If You’re 5 Minutes Late…

mickeymouseWell, I had the first day of the Work Programme today. It started at 9am (which I am not used to getting up at any more!) Unfortunately I had an awful night’s sleep, what with coughing (I have a cold) and worrying about being sanctioned, I think I got a couple of uncomfortable hours but that was it. However, it was an absolutely stunning day today weather-wise, so that cheered me up.

I arrived about ten minutes early, thanks to my dad deciding to give me a lift to the council offices where it is held. There were three other women already waiting in the waiting area, one of whom I know from the local working men’s club (not that I spend a great deal of time there) and from the ladies’ darts. We were called in by the Employment Coach at nine precisely, where she informed us that there were due to be two other people coming, two men, and as they were not there at exactly nine o’clock, she was going to mark them as “Did not attend” on her computer. At 9.05am one of the men arrived, tried to explain why he was late (I didn’t hear the reason), but was sent off home and we were told that his benefits would probably be sanctioned (taken away/reduced) because he failed to attend the Work Programme.

That set the tone for the first half hour or so, where the Employment Coach explained to us all the things we are required to do (for fear of losing our benefits) although I had the impression that as I am on ESA, not all of them applied to me. For instance I am not required to sign on, go to the Jobcentre and fill out job applications, and while I am told I must attend any courses that I am asked to do by the Work Programme, I do not have to apply for any jobs in particular. This is helpful, as I have a fear that I will be asked/told to apply for care assistant jobs, which I know are something which will make me unwell.

After we had filled out the forms (equal opportunities monitoring, stuff to say that we had understood what we had been told, and a form about skills, what we want from the Work Programme, and such) we were called into a one-on-one meeting with the lady. Mine was fine, really, she was a lot nicer and less hard than she was with the late guy, I suspect that she is a nice person who has been told she must act in a certain way/read a certain script, as part of her job. We talked about my feeling that it is my lack of concrete skills that are holding me back, as I am competing against loads of other people, most of whom will not have mental health problems and large amounts of sickness absence. She said she would refer me to the careers people who could help me think of re-skilling and maybe finding a job that way.

Talking to my friend tonight (who works for A4e) she said that it is unlikely they will find much for me – as a degree-holder I am ineligible for student finance or for apprenticeships, so either I will have to do a course that is free locally (a possibility) or pay for a course, come off  benefits and somehow survive with nothing. But you never know, and I am trying to stay positive.

After my meeting with the lady, I was free to go – it took about an hour in total. I went home, then we went off to a shopping centre, where I bought a small Mickey Mouse. Not too bad all in all, and the lady was quite clear that it is difficult to get anyone in our area into work, particularly if they have a disability, and particularly if that includes not being allowed to drive. It is unlikely I will find anything much, I realise that, but I remain hopeful. Perhaps some voluntary work is the answer – but I would particularly like to do Christian work. Perhaps if I approach the Baptists, they are active in the town, they might have something I can volunteer with. I know them quite well from the free coffee van/street pastors type thing I do once a month anyway.

One thing I noticed is that the lady I saw was not employed by Avanta, one of the contractors the DWP is using for the Work Programme in my area, but by the local council. It appears that Avanta is subcontracting back to the public sector – which seems like a massive waste of money to me. But that is the ConDem government and their keenness on privatisation for you. (To be fair, the Labour government, Tory-lite were pretty much the same).

I don’t know if the Work Programme will help me, but I feel more secure in thinking that they will not take my benefits away nor force me into an unsuitable job. I wish the government would help those of us who have done a degree which does not lead to a job (I loved doing divinity but realistically, there is only teaching or preaching coming out of that course) and help us retrain. There must be lots of people who did arts based subjects, or those weird ones they do at ex-Polys, who realise later that they should have done physics, or engineering, or whatever. It seems we are ignored, which is a shame.

Anyway, feeling better now, and no date set for when I see them again. Apparently they will ring me.

Thanks very much for the prayers, really very much appreciated.

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