Poverty Pimps March On – A4E Close Local Law Centre

Hull’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) is set to close after the local council awarded a new contract for legal advice to corporate scumbags Action for Employment (A4E).

A4E are better known for harassing benefit claimants and providing low quality training on the government’s New Deal scheme. A racket which has made their founder, Emma Harrison, a multi-millionaire on the back of government contracts to bully some of the most vulnerable in society.

This new move of branching out into legal advice has angered the fine folk of Humberside with several protests being held at the closure of a popular community resource which has provided legal advice to 13500 people in the past year. 55 jobs are set to be lost.

No doubt to be replaced by identikit, poorly paid and under-qualified workers, most of whom are former benefit claimants bullied into being there so A4E can pick up almost 2 grand for finding them work.

The fact that staff rarely last in the job more than a couple of months is good business for A4E, once their former employees are back on benefit they can return to the organisation for yet more poor quality training and ‘job search’.

The appalling treatment of the people A4E call clients is matched only by their disgraceful treatment of their own workforce. One former staff member who worked in the now closed Camden branch told the void:

“I was quite shocked at the low salary I was offered which was a good 25% below what you’d expect to receive for a similar position, but I needed a job and foolishly took up the position. I was even more shocked to be told on my first day that telling any of my colleagues my salary was a sackable offence.

A few weeks in I realised why when after a few drinks after work I discovered I was actually the best paid person there, with many of my colleagues on little more than the minimum wage for skilled positions such as IT trainers.

I received no induction and scant support from a manager who was rarely present. I never received a contract. Although my working hours were 9-5.30 I was told that I was expected to be there at 8.30am ‘to prepare’. Lunch was half an hour, barely long enough to buy and eat food (if you could afford food) and there were no breaks.

The training being offered to the claimants was appalling bad and not at all relevant, even bordering on surreal.  18 year old inner London kids being trained on how to apply for a mortgage, or fresh graduates being forced to sit through adult literacy training.  Group sizes could be as large as 30 with many others floating around the building doing nothing at all. This was because A4E weren’t able to find work experience placements for people which left them forced to attend the offices for 30 hours a week and do precisely nothing.

I don’t think one of the people I was involved in training found paid work except for one guy who was co-opted to work for A4E under threat of benefit sanctions. Every client was supposed to have an ‘Individual Training Plan’ which was specifically tailored to their needs. I was therefore shocked when I was handed a photocopied training plan and told to copy it out for every single client.

As far as I could tell, every A4E client in the country, thousands of them, had the exact same ‘Individual Training Plan’. There was no computer access, one phone and a rag tag selection of out of date newspapers which were to be used for the clients to find work. Clients were not provided with any lunch and many were unable to buy it at Central London prices so most of them went all day without any food.

The final straw came for me when a new manager decided to illegally increase the clients time on the programme by two and a half hours a week, forcing them to attend the centre to do nothing for over the allotted 30 hours. No reason was given for this move which also increased the staff’s already punishing workload.

After making several complaints to my manager and encouraging clients to do the same on the A4E complaints line (which was never answered) I was sacked without any diciplinary hearing or prior warning.

I wasn’t sorry to leave.”

27 responses to “Poverty Pimps March On – A4E Close Local Law Centre

  1. I was at A4e 5 years ago, here in Leeds (W. Yorks) You are 100% right in what you say!!! Many of the ‘tutors’ were rude, uncooperative and plain useless.

    I was supposed to be on ‘media and design course’. The course did not exist!!! When I inquired as to why my ‘course’ did not exist, I was told it never existed. I complained to my Mew Deal advisor who replied “it looks like they’re getting money for things they’re not providing then”. I was speechless as to this admission of waste, no fraudulent usage of taxes. My New Deal advisor did nothing of course!

    The facilities were dirty, e.g. no soap in the toilets and filthy cups.

    There were 4 PC’s for general use despite there being a computer room on the ground floor. Only two of those PC’s had an Internet connection which was really slow dial-up. There was just one telephone for 30 or so people to use. With this you had to arrange your own work experience.

    The newspapers were 2 weeks out of date and the telephone directories and the Yellow Pages were 2 YEARS out of date!!! How were you expected to arrange any sort of interview or find current addresses and phone numbers with such out of date info??? Crazy!!! Crazy and corrupt!!!

    A chap from the Job Centre visited A4e once a week to check on things. When I made a series of complaints to him, I was told by an A4e harpie that I was ‘out of order’. So much for tact and confidentiality. I also saw a lady at a nearby mentoring service. She’d heard good things about A4e. When I and others made it clear how bad A4e was, she changed her mind almost overnight.

    The above was, believe it or not, just a brief snapshot of how bad A4e was and still is!!! This govt in not just wasting tax money on A4e and other private providers, but is involved in fraud, lies and corruption up to its eyeballs. When you attend A4e or similar for 13 weeks, you are taken off the unemployment register. It looks like you have a job to the statistics. However, you, I, the DWP and A4e know you haven’t!!!

    A4e needs shutting down NOW!! However, it will not happen as it will simply reveal this governments lies, fraud and corruption.

    I speak as a former Labour voter. I will not vote Labour again.

  2. thanks for that, top comment

  3. In Holloway they stop people’s benefits for the ‘wrong attitude’ – actual words of the suited wanker. Theses racist pricks also get millions off the EU for getting working class black people into shit jobs ( see how multiculturalism works – it only benefits corporations, NGO scumbags, bent councillors, and self-proclaimed community leaders with a penchant for cheap labour – yep multiculturalism is about class war – the elephant in the room). I nearly got evicted last time I was on their course – next time I will take flyers. The do sham training and made their money out of exploiting the destruction of the textile, steel and coal industries and the subsequent rise of casualisation. There was blatant bullying on the course and the advice given was innacurate to say the least ( see also Kennedy Scott where I found an overpaid Aussie trying to give me job advice about a jobset she didn’t know and without knowing jack. The multicuralrascim does come in here though the arguments are long and not black and white ( no pun intended ).

    As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, one of the purposes of multiculturalism is to keep well paid windbags employed.

    It also helps divide up communities along race lines and helps the fash BNP when we should be looking at the suits and the Guardian reading fuckwits who benefit from all this.

    Did I mention Lindsay Gerbil and the SWP yet????

  4. I have been a client of A4e and was appauled by how i was treated, i will start by telling you a little of my background, i had hit rock bottom in my life, lost my job and was living in a hostel with a lot of debt and was trying to rebuild everything i’d lost. I was waiting to start university and had already been accepted. Because of the situation i was in at the time, i could not afford to take a minimum wage job and was waiting for council housing to become available. I was in a supported hostel for young girls and if you start work the weekly rent is extortionate. Regardless of my personal circumstances i was forced to go to A4e and told i would lose my benefits if i didn’t attend. I already had low self esteem because i hadn’t worked for the last 6 months and had tried to get a job that would cover all of my bills, i had even voluntarily taken up typing courses and had got my level 3 quals in the hope that i could get a job that paid enough. I was also waiting to start voluntary work at citizen advice but i couldn’t start there because of attending A4e. My jobcentre advisor was very sympathetic because i was trying so hard and didn’t seem to be getting anywhere and tried to put off A4e as long as possible as she knew i’d been accepted into university and it was only a matter of weeks until i started. Finally my first day arrived at A4e and i felt pretty confident that these people are here to help me find work and that they would support me into a job. I was so wrong, from the moment i stepped through the door on the monday i felt trapped, after the first day induction we moved onto cv writing and cover letter writing, to which i told my tutor i had a cover letter for every occassion and an up to date well written cv (which everyone whom i have shown it to has commented that it is the best cv they’ve seen) and i asked if i was able to jobsearch and was told that i wasn’t allowed to as it was a structured timetable. They then told me that i had to sign a peice of paper saying that they’d helped me produce my well written cv and cover letter, even though they hadn’t which really disgusted me (the tutor wasn’t able to write a cv as well as the cv i had produced but would still take all the credit and tick the boxes that would eventually go towards there statistics) most days would consist of job search all day, there were only 3 or 4 computers in the room between about 20 people and a couple of newspapers to share. Every now and again they would make you do something like a presentation or play a game and when i asked to not participate but instead continue job searching in a different room where i could have peace and quiet i was told that i had to participate. But throughtout the whole experience i had to put up with other clients of A4e being rude, disruptive and swearing without any repramand. I explained on more than one occassion my personal situation and that i could only accept a job that was over minimum wage (i wasn’t being unreasonable as i had the quals and experience to get a admin job that paid a lot more than minimum wage). When they kept trying to offer me jobs that i simply could not take i eventually broke down and i told my tutor i couldn’t handle it anymore i was sent to see a guy upstairs that was meant to help with any personal issues i might have. He started off by telling me that not even his own boss would know what we had discussed in that room and that his boss didn’t even know what was discussed with clients. After discussing my circumstances yet again i was told that i should go into private rented accomodation so i could get a job. They didn’t take into account that i had been advised by my key worker (at the hostel) that to move into private rented accomodation at this time would have been detrimental to my life and that i would have probably have ended up back in the hostel and that i needed a secure and safe environment because i was feeling very vulnerable at the time. He also told me that he didn’t think university was a good idea for me as i obviously wasn’t stable (as i kept on getting upset because i was never listened to and was hating my experience) I was also told that i should really try to find work fast as if i had to come back to the 13 week course i wouldn’t handle it and he then went on to tell me of fully grown men that broke down because they could not handle that course (i really felt i was being bullied into accepting any job). After he had asked me whether i felt i was vulnerable and i had replied yes he continued to make jokes saying i could come and live with him and that he could be my sugar daddy. I felt very vulnerable then, i had stayed late to have this chat and there was only a couple of people still in the building and none were we were sat in his tiny office which was literally a cupboard. Previous to him being very unprofessional, i had told him that i used to attend a mental health clinic as i had previously had depression through everything going down hill in my life around that time and he continued to tell me that he had worked at the same clinic but had been sacked and that the claims someone had made against him had been false and that he knew he was in the right. I was pretty freaked out when i left and felt that i couldn’t say anything to anyone at A4e as anything i said seemed to come back really badly against me. I really wanted to say something to protect other young vulnerable girls from his passes. He was very unprofessional that day, i couldn’t tell you whether that is just who he is or whether he was some sort of pervert but he really shouldn’t be saying anything like what he did. After he had shattered my hope for university i went back to see my key worker very upset and told her what had happened, she reassured me once again that i was very bright and i could achieve anything that i wanted to in life and not to listen to other people. I went back the next day and yet again got uncontrollably upset as i was dealing with a lot of things happening in my home life, i was sent to some sort of manager in a main office area with loads of other people there and this woman told me that i should go onto anti depressants and that would be the only way that i wouldn’t have to attend A4e anymore- who the hell did she think she was, making me feel so small in front of everyone. Afterall all i needed to feel fine again was a stable home environment just like every other human being, to feel safe and secure is the most important thing in anyones life. Apparently you either fit into one box or the other when your feeling low because of life events, you either have to have depression or you are fit and well but in an environment like the one they put people into a whole lot of people would have low self esteem and not be feeling at their best.
    Now i am currently on a social work degree and doing very well for myself but only because of the total support i received in the hostel. A4e obviously aims to get people into work without helping with any obstacles standing in clients way. If they get their statistics to say that some many people have been introduced back into work then the government will feel that they have acheived what they need to, cutting funding for citizen advice is the worst thing this government has ever done, CAB aren’t just about helping people back into work but breaking down the barriers in clients lives to ensure that they feel able to work and i would put money on it that citizen advice enable people to keep a job longer and promote people working more any other employment service. There are no such thing as lazy people who don’t want to work but there are plenty of people who haven’t been shown that working is a good way of life or that have no way of breaking down the barriers in their lives that stop them from working.

  5. Pingback: A4E - More from the poverty pimps « the void

  6. I worked for these greedy bastards, the worst job I ever had with the biggest bunch of corperate idiots of all time.
    Ive reported a4e to the basic skills agecny and dwp and predictably nowt has happened.
    scum of the earth!

  7. It seems A4e can get away with just about anything. It’s absolutely scandalous, not matter how many complaints are made against A4e or evidence of fraud. I could almost believe Emma Harrison makes secret donations to the Labour party.

  8. Pingback: A4e Internet Censorship – Call For Support « the void

  9. Fat lez the taxi driver

    Not all of a4e’s are the same, and i hope some ppl will comment the same as me and stand up for the ones who have tried to help clients, to this need i would like to thank AndrewW, worked at york a4e, and Lydia A, and David C.

    Andy was a good guy and told us things straight, he really helped to sort out your cv and was full of info on how to find training and jobs.

    Lydia Aarons was brilliant, as when she started the job as trainer, she had not got a clue of what she had let herself in for, she had not worked with long term unemployed with drink/drug/mental issues, in the first week she managed to make an innocent comment that was taken the wrong way by a client that i had to be ready to stand in as i thought he was really going to hit her. after a few weeks i think she got the swing of it, we became friends etc and I could see she really wanted to help, but the management stalled every good idea she had, shes not there now, i can only guess she left in frustration, as she really wanted to help people.

    David, hits the nail on the head everytime, but i think he looks tired of the job.

    a4e york has a fair few computers to use, but your watched, apart fro that its just a dumping ground for the long term unemployed.

    when i started my 13 weeks, i was with the 12 others for two weeks with no trainer and just a daily newspaper, when i asked why no trainer, they said we were not trainees, but beneficiary’s, and should just benefit from our time their.

    they didnt get me a job, i left and went self employed, which was my original plan, and why i started a4e was to get book keeping training, never got any, now i’m out of a job and thousands in debt lol

  10. in hull A4e got a contract for advice services and some staff who transferred are now going thru employment tribunal for their rights to notice. of course A4e claim they cannot afford to pay in lieu when those people were made redundant. A4e will be answering some questions in hull 6 october, wilberforce court empl tribunal, all welcome!

  11. I am registered dis-abled, volunteer for the MS society and found A4e to be full of slick silver-tongued operators, who have to hit their targets. On numerous occasions I was thrown out because they were having a team meeting.

    I would hope that most of them do want to help people get into jobs and not just hit their targets but numerous things make me think otherwise.

    1. I took a job up that I got through A4e, the company did not pay(and never will) for three months and decided not to work for them anymore as I had incurred costs.

    – A4e were no use and simply gave me a leaflet to inquire about resorting to legal action!

    – to compound the problem the ‘firm’ used my personal details they obtained from my application to open a business bank account(the fraud would be complete if they can take out loans against my name!)

    2. I received applications that I had applied for being returned to my home address because of the postal not being paid.

    3. A4e had no real help for the disabled or ethnic minorities. In fact the A4e workforce did not reflection the british population make-up.

    4. End of the day it is just another talking shop and clearly not going to care too much about the cattle fodder if they just need to hit targets.

    5. I saw a elderly blue-eyed unwell man told in no uncertain terms that he had to take a cleaning job which would exacerbate his back pain.

    I have kept all documentary evidence if collectively we need to do a case against Emma!

  12. A4E and the pathways provider are the same G(reed) in partnership pure scum we need direct action

  13. I suffered at the hands of A4E. They failed to supply a disabled person with large print despite being told on numerous occasions that I needed large print. They then threatened me with sanctions if i didnt apply for a teaching job eventhough I hadn got no qualification for that. The failed me they threatend me they lied to me and about me to the dwp. And to top it of they palmed me off onto Beaconcentre 4 the blind and there I have been since 20th march. Ihad aproblem with travel and couldnt use buses they threatend me about that and they told me I had to phone a mobile phone if i wanted my travel costs back. Oh it gets worse

  14. Pingback: A4e Lose Details of 24,000 People « the void

  15. Pingback: IDS’ Same Old Deal on Benefit Reform Will Punish The Sick | the void

  16. I’m trying to make a complaint about A4E Leeds at the moment and can’t even find out who to make it to, first lady on the DWP Incap team told me to complain to Neil Armstrong at Leeds BDC and i thought she was having me on so I rung back a week later to see if i got the same answer, the 2nd lady put the phone down on me just for asking politely, then the 3rd one told me it’s David Jones, which if i’m not mistaken is the real name of David Bowie. I can’t google up either of those names in connection with Leeds BDC who i was told to complain to.

    A4E Leeds tried to push me into care work, which i’m not trained for, wouldn’t be comfortable with and wouldn’t be able to manage, then the idiots tried to threaten to sanction me on 3 seperate occassions ~after~ my Incapacity Benefit had been stopped lol you can guess how successful that was. They really are beyond belief.

  17. I am surprised opposition was so toothless to call me ‘Dave’s’ pronoucement that ‘We are all in this together’!
    Job creation does not manifest from a cuts agenda.
    The only party that broadly got it right was the Green Party. How can it be right that people like ~Mr Green owner of the Arcadia group avoid paying millions in tax through loop-holes and off-shore accounts(THERES 1000’S LIKE HIM-RIPPING OFF THE SYSTEM!
    I’m afraid New Labour same ol tory shite policies gave the multi million pound contract to A4e!

  18. I 4got 2 mention Lord Young who say’s
    ‘we have never had it so good’

    Plz take care everyone-keep warm and be of good cheer!

  19. Hello all,

    I do feel extremely sorry for you. Well i’m exactly the same as you lot and I will tell you the best joke ive had this year with a4e on the 6th january 2010

    Advisor name is Susan quote – “Are you afraid of getting a job”.
    (You do have to admit that the encouragement is really high there)

    The best part on the same day is also the sanction because I received a phone call before christmas about poundland work placement I said I think about doing Work Placement at Poundland and a few days later received a phone call about another placemen (that sounded better and it was also an option).
    On my next “precious” meeting at A4e Susan was saying what was your excuse for not going to the introduction day at poundland and there came the sanction (on human rights wow i feel like im in Zimbabwe). I talked with the placement provider name is called “ruth” she mention she typed up the phone conversation log and surprise surprise what I said to ruth wasn’t typed up (what a conspiracy). Best part I think A4e Staff was a little nervous actually defentley about the law suit I said I would bring up with the EU you think they over heard?.

    Can I please ask you to read my blog upon a4e and at the mean time I also personally feel that I am going to talk to the government face to face because honestly I think everyone now is getting fed up of all the bullshit that is being fed by the government, JCP and defently A4e

    I was also thinking it’s going to be pretty funny to see Ian Duncan Smith face if you have to work for your benefits I can only think of two words

    “Civil War”

  20. People of britain. i have started the A4E course. its a hell hole. i call it hell on earth. People shouldnt be forced onto a course they do not want to go on. plus i think the toilets are disgusting. it stinks of feces. and they are bars on the windows. i mean how depressing does that make you feel. I hate the place so much. plus the kitchen has a weird spring on it like a prison cell very small kitched and all the cups are dity. i brought my own cup in thats how bad it was. i think that A4E staff are useless. they dont help you at all. just expect to sit in a room and do nothing but search for job.s all day. i fell like punching the hell out of all the staff that work there. THIS IS THE GOVEMENTS FAULT SCREWING PEOPLES LIFES BY MAKING THEM have a life of missery.

  21. I was one of the many to end up at A4E in 2009 and despite starting some voluntary work with one of Cancer Research UK’s charity shops in order to get some retail experience, I was told to go to A4E, despite my New Deal Advisor already knowing that I was doing this voluntary work in order to gain some experience. So I went onto the A4E Pathways Program first for two weeks. During those two weeks, we had learnt nothing except that the staff were quite rude, the kitchen area was too small for the class, the computers were useless and so was the person responsible for sorting out our CV’s.
    Then I went away from that program, having only learnt all of the above and onto the thirteen week course. Luckily enough, I was only within the office for the induction week before going onto a placement with Poundland. However, once again the staff were rude and the stories they had told were horrible. In fact, most of our time was “story-time” while I was there. One “tutor” reckoned that he had been in a Reggae band and that his wife had been threatened while they were holiday-ing in Jamaica. Then there was one story I had heard on the Pathways Program from one of the staff members who used to go back and forth between the Pontypool and Newport buildings, that someone had urinated into the kettle.
    On the mention of the kettle, it was filthy and our only cups were plastic cups, which once they were gone in that first week, were gone entirely for that week. The toilets were dirty and the locks on both cubicles in each toilet were broken, meaning anyone could come in if you weren’t holding the door closed. The building itself was generally dirty and the only elevator they had there kept breaking down, meaning the building wasn’t very disabled friendly either. And also you could smell the smoke of people smoking weed from outside of the building, making it very unpleasant for people who were inside. The work we had to do was also a joke. Watching The Apprentice is perhaps a fine example of how things work in the business world but most of us were not in it to work in business such as that.
    Anyway, I eventually got onto the placement with Poundland in Cwmbran, having already become fed up of A4E and willing to do anything in order to get a job. We were always told to fill out our timesheets no matter what otherwise we would not get paid, although no one came to pick them up and we were still paid our benefits. However, they did expect us to go down to the Newport offices just to hand in one sheet of paper. It was very expensive travelling for me. Eventually, I did stop doing that, knowing that my benefit would not be affected (plus I was fed up of being insulted all the time by those who didn’t even try to get a job.)
    For two months, I worked at Poundland and although they promised it would turn into a job for me, nothing ever came out of it. I felt like slave labour, like I had just been used completely in order for the needs of A4E and Poundland who were clearly looking for cheap labour. I have, since leaving A4E, eventually finished up my voluntary work with Cancer Research UK after the shop closed on December 19th 2009. After that, I had a job in the Future Jobs Fund office in Torfaen Training for six months, before leaving after my contract came to a close and now I am working for the British Red Cross as a Volunteer in order to gain more Retail experience.

    I was very happy to leave the thirteen week program behind me.

  22. doesnt get better

    I though A4e and Working links were bad but here in York they both lost contracts to the Jobcentre and it has now been replaced by a group either called intraining or prospect training. They are a farce and the woman who is my advisor is trying to push me into employment which I am not suited for. They have no manners either, making customers wait ages for an appointment which should have been half an hour ago. When I was at working Links at least you got offered a cup of tea or coffee, there is nothing like that now, its cold and sterile, it maybe has something to do with the coalition im not sure but the staff are horrible and there is one women who thinks she is great but she is arrogant.

  23. I went to the ‘Hardest hit rally’ on the 22nd of October in Leeds. The rows of police added little to the occasion. I suppose they were paid over-time to stand there! Dave say’s
    ‘We are all in this together’
    If we are clearly the pain is going to be felt by the weak and vunerable first as they are used to it and an easy target.

  24. Pingback: Is A4e’s Workfare Scam Falling Apart? | the void

  25. Re. Emma Harrison: Whey-hey! Now the shit’s really hitting the fan!
    I too have had the unfortunate experience of being despatched to A4e. This was in summer 2009, and the whole thing’s been simmering away in my mind ever since. I’ve at last discovered your website, so I’m really, really pleased to be able to share my experience with you guys.

    Well, I’ve never been on such a useless, time-wasting, and utterly worthless course in my life. The so-called “Trainer” was an absolute nightmare. She was:

    • Ill-prepared;
    • A poor time-keeper;
    • Unable to control the group;
    • Unable to stick to the point.

    Here follows the story of my two days there.

    For clarity’s sake, here’s a list a list of the principal participants:

    • The “Trainer”;
    • The “Lads”;
    • “Colin” (not his real name);
    • and about half a dozen other captive participants.

    I should explain that the “Lads” were a couple of young men who were disruptive both verbally and in their body language (one of them spent a lot of his time picking up the nearest empty chair and putting it on top of his head, if you can imagine such a thing!). They did have had a tendency to dominate the discussion, raising topics which – as far as one could make out – were nothing to do with jobseeking. I should emphasise, however, that this is not intended to be a criticism of them – I appreciate they were behaving as well as they could, and their unchecked behaviour illustrates the Trainer’s total inability to control the group.

    I’ll kick off with the first afternoon (Monday). Following the morning session the Trainer advised all of us to be back in the room by 12.30pm following a half-hour lunch break. We were all back well in time, but the Trainer herself didn’t trouble to return until around 1.00pm. Once returned, she immediately drifted out of the room to talk to a colleague about something or other. She then came back in and started handing round some files. However, she didn’t bother to finish doing this herself, instead delegating the task to one of the Lads whilst once again she drifted out of the room in order to talk to somebody. Once back in the room, she got involved in an interminable three-cornered discussion with the Lads which, from what one could make out, had nothing to do with work.

    Ill-prepared. Eventually the Trainer was ready to write on the flipchart pad, but since there was only one sheet remaining and that already had a few words on it, she said she’d have to leave the room to get a new pad, which she did. By now I was well into the “God-Give-Me-Strength-between-gritted-teeth” mode. It was another interminable length of time before she returned with the flipchart, whereupon she wrote up the words “Benefits of Working”. She then asked us what the benefits of working were, whereupon one of us said “Money”. So she wrote the word “Money” on the chart – somewhat ironic in view of the fact that A4e specialises in pushing people into “work experience”, i.e. work you don’t get paid for!

    At this juncture a nice laid-back, long-haired guy called Colin pointed out that it had taken her no fewer than 90 minutes to effectively do nothing other than write four words on a flipchart. Whereupon she immediately went on the offensive and accused him of having failed so far to make any contribution to the session – she said at least the Lads were doing that. This I thought was unnecessarily aggressive and humiliating, a nasty piece of psychological bullying. And A4e claims to build up your confidence……! Quite apart from the fact he’d made a very valid point regarding the poor quality of the delivery.

    When it came to yet another of the many irregular refreshment breaks I couldn’t resist approaching Colin and thanking him for saying just what I wanted to say myself but hadn’t dared to. He was, however, very apologetic and said words to the effect he realised he had a problem with “anger management”. I’m not at all sure I was successful in convincing him there are times when anger is a right and proper reaction to a situation! (“Anger management” would appear to be one of those things like having “an attitude problem”, i.e. a cheap and easy putdown when you want to degrade somebody without good reason.)

    As it was, Colin made a point of contributing quite a bit to the afternoon discussions, obviously mindful of the Trainer’s strictures on his earlier supposed non-contribution. I wasn’t best pleased to find he now felt obliged to apologise to the group publicly for his earlier “anger”. So much for A4e’s claims to boost people’s confidence.

    A poor time-keeper. Talking of refreshment breaks, during both the Monday and the Tuesday the Trainer spent much of her time sitting at her computer snacking inconsequentially. This struck me as being thoroughly unprofessional – surely any programme purporting to get people into good working habits should be well focussed and should provide some kind of meaningful structure to the day? Especially when we were the ones supposedly at fault…!

    By the end of Monday’s session, which dragged on for a good seven hours, all the Trainer had done was:
    • Hand out and take in 2 tests (see below);
    • Write a few words on a flipchart;
    • Hand out a few files. And she didn’t even bother to finish this job herself.

    Inability to control the group. Well, yes, the Lads were contributing in their own way. But surely any trainer worth their salt would know how to steer the discussion in a direction that was relevant to everyone in the room and that involved an active contribution from the other group members, instead of allowing all this interminable rambling? The situation wasn’t helped by the fact the door to the room was wide open at all times, and the Trainer’s colleagues and other service users were constantly drifting in and out, wandering around having an offhand natter with each other about this, that and the other.

    Inability to stick to the point. It wasn’t just the Lads who were behaving in a way that was distracting our attention away from what we were supposedly there for. The Trainer spent a lot of time whittering on about how she had a mountain bike but didn’t like to ride it in the city centre because of the traffic. What this had to do with jobseeking, God only knows.

    The Lads weren’t there on the Tuesday. However, this was no barrier to the session being just as slow-moving, with the Trainer spending half the morning maundering on about Michael Jackson’s funeral arrangements. What this had to do with jobseeking… well! And they call it the “Intensive Activity” period??!!! I’m sorry, but the only intensive activities on offer were intensive boredom. And frustration. And bugger all in the way of “activity”. At one point I did corroborate her point about the Lads meaning well, but was very taken aback when she took this observation and used it against Colin, comparing his supposed inability to make a contribution unfavourably with the Lads’ participation. This had been far from my intention, but I didn’t dare say so.

    About the tests: there were two of them on the Monday morning. Well, I have 10 “O” Levels, including English Language and Mathematics, 3 “A” Levels, a degree in English, a Diploma in Librarianship, and a PhD. If someone had given me a crystal ball 20 or 30 years ago, I’d never have dreamed I’d be spending the week before my 56th birthday doing compulsory tests to prove that I can read: (“Which of these signs says CAUTION – SLIPPERY FLOOR?”), and to prove that I can count from one to eight: (“How many people are there in this picture?”). If I’d known this then, I really think I’d have been tempted to top myself.

    So much for A4e’s assertion that “There are various courses available, and I would like to stress that no two courses are the same as we are all individuals. We will base your course around what you need; ensuring that you’re [sic] training is realistic* to your job goal.” (* I think they mean “relevant” rather than “realistic”. However, I’ll let this pass. They’re the experts, after all)

    All this was frustrating enough as it was, but particularly so in my case because until then I had been working towards setting up my own business. A wonderful business with a completely new and original product that was exciting the interest of everyone I spoke to about it. I had by the summer of 2009 forged a very fruitful relationship with a local provider of business support, and was working with an excellent local organisation that offered the opportunity to study for an NVQ, with one of their representatives acting as my New Deal Adviser. They were extremely knowledgeable and supportive, and we were enjoying a really good relationship… until Jobcentre Plus informed me their contract had been terminated, and I was to attend A4e sessions instead.

    I wasn’t getting my business going fast enough, they said. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only person who can’t get a business up and running within a couple of weeks. It takes time. Time to identify potential funders and suppliers. Time to provide them with the necessary data. Time for them to formulate their reply. And you need to take on board the fact you’re by no means their only customer. Rome wasn’t, after all, built in a day. What made things all the worse that my time at A4e coincided with a time when my email and internet access had been suspended because I couldn’t afford to pay the bill, and the only place – another local training provider, and a really good one – which offered computer access had limited opening hours which unfortunately clashed with the obligatory A4e attendance hours. So bang went any business contacts for the duration.

    The Jobcentre wouldn’t accept this. With the result I had the rug pulled from beneath my feet, and was dragged kicking and screaming away, as it were, from my beloved business plan and thrust into the clutches of the ghastly A4e.

    Well, I admit they didn’t actively prevent me from working on my plan. But they made it perfectly clear the idea was invalid as a way of earning a living, was only to be worked on as a hobby; and had nothing whatever to do with getting a “real” job. This was made only too clear at one such Interrogation by The Jobbzstapo where, despite my having gone to the trouble of compiling a detailed document setting out the various stages I’d reach with my plan, I saw this set aside without the Interrogator even glancing at it. What I really needed, she said, was a “short-term goal”, she said, as she clattered away on the keyboard without looking at me, eyes staring fixedly at the screen in desperate search for call-centre drudgery positions – last in, first out, “flexible” (i.e. completely insecure) working conditions, see you again soon once they sling you back on the scrap heap kind of jobbz.

    I eventually decided to confront them about who had decided to ditch my excellent business planning consultants – was it them, the Dolerama? The DWP? Or a bit of both? And why? I didn’t get a straight answer to this, only a vague assertion that it was probably a bit of both, but in any case such information was confidential and they weren’t authorised to tell me anything more.

    Somewhere or other knocking around on this site, or a related site, is a delightful picture of a protesting Homer Simpson sticking his finger up his arse.

    This picture says it all, really.

    Cheers, everyone,

    BeastAnd Superbeast

    PS: Without wishing to throw a spanner into the works or upset the apple cart or whatever, I should point out that all this happened under a Labour government.

  26. Julie Speedie

    Alarmed to find my real name given here! Can you please delete it? JS.

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