A4e is a Joke
These days if you’re out of work for any length of time the Job Centre will farm you off to a private company in order for them to make a profit out of you.
I know, I know, that’s a cynical opening sentence you’re saying to yourself, but having been farmed off to the company A4e shortly before Xmas last year, I can confidentially affirm that referral to the Work Program is not for mine or anyone else’s benefit.
In my working career I have been a Fee Earner for large firm of solicitors, managed a department for the same firm, as well as a case handler for a number of quangos and public sector bodies. Before becoming unemployed, my last role was a PPI case handler for a bank. I am a writer by hobby and I have tended to seek out jobs in which the lion share of my day is spent writing reports, warming up for the real work to be done at home.
Despite this experience, the one role that A4e has so far found for me is as an admin clerk, paying less than a third of what I last earned. A4e chant the government’s mantra, which is very much that any job is better than being unemployed. This gives A4e carte blanche to put in as little effort as possible in sourcing suitable jobs for candidates. Find them anything, just so we can get paid.
The current government, especially George Osborne and Iain-Duncan Smith, talk about reducing the national benefit bill, but when they say reduce what they really mean is redirect. I don’t really understand the logic of bringing in the private sector to carry out public sector roles. Surely that just costs more money, certainly more money than it would cost to set up a new department and train the staff to perform those roles. That’s if we were really talking about reducing the benefit bill.
Unemployment benefit accounts for a tiny amount of the total benefit bill and as much money in benefits goes unclaimed each year as the total government spend on supporting the unemployed. Both Tory and New Labour governments in recent years have spent millions on poster campaigns threatening jail for those who abuse the system, but next to nothing on educating people as to which additional benefits they might be entitled. The job of actually governing the country, managing the public finances for equal benefit to all, was abandoned by the political classes some time ago. Instead, the government acts as broker to its financial backers to ensure that money is siphoned off at a steady rate of flow away from the people who most need it, the most vulnerable, to a greedy, venal minority.
A4e fit in well with the characterisation of a greedy and venal minority. Earlier this month, four A4e staff pleaded guilty in court to submitting fraudulent and false claims. Another nine members of staff are due to appear in court later in the year. The company has been investigated countless times over allegations of fraudulent practices, nine investigations alone have been carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) between 2005 and 2012, yet despite the DWP promising to terminate the company’s contract if proof of fraud is found, and despite the recent court appearances, the company continues to operate government contracts. But then companies like G4S keep their government contracts despite years of systematic incompetence, so I guess we shouldn’t hold our breath.
The poor service that A4e provides doesn’t stop with their lack of finding appropriate vacancies, but extends to what they laughingly refer to as ‘training’. In the first training session that I attended, the class were made to sit at a computer in twos to find out what companies are in the local area. Patronising doesn’t even begin to describe it. Someone in the group asked what the hell the point of doing this was (I don’t even look at local firms, all the roles that speak to my experience are in Manchester and Preston, etc.). The trainer’s response was, “I get paid to give this course and this is the script I’ve been given to work through so that’s what we’re doing.” In other words, because it makes the company a profit, never mind if it’s of benefit to you. Which it most certainly wasn’t for anyone who attended.
Then you have what are called ‘structure job search sessions’. This is where you go to A4e for two hours to sit in a room of obsolete PCs and look for jobs (I’m shortly heading out to attend one such ’structured waste of time’ as I write these words). Occasionally a member of staff comes in to check up on the group, but for the most part it is a pointless, unsupervised, unsupported exercise that could easily be carried out at home. It’s essentially a punishment for being unemployed. In the 21st century, most jobs don’t require 8 hours of work, they’re simply a device to keep the population in doors, under drudgery and out of trouble. The same is true of the government’s plan to have the long term unemployed attending these kind of institutions for the entire working day. It keeps you under surveillance and ensures that you are not doing anything more productive, like writing polemics against the government and A4e.
It also makes a healthy profit for the private sector. A4e has received over £200million worth of government contracts in recent years. A4e also works in a private capacity, going into companies undergoing downsizing to help them offload staff, making a mockery of their even limited efforts to find jobs for the unemployed.
The DWP’s own figures show that in the first ten months of assessments carried out on the disabled by the private company ATOS led to the deaths of 10,000 additional disabled people from neglect or suicide or simply having heart attacks from the stress of being made to attend ATOS offices. A death count a third this amount on 11 September 2001 led to the UK government embroiling the country in two disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and yet 10,000 disabled men and women dead through government shock tactics barely raise an eyebrow.
The only possible benefit in employing private firms like A4e and ATOS would be that they provide a better quality of service for the nation and the state. Yet they don’t. Politicians and government officials rarely if ever have to suffer the consequences of dealing with such organisations and as long as the campaign donations continue to come in, who cares if they provide no benefit to the people that they are supposedly there to assist? Yet the consensus of those of us that have to deal with them is that they are a joke. A punishment beating meted out against the poor for the crime of being poor. It must give those on the right a prolonged hard on to know that the poor and dispossessed are being dealt with in such fascistic terms. Yet it must also confuse them. Poor people are scum, but corporations are captains of industry and wealth providers. Yet without poor people, companies like A4e, G4S and ATOS wouldn’t be able to turn a profit. It’s the kind of logical paradox that could cause their callous robotic minds to explode.
Still, dealing with A4e does give one an additional incentive to find work on one’s own. If they don’t find you a job, they don’t get paid. Maybe that’s been their game plan all along.
Get it done.