Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Lying with statistics, and reforming welfare

SICK BENEFITS: 75% ARE FAKING. Yes, that's the good old Express's headline. Call it vicious and disgusting and the owner, porn king Richard Desmond, would no doubt take it as a compliment. For the government's view of the figures, see the DWP website. Their figures show 39% of claimants were found "fit for work" and another 36% stopped claiming. For a very different take on this, see Left Foot Forward . Now, this is a complex subject with a long history, an it's not really relevant to this blog. What IS relevant is that a lot of people are now going to be forced onto the Work Programme, into the hands of providers who proved useless in getting such people into work on the Pathways programme.

I've just been listening to an interesting piece on Newsnight. James Purnell, who played his part in the Labour government's outsourcing of welfare-to-work, spoke about how Labour voters no longer back the welfare state. He talked to the pollster Peter Kellner, who said that people think it should be a contributory system, benefits in return for contributions, but they now see it not working that way. John Cruddas, another Labour MP, said that the old covenant had broken down. Purnell put forward his view that there should be a guarantee of a government-provided, minimum wage job for everyone out of work for a year, along with an obligation to take it. You would get a higher pension if you'd paid in all your life. In the studio he faced a Tory MP who talked nonsense, and a woman from a think tank who raised some questions. Essentially, Purnell said we should scrap the current system and go back to the drawing board, cutting out most of the minor benefits. The welfare state should be there to protect people. I would have liked to raised some questions about the role of the private sector.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Emma on how to get a job - and India

There was a Youth Summit in Wirral, the constituency of Esther McVey MP (Con), and Emma Harrison spoke on how to get a job. The MP has obligingly posted this on her website. It's 6 minutes long, and I've listened to it so you don't have to. She tells the kids who are coming up to leaving school that they should ask themselves how they'd like to be described by, say, a journalist in 10 years time. It's the "have a dream" thing. She says that they should tell people what they want to do, and then they will be helped. She then has three practical tips. First, at interview go in with a smile, stand out. Second, always get someone who knows what they're doing to check your CV. And third, if you can't get a job, create your own job, set up a small business. She gets in the slogan: "My dream is to improve people's lives."
I suppose in 6 minutes it would be difficult to be any more helpful. But it's all a bit random. It's one thing to have a goal, but taking even the first step towards it is impossible for so many youngsters now. And why do Ms Harrison and A4e go on about CVs so much when for most jobs you don't need one? Better to teach people how to fill in an application form properly.

A4e is "improving people's lives" with big new business in India. Roy Newey has said today that he has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an Indian company called Centum Learning "to train 120 million people". An MoU is not a contract, but it's the precursor to a contract. It will be interesting to see how profitable this will be.

Friday, 22 July 2011


There's a new website for Working Families Everywhere.
Despite the usual hype, this project does not appear to be going to plan. Only 3 local authorities signed up, and 2 of those have not recruited new people but instead redeployed existing staff. Westminster may not even have got that far yet. If the participating authorities think that it works to have one person as the "key worker" for families which need support, there is no reason for them to continue to link to Ms Harrison's project. Are there really going to be contracts in this for A4e, or is it more about publicity for Emma Harrison? The site certainly appears to be a publicity vehicle for her. "We’ve pledged to help 100,000 families get back to work," she says, in the next five years. The words "to help" are crucial here. But her confidence that "this first stage of recruitment will allow us to start building an innovative network of Champions committed to making a real difference" is probably misplaced.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Advice from Hayley

Nothing to do with A4e (except that Hayley Taylor used to work for them). But I saw this on her blog, and was concerned about the quality of the advice she was giving. Someone asked:
"Hello Hayley, I am 20 years of age and have been on JSA for about a year and a half on and of. In march i came to the end of the future job fund scheme where i was working in a primary school as a admin assistant. Now im back on JSA but im doing voluntry work in a hospital as a admin assistant, As im classed as internal i applied for a administrator position which is a doctor’s secretary and i have a interview tuesday! Which im really excited about but really nervous at the same time. It will be a pannel interview of three people which i know so it wont be so bad. But im just wondering what questions will they ask so i can prepare myself? And any tips you could give me please. Thank you x " [sic]
The answer from Ms Taylor:
"Congratulations, you are living proof that volunteering really does open doors and a world of opportunities, as now you are at interview stage!! It’s impossible for me to be specific with what questions you will be asked during your interview, but I would say that at 20 and without a vast amount of work history, the questions are likely to be more generic. Be sure to have enough copies of your C.V in order to offer one to each member of the panel, be clear on why you would like the position, and have a great answer prepared, smile, show enthusiasm, tell them you are willing and eager to learn, have at least two questions prepared to ask them, and don’t forget to thank them for their time when you leave. I wish you luck, and am sure you will be fantastic. Hayley x"

Now I really do hope the young woman gets (or got) the job. But it won't be on the advice from Ms Taylor. For most admin jobs you are likely to be given a test before the interview, at the computer or on paper, to show whether your English, maths and IT skills are adequate. This candidate would be unlikely to pass unless her poor English in this post is just carelessness which she can put right. You don't need to hand out copies of your CV. They've already got them, photocopied, in front of them. You will look rather foolish if you don't anticipate this. You don't know what questions you're going to be asked, but you do need to gen up on the nature of the business; they are not just going to ask about you, but about what you know, and I would have thought that would particularly apply to a medical secretary post; so do your homework.

It's a bit worrying, really.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Mark Lovell, Chris Grayling

You may have heard of the Fabian Society. It dates back to 1884 and has always been about advancing democratic socialism. So what's that got to do with A4e? No idea, but they've sponsored an event for the Young Fabians on "Thinkers and Doers", along with Chukka Umunna, the Labour MP. Mark Lovell, who was there, has also been writing on finding work and on his current hobby-horse, banking for the poor. What he says is sensible, but we know that the sub-text is his desire for an A4e bank.

There's been a drip-drip of publicity about the Work Programme in general. Chris Grayling had to answer questions in Parliament on Monday and conformed that, "The Department expects to release statistics on referrals to the Work programme from spring 2012, and on job outcomes lasting three or six months from autumn 2012." So we won't get to know anything about outcomes for more than a year. Meanwhile, some news about another of the providers, Avanta. The Northern Echo carries a story about an induction day with the company on Teesside. The complainant is a graduate and distinctly unimpressed. Her story will be familiar to jobseekers who've had dealings with other providers. The Work Programme is being touted as individually designed provision, but this kind of one-size-fits-all induction is a way of swiftly refuting that.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Interesting debate

I recommend this article in the Guardian, a "debate" between the the TUC's Brendan Barber and the Tory ideologue Philip Blond. The large number of comments it has attracted are also well worth reading.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

More contract opportunities

There's not a lot happening at the moment, at least publicly. A4e continues to scatter PR material around the internet, inclusing success stories. But, as usual, they don't bother to have these pieces proof-read, leading to amateurish efforts like this one. A piece about a youth summit in the North West had a new description of the boss of A4e - "BBC 1’s Emma Harrison".

Lost in all the furore about News International was the announcement by David Cameron of the privatisation of public services. The full paper is here. The Public Finance website has a report of his speech, and it's clear that the Work programme is being treated as the model for all the flogging-off of services. It's to be payment by results all the way. The latest announcement, which no doubt will interest A4e, is that key probation services are to be put out to tender (see the piece in the Guardian). Working Links has already said that it will be bidding. Mark Lovell was in talks with the Ministry of Justice yesterday.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Jobs, jobs, jobs

A4e is advertising what looks like a fantastic job - Trainee Strategy & Policy Assistant. You'll need at least a 2:1 degree or a Masters, you'll be mingling with politicians and travelling abroad. An ideal opportunity. But there's something of a puzzle. A4e never gives salary figures but this doesn't mention pay at all. Despite saying, "We will expect you to roll up your sleeves and put a lot into your work. You will be used to that from things you have already achieved at school, university or elsewhere," there's not a whisper of remuneration, and I'm wondering if this is, in fact, an "internship", i.e. an unpaid job, although it doesn't say so directly.

Former A4e employee Hayley Taylor has a new job, a paid one. She "will front Fish4jobs’ regional job fairs, providing face-to-face advice to jobseekers and will host a series of online career workshops hosted by Fish4jobs with practical advice on writing an effective CV and giving a successful interview. Fish4jobs marketing director Sarah EL-Doori says: 'At Fish4jobs we want jobseekers to find the right job to match their skills and experience. Hayley is a fantastic ambassador for us with her practical approach and success rate at helping people find a new role.'"

There's work for A4e in Saudi Arabia. On 2 July Roy Newey tweeted that he was "very excited to get invite from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to design cost operate 5 new job placement centres - this year. Impressed with a4e." Now, lots of British companies make money in Saudi Arabia, so it would perhaps be unfair to single out A4e for criticism here. But when, on the same day, Newey says, "Amazing opportunities for a4e to learn and contribute to global ideas on improving people's lives. An honour to have a seat round the table," you feel that the slogan jars a little. But then he was off to meet the President of Pakistan.