matter your health, or age. The voting electorate agrees, it seems. I suspect that the problem is getting excited about that idea when it’s your turn to actually live it:

JCP: It would be really good for you to start the voluntary work if you can do it. I can refer you to Seetec as well.

Eddie: I can think about the other one [voluntary work]. Seetec – I’ve been there

JCP: Which one? The voluntary one? Or the Seetec?

Eddie: The voluntary one. I’ll think about that.

JCP: Okay. We could do the Seetec one.

Eddie: No. I’ll think about the other one. I’ve been to those places [Seetec] already.

JCP: What are you going to do if you don’t do those things?

Eddie: What – the voluntary work?

JCP: I mean, even like going to Seetec. How are you going to move forward and get a job?

Eddie: I will keep on just applying for jobs and going for jobs. Until I get one. They will give me one eventually.

JCP: Not necessarily. You have to change. [You sometimes have to] change something to move into a job. When’s the best time to see you again? We can talk a bit more about it.

Ends
–——————

Here are longer excerpts from the transcript (edited in places for clarity and where sentences rambled or were repeated):

On the diabetes and the ill-health issue:

JCP (Jobcentre Plus Adviser): Hi, are you all right?

Eddie: Not too good.

JCP? Not too good?

Eddie: Not too well.

JCP: Oh. Okay.

Eddie: Not feeling very well at all.

JCP: Oh. The diabetes, you mean. You had lunch?

Eddie: Not yet, no. I will have to shortly soon.

JCP: What time do you normally eat then?

Eddie: Sometimes, it’s like one, or two, or three o’clock, like.

JCP: Aren’t you supposed to stick to a bit more regular…?

Eddie: Yeah. I should have…shortly.

JCP: [looking at me] Yeah, okay…Is this the same lady as last week?

Me: Yeah… there is another woman [from the local Unemployed Workers’ Group who sometimes accompanies Eddie to the jobcentre]

JCP: Right, so how long have I got then?

Eddie: Not very long.

Me: Do you want to get to the doctor?

Eddie: I have to go to the doctor shortly, anyway. And check my sugar, because it is so high.

JCP: Right, right…okay. Because we booked it [this appointment] because we didn’t have much time on Friday (sic), but obviously, if it’s the same sort of scenario…

Eddie: Hyper…hyper…it comes just like that. Sometimes, it just comes, you know.

JCP: Yeah. You have to stick to regular mealtimes…you know that, don’t you. You have to stick to really regular times to eat, otherwise you’re going to get issues… Right. So we haven’t got much time. You sign on next week… Did you have any more thinking about doing the voluntary work to help you? To [get] paid jobs?
—————————
On taking up voluntary work:

Eddie: Well, I’m going to see the firm I used to work at. I’m going to go there to see if they have got any jobs.

JCP: Right. Do you remember what I said about it – that [voluntary work] sort of breaks that gap in your CV, gives you recent references…. that’s the reason that you had it [the voluntary sector application forms]. We could do that today? I can give you the forms to take away. You [the adviser indicates me] can help [Eddie] to fill them in. It’s just to give [the voluntary sector recruitment company] a bit of background about you, but it would be a good starting point, to help you just to get into the mode of working and that kind of routine, and things.

Eddie: I need a paid job. I have to look for that.

JCP: I know, but you have been unemployed for six years.

Eddie: Which I shouldn’t be.

JCP: Yeah.

Eddie: Especially in catering jobs, which is what I had been doing. I should have been in ages ago.

JCP: Yeah, but it’s not easy to get a job, but there are certain things…

Eddie: I will get it eventually, yeah. It shouldn’t have taken so long.

JCP: I can only give advice, you know. You don’t have to…

Eddie: I’m not being forced to do it, am I?

JCP: No. It’s voluntary. It’s just something that does help people move into paid work, because if you applied for a job now and you needed a reference, who would you ask?

Eddie: I would ask my old boss to see if he would give me one. I worked for him for 13 years. I would get one from him.

JCP: Yeah.

Eddie: And another one I could get from another employer who I worked for.

JCP: Yeah, but what if an employer wanted a very recent reference?

Eddie: Well, the other one would give me a good reference. I know that for sure.

JCP: Yeah, because sometimes they want a reference that’s a bit more recent about you. You won’t have that. That’s just another thing kind of behind it…

Eddie: He would definitely give me a good reference, because of the number of years that I’ve worked.

The adviser addresses me:

JCP: Do you understand what I’m saying? About voluntary [work]? About how it can fill the gap in the CV?

Me: [to Eddie] Yeah. I mean, it’s up to you. I’m mainly just here to support you with paperwork and that, so the decision’s for you to make. But if you want to have a think and we can talk about it when you go, and look at the form and whatever.

Eddie: Yeah.

JCP: I think I gave you the flyer for [the voluntary sector recruitment company], did we? It’s just something to do in the meantime as well.

Eddie: Yeah but if I get a job before then, that’d be good.

JCP: That would be excellent.

Eddie: There are a couple of places, a couple of jobs… I see no jobs in here [he looks at the flyer].

JCP: But even cleaning jobs… unless you’ve got experience, they’re very hard to get… Right. I can give you the [flyer]. Here’s another one just in case…I haven’t got much time…because I can’t do much today, because you’re telling me you’ve got to go. Again. Obviously, I don’t want to cause you problems that way, so I’ll give you this one [flyer].

Have a little think about voluntary work. It’s just really to give them a bit of background about you. You can choose what you want to do. They’re not just going to put you into like a charity shop and leave you to do that. Because you’re looking for catering, they’ll try and find something in that sector. But as an adviser, anyone else, even if they didn’t have a health issue, if they haven’t worked for a long time, they will often do voluntary work to help them move into paid work. It shows an employer that you’re doing something, keeping your skills up.

Eddie: I’m doing things every day.

JCP: But what are you doing in terms of catering, or working for an organisation, or someone else?

Eddie: I’m looking to do catering, which I should have been doing for a long time. This is ridiculous, especially in London. There are so many catering jobs out there.

JCP: …I understand what you’re saying.

Eddie: And obviously I’m going to feel better… yeah.

JCP: And also, it just sort of boosts your confidence a bit. You know that you have still got those skills, so it’s all positive.

Eddie: I will have a think about it.

JCP: And it is voluntary. You will still get your benefit. It doesn’t affect your benefit.

Eddie: I’m not forced to do it. I do it if I want to.

JCP: Of course. It is voluntary. The jobcentre can’t force you to do it. I can’t force you to do voluntary. It’s just something to help. Most of my customers that haven’t worked for a long time – they all do voluntary work. It helps them move into a paid job as well. So – I’ll give you this one [the flyer]. If there is anything that you’re not sure about, don’t worry about it. You could do as little as six hours a week or something. It doesn’t have to be a big thing.

Eddie: I think…I’ll think about it.

JCP: I’ll give you this one then [hands Eddie more paper].

Me: Put it in the bag and we’ll have a chat.
—————————————–
On Seetec and the Work Programme:

JCP: Have you been through the work programme? You did, didn’t you?

Eddie: Yeah. Four times.

JCP: You’ve been to Remploy when you moved.

Eddie: Yeah, in another area.

JCP: You are quite definite in what you want to do and don’t, aren’t you?

Eddie: Yeah.

JCP: What you need to think about as well is… I’ve had a lot of people move into jobs just recently. In the last two weeks, I’ve had about four people [move into work] because they sort of followed my advice a wee bit. It’s just unfortunate…[that you won’t follow my advice].

Eddie: They just done voluntary work, or something. Is that it.

JCP: Some, actually, the majority of them have, and they’ve, yeah. I mean, through Seetec in [], they’ve got this programme…it is only short-term [job] placements of about six months. They might even have something there. At least it’ll break that gap in your CV. It’s paid work and it’s only part-time. It’s usually sort of 16 hours each. That’s through Seetec. It’s a special thing they’ve got with employers. I know you’ve done it in other areas with Seetec… but that’s something that we could think about.

We talk about making another appointment, because Eddie isn’t feeling well.

JCP: When is the best time for me to see you, then?

Eddie: What, to sign, you mean.

JCP: It would be really good for you to start the voluntary work if you can do it. I can refer you to Seetec as well.

Eddie: I can think about the other one [voluntary work]. Seetec – I’ve been there

JCP: Which one? The voluntary one? Or the Seetec?

Eddie: The voluntary one. I’ll think about that.

JCP: Okay. We could do the Seetec one.

Eddie: No. I’ll think about the other one. I’ve been to those places [Seetec] already.

JCP: What are you going to do if you don’t do those things?

Eddie: What – the voluntary work?

JCP: I mean, even like going to Seetec. How are you going to move forward and get a job?

Eddie: I will keep on just applying for jobs and going for jobs. Until I get one. They will give me one eventually.

JCP: Not necessarily. You have to change. [You sometimes have to] change something to move into a job. When’s the best time to see you again? We can talk a bit more about it.

http://www.katebelgrave.com/2015/09/more-transcripts-from-the-jobcentre-inside-a-work-activities-type-meeting/

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2 Responses to Transcripts from the jobcentre: inside a Work Activities meeting for a man with learning difficulties

  1. Reblogged this on perfectlyfadeddelusions and commented:
    She was bombarding him, making him confused so he would say yes to the voluntary work.

    That is wrong, very wrong. And the advisors are always lying about things.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Transcripts from the jobcentre: inside a Work A...

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