The Great Government Work Programme Swindle.

I recently wrote an article on the year four review of the Work Capability Assessment for a local mental health charity. The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is the tool being used by the government to assess whether those who are ill or disabled are capable of working, and in the foreword to the government's response to the review, the Minister of State for Disabled People, the Rt. Hon. Mike Penning MP, stated: "... my key aim is to prevent people being written off to a life on benefits because of a health condition or disability. The links between health and work are well known... The Work Capability Assessment is a key part of the Government's goal to ensure that all people who can work, regardless of their health condition or disability, are given the opportunity to do so." Indeed, Mr. Penning is himself disabled, and his apparently fervent belief in giving people the chance to work would seem to come from hard personal experience.
So, one could be forgiven for thinking that this all sounds rather good. I have often spoken about my own wish to find some kind of appropriate work, given the mental health condition I am said to have. Indeed, I have also sometimes pointed to the fact that willingness to work among those with experience of mental ill health is said to be high.
So, what actually happens if you are deemed fit to work by the Work Capability Assessment? For a start, you will probably have to engage with the government's Work Programme. According to the government's own website, the Work Programme "provides support, work experience and training for up to 2 years to help people find and stay in work." You have to join the Work Programme if you have either been getting Jobseeker's Allowance for more than 3 months, or you get Employment and Support Allowance and are in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG). If you are still on the Work Programme after 2 years, you have to attend an "assessment interview" with Jobcentre Plus.
Forgive me for saying so, but this is all beginning to sound a little more ominous than I first thought. I may be paranoid, but all this bureaucracy has me falling into some kind of Kafka-inspired Orwellian nightmare, a feeling which isn't helped by the findings of a recent survey by the mental health charity, Mind.
The survey was carried out over the last year by Catherine Hale, herself a sufferer of ME. Although she does not have a mental health diagnosis, she feels that her own experience with the Work Programme has led to her developing an unhealthy amount of anxiety. So, she gathered together the experiences of over 500 people in order to see how those with illnesses or disabilities were being treated by the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus. As is so often the case with such surveys, the findings are shocking, revealing a system which is a far cry from the Utopian ideals set out by the government.
The survey found that, unsurprisingly, and one might add, contrary to media and government propaganda, most people wanted to work, but found that their health problems, in particular anxiety, were making it difficult for them to move towards this goal. Secondly, the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus were found to be pushing people into generic activities such as CV writing classes rather than providing specialist support to help them overcome their barriers to working. Thirdly, the inappropriateness of these activities and the threat of benefits being cut if people failed to engage with them was leading to people feeling extremely anxious. Lastly, and perhaps most tellingly, most said that their health, confidence and sense of purpose in life were all worse after engaging with the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus.
All this, then, seems a far cry from the stated aims of the government. I have yet to engage with the Work Programme, but in my brief dealings with Jobcentre Plus, I can decidedly say that after initial enthusiasm I was left wondering just why I had bothered to even take the time to go to see a Disability Employment Adviser. And, with this latest survey, perhaps one might more appropriately call the government's Work Programme, "The Great Government Work Programme Swindle."    


bazza said…
I don't have any problems with people being (honestly acquired) super-rich but I do wish that the government would show the same fervour to stop tax avoidance and evasion, dodgy off-shore banking and similar schemes. It they did, then all of this aggressive policy towards the disabled (mental or physical) would not be necessary. Or am I being rather naive?
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Hi bazza,
I agree that stopping tax avoidance and evasion and off-shore banking may help our economy, but I also think that the aggressive policy towards all those who receive benefits is perhaps just part of a right-wing wish to dismantle the welfare state. I don't think that will necessarily change unless we have someone in power who doesn't share the currently dominant neoliberal philosophy.
Thanks, as always, for your interest, bazza.
Best Wishes,
Dixie@dcrelief said…
Hi David,
As always, your posts cause me to ponder my own life, and locale. Thank you for that. Across the pond it would seem everyone is being groomed to accept some form of government subsidy. Help I accepted two years ago is so invasive; a continual "need to know" every detail of my life. There simply is no privacy. You do it or lose it.
I can certainly appreciate the comments from you and bazza.
Take care, David, I enjoyed visiting.

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