Thursday, 20 August 2009

Benefit Busters, episode 1

Well, what did you think?
There were figures for the costs of welfare benefits, but no figures for outcomes from this course or the cost of it. What proportion of lone parents on this course get permanent jobs?
Why did no one get feedback from the two women who dropped out after week one?
What happened to Jacqueline? She was the 36-year-old graduate with teaching experience. What specialist advice was available to her? Did she end up at Poundland?
Why was Hayley so thrilled to be travelling from Doncaster to Derbyshire for a cup of tea and a few words with Emma?
The techniques used by Hayley - breaking them down in order to build them up again, for instance - made me wonder what her qualifications are.
I totally agreed with the parting shot that when someone can't afford to take a job there's something wrong with the system; but where was the emphasis on the minimum wage involved in these jobs?
Judging from the trailer for next week, it could cause trouble in Hull.


  1. A few other points to consider:
    Why was the woman (forgot her name) with £75k of credit card debt not directed to her local CABwho could offer a payment plan and who would have written to her creditors explaining here situation?

    Why were other option such as an IVA (Individual Voluntary Agreement) not discussed or even bankruptcy? Not a decision to be taken lightly, but if I were £75k in debt, I'd consider it.

    She could have been put in touch with a debt councelling agency such as the CCCS (Consumer Credidir Councelling Service, an independant charity helping people in debt.

    All the above options could have started to get this woman out of debt without the need to use A4e. Of course, A4e would not make money if people went elsewhere for debt advice!

    An of course, what qualifications and training does Hayley have to counsel someone in massive debt? At least the CAB and CCCS have trianed members of staff.

  2. I enjoyed it, very entertaining. I would have also liked to have heard from the two that dropped out the course.
    Jacqueline, even before I know her background, looked like she had the best prospects of the group. Somehow I don't think she ended up at Poundland. But if there are any readers who live in Doncaster - perhaps they can update us on which of the group are still at Poundland?
    Some A4e staff are delighted to get an invitation from the great leader to visit Thornbridge Hall. And perhaps with her appearance on the show, Hayley senses she could be destined for super-stardom/promotion in the ever expanding A4e empire.
    I sense Hayley, with her direct approach, is a self-made woman. She certainly didn't strike me as someone with a HR background.
    What suprised me the most was how inarticulate Emma Harrison was. Did anyone else notice that?
    On the basis of the first show, I think it was a PR coup for A4e.

  3. But this was edited television, there was much more (probably good and bad) that happened off screen. Whether that included feedback, debt advice, additional counselling we will never likely know. It wasn't a corporate analysis of A4e, it was Thursday night television on the employment of lone mums so don't be surprised if every detail you want wasn't covered. As for the invite to spend time with the boss, I don't see anything too damning in that - just someone happy to be getting recognition for work she is obviously proud of.

    Having looked back over some of the commentary on this site I do have to say - without indulging in insults - that there seems to be rather an unhealthy obsession with the work of A4e on here. I wonder what drives a person to become quite so compulsively obsessed with Emma and her house plus the endless attempts to discredit what A4e are trying to achieve. I do recognise that they might not meet with the approval of all - either because you don't agree politically or socially with them - but if private enterprise in the public sector is your beef then surely there are crocodiles nearer to the boat than this one?

    End of the day, this is supply side economics in action. It isn't the draconian welfare state of the USA but it clearly shows that modern society, holistically, owes it to all its members to encourage them to make the most of their lives and not to rely on the long term largesse of the greater system. I didn't see one person last night who was happy with what life had given them and any attempts to aid them back to a life where they can be personally, socially and financially responsible and self supporting must surely be welcomed.

  4. Interesting post, Anon, but your middle paragraph shows you miss the point. "An unhealthy obsession"? - no, a focus on a particular company. Have you read the earliest posts on this blog? If you had, you might understand why there are so many people who want to open A4e up to scrutiny. Which particular "crocodiles nearer to the boat" did you have in mind?
    Your last paragraph sounds good but fails to address the question of whether this is the best way, the most cost-effective way, of helping people out of unemployment. Welfare-to-work contracts in this country have consistently, in the last few years since privatisation, missed their targets by miles. There are better ways of doing this than creating private millionaires.
    PS - can posters please create a pseudonym for themselves so that we can distinguish between various Anonymouses.

  5. Previously Anonymous21 August 2009 at 01:38

    1 - OK, maybe unhealthy obsession is a bit strong but I doubt I could maintain your enthusiasm to try and discredit A4e when you don't - to the best of my knowledge - have any personal investment to do so. It's not really a criticism, just something I find outside what I would want to be doing with my time.

    2 - Crocodiles such as PFI, private security programmes, outsourced services in schools and hospitals etc. Not saying they are bad, just that in the grand scheme of things the A4e piece of the puzzle is relatively small fry in the school of private enterprise liasing with the public sector. If that is your beef, and it may not be, then A4e seems a strange place to start.

    3 - Correct, I cannot say if this is the best way. However, to just say 'I'm not sure if this is the best way therefore lets discredit it' seems a rather strange way to try and progress society. As for whether or not 'private millionaires' are created - I can't help feeling that the over riding concern with many over the work of private enterprise in the public sector is not whether or not they do good but that someone else had an idea that makes money. If many get back to work, or benefit from any other private service, then it is fair and proper that some along the way benefit from this. If they don't, and I am not privy to data that suggests they don't, then we are in agreement that they should not benefit.

    In conclusion I would suggest there are two major issues here. One is that you do not feel you are being given insight as to how A4e make money. Sadly, they are a private company and as such you have no right to that information. That is the way it is and if you have concerns I would suggest they are better directed to those who engage their services - as they are the ones who have that power of questioning that you and I do not. Secondly, the fact that private enterprise makes profit working within the public sector is a fact of life that won't go away. As long as that is fair and appropriate anyone who shouts against it is pretty much wasting their time.

    Just to help me a little, in case I have completely misunderstood you, what is your preferred alternative? To have people on long term benefits is not one I find palatable and so, as such, I welcome attempts - even imperfect ones - to help correct that situation.

  6. What Anon forgot to mention is that A4e is a taxpayer funded business. And taxpayers have a right to know where their money is being spent.
    Emma Harrison is the biggest beneficary of the the so-called welfare state reforms, not the clients of the New Deal and all these other crackpot schemes.
    If you ask me, the lunatics have taken over the aslylum, and what a lucrative one it is for some.

  7. Anon, errr...have you noticed the title of this site - Watching A4e? The clue is in the title, hence the 'unhealthy obsession' with A4e. As for discrediting A4e, they do a rather good job of that themselves. All this site and others do is highlight the hypocracy and fraud within New Deal and various 'training' or welfare-to-work providers working within New Deal itself.

    As A4e is by far the biggest welfare-to-work provider. So it stands to reason it will recieve most attention. Just like Microsoft or Tesco are the biggest within their own sectors, they get more criticism than anyone else. However, At lest one can use other software and use another supermarket. If on New Deal, and A4e has the contract in your town or city, you have no option but to attend even if your local college offers 100 times more than A4e could ever provide. If this is private enterprise at work, where is the choice?

    And this is not about people not agreeing with A4e politically or socially. Most people here have had the misfortune to be former clients, are suffering as current clients or have worked for or with A4e so we know something about the ethics of tha company and how it works.

  8. I must say, Prev Anon, that this seems too big a discussion for this format, but I'll try.
    1. Again, I don't think you've read the early posts.
    2. Public services delivered by the private sector - huge subject, which many other people tackle. Homing in on one part of it enables one to look at details rather than generalisations.
    3. "If many get back to work" - have you looked at the figures? The results for New Deal in general (not just for A4e) were way below target even before the current recession hit.
    4. No one has said that we are not "being given insight into how A4e make money". Many posters on here are very knowledgeable about the sector and know it is financed. Indeed, if you are interested, the figures can all be found on the DWP website and elsewhere. As for directing our concerns to "those who engage their services" - it's public pressure which has made MPs start asking questions.
    You seem to get more pompous as you go along. "Preferred alternative"? - take New Deal back in house. Private training providers would still be used, but under the direction of the Jobcentres. Concentrate on real skills training and on addressing the issues which hinder people from being able or willing to work. Lots more could be said on this point, but I would urge you to look at the figures.

  9. Previously Anonymous21 August 2009 at 03:15

    Apologies if I come across as pompous, most definitely not my intent. Merely trying to observe from the other side of the fence.

    I'm all for public challenge but I do have to say that if you come at it with the approach of "taxpayers have a right to know where their money is being spent" then it will be a long and fruitless struggle that you embark on. Trident, foreign aid, bank bail outs, cost of the new swings on the school playing field - all costs that you and I have no chance of getting under the skin of, no matter how hard you try.

    Going to leave it there, I sadly don't have the time to engage in a debate that you rightly say is probably too big for this forum. However, I do hope MPs ask the questions and get the answers, I do hope there is transparency into the success rates of A4e and I do hope that people do get back to work as a result of their efforts. However, the impartiality of focus does seem tipped beyond the level and for that reason I also hope you do not discredit yourselves in the same way as some accuse A4e of doing.

    And as for whether or not Emma Harrison or AN Other makes some money along the way then good luck to them as long as it is deserved and propotionate. If A4e make £100m but save that and more on future benefit payments I for one would consider both to have been achieved.

  10. What you fail to look at Anon is the sher number of peoples who have completed a full 13 or even in some cases a 26 wk 'course' at not only A4e, but other providers who are sent back time and time again. If A4e and others were half as effective as you mistakenly believe, this would not happen.

    Take some time to look at various OFSTED reports than give many A4e branches an overall 'satisfactory' mark. Should this not be much better than just satisfactory given the £billions given to such providers over the past decade plus?

  11. I've just had a look at the comments on Channel 4's own website. Of those posted after the programme had gone out, there are 2 from women who say they were part of the group, both positive. Of the rest, apart from a few irrelevant ones, it's 37% against benefit claimants and 63% against Hayley, A4e or the concept of the contracts. And then there's a comment from Emma herself: "Hi - I am Emma from the programme. Looking at the comments - as is Hayley. Hayley you do a great job - transforming people's lives - and I have had many, many emails praising your approach. Many are from the the individuals that you have helped. To any of the people who have commented - critics included - if you would like to transform the lives the lives of people - then get in touch and come and work with Hayley - we would love to hear from you."

  12. A4e are merely pimps for minimum wage employers. If the government were serious in their concern about eradicating unemployment they would make it harder for employers to sack people. Instead, New Labour has made it easier. Much easier. Britain is a fantastically wealthy country with an extremely inequitable distrubution of that wealth. People like Emma Harrison are fabulously rich because people at the bottom of the social ladder are so poor. There is a saying in Russia where I worked for many years, "If there are no bast shoes, there are no silk coats".

    In short A4e is toss.

  13. It was disturbing to see some of the techniques used by Hayley, particularly the amateur psychology which was either very foolish or just plain dangerous. She dragged her clients to a deeply uncomfortable place (resulting in a room full of bawling women) and they worked their way back out of it - probably more to do with the emotional stability of the individuals than Hayley’s counselling skills. Thankfully the result was a positive one but imagine how damaging this could’ve been had someone in the group been less emotionally stable and ill-equipped to deal with what could be perceived as a very public humiliation. That was one hell of a risk Hayley took with a group of people who evidently had very obvious esteem issues and I seriously doubt how qualified Hayley was to undertake such an approach. Indeed, if she was qualified, why is she working as an a4e jobsearch tutor and not a psychology professional?

    But what an exercise in product placement. That logo was in just about every shot it was almost like subliminal suggestion. On walls, windows, mugs, badges and for a while after the programme it was still burnt onto my retina. I woke up in the night with an overwhelming urge to fill in a jobcentre timesheet and ask a yorkshireman to criticize my cv.

    Hayley’s caterpillar to butterfly metaphor made be laugh, though. She failed to see that, sure butterflies are beautiful and graceful, but only survive as long as a couple of days to a handful of months – a similar length of time her clients new jobs might last?

  14. Riles...well said! Not only does one need to question Hayley's approach to amateur psychology, but also is she a trained financial/debt advisor? And is she a trained alchohol consellor? She does not strike me as a bad person and her hareart is generally in the right place. It's her technique that needs scrutiny and of course the shower she works for.

  15. This episode was a love-letter to A4e and doesn't qualify as legitimate journalism.
    And what a beautiful house philanthropic Emma lives in. She must be a wonderful woman to allow the peasants from her lower orders in for tea once in their pitiful lives.

    We bought that house. We pay their wages.

    As any ex-A4e employees here will know, the luxurious office portrayed in the commercial^Wdocumentary was unique in being vaguely adequate for purpose, and the wonderfully small groups are just as rare.

  16. apparently the staff have to be enthusiastic about the visit to emma, or they will be fired. it happened once according to a member of staff i knew. He was commanded to visit he didnt was fired. now this is hearsay, but i beleive him

  17. The awful Hayley is a bully of the worst kind - abusing a position of power over a group of powerless women. It says much about Emma and A4E that bullies are not only tolerated but rewarded - and rewarded for meeting targets - bullying people into any kind of work that might not last 5 minutes - but at least the box is ticked. One wonders what sort of employer Poundland is - pretty grim if its staff turnover is anything to go by. I found this programme quite horrifying.

  18. Hayley is a bully who abuses the authority she has over her powerless clients. Moreover, the bullying is clearly encouraged by A4E. There is no point in bullying unemployed single mothers (or fathers) into work - they will very soon be back on benefits - probably sickness benefits. It's a complete waste of taxpayers money and such treatment is cruel and inhuman. The women who were clearly cowed and fearful should take legal advice.

  19. Hayley taught me in the elevate group over a year ago. All these accusations are very far from the truth, Hayley had specialist councellors brought in to A4e as she insisted this was an essential part of the Lone parent course.I was a heroin addict at the time and she reffered me for specialist help through Progress To Work another A4e service, I am now an ex addict! Hayley is so caring and kind, honest and fantastic at her job, the cards and gifts she recieved showed how much she cared and were far more than any other member of staff ever recieved.Doncaster does not have very nice staff and moral is generally low from what i saw, Hayley was always laughing and had time for everyone. Before you judge someone remember it is TV, and is edited to make people look bad which in Hayleys case it has unfortunately, there is only one person to blame and that is C4 not Hayley. I do not think I could have gone on any longer without her help and compassion, Hayley I am indebted to you and I hope you see this.


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