Above: The cover illustration that accompanied the print version of this piece from #rabble13 by Brian Burke.
A feeling of being put through the ringer, harassed into dampening employment expectations and rightly pissed off that private companies have access to their data – that’s the general picture emerging from a survey carried out by rabble into various labour activation schemes including Job Path. Rashers Tierney gives us the lowdown on how people responded and sketches what we can take from the whole thing.
Back in October critics clamored to pour praise on Ken Loach for his I, Daniel Blake movie. It was a film that delivered an emotionally charged sucker punch about the well documented misery of Britain’s labour activation schemes.
If one thing struck us here in rabble HQ it was that while Irish reviewers and film goers lapped the kitchen sink outrage up, there was a remarkable lack of suss out there about moves in our own system to ape what’s happening across the pond and carbon copy policy moves spearheaded by Tory England.
Pub talk with friends over the past six months unearthed folk being randomly assigned to a new scheme called Job Path through some administrative Russian Roulette. If there was humour in these chats, it was of the purgatorial type that puts one in mind of those classic Pauline’s Pens sketches from the morbid turn of the millennium BBC comedy The League Of Gentleman. Remember that mad yoke?
“Pens! They’re the best friends you can have. Everything I know about people I learned from pens. If they don’t work, you shake ’em. If they still don’t work, you chuck ’em away, bin them!”
Some reported a sinking feeling of being thrown under a truck or into totally uncharted dole waters – many cursed the scheme with and peppered their social media with little updates and victories against this new machine.
Curiosity got the better of us – so, using the magic of the interwebs and our social reach, we decided to send a canary down the mine to to do a temperature check on what’s going on.
We were interested in hearing from people on a number of initiatives that can broadly be understood as pushing people back into the workplace, through some notion of readying them for employment or through the threat of sanction – be that putting them on a work placement like Tus or Gateway, or dragging them down the town for the CV make and dos or the supervised online job hunting so fond of the Job Path overlords. Yikes.
Some of these schemes like Gateway and Tus see people allocated to what are construed as socially useful roles. In the case of Gateway, selected participants are put to work on tasks that will “benefit the local area” or on “projects that local authorities no longer have to resources to continue” for 19.5 hours a week, across 22 months for a €22.50 top up. You read that right, put to work taking up the slack for cutbacks for less than minimum wage.
It sounds a bit grim with listed roles including the control of animals and “Brown Field Site Remediation.” We’ve noted before how there’s been protests over the lack of training on a Gateway scheme out in Ballymount with participants describing it as “soul-destroying.” Note that term, it pops up again.
Then there’s Tús, where people are “allocated to community and voluntary organisations.” Just think of this as akin to the old Community Employment scheme, but with the added stick of sanctions and the lottery of random selection.
Welcome To Jobpath
And last, we come to Job Path. It’s been reported that up to the end of last year, Varadkar had referred 87,000 people to this scheme, so it was no surprise that the vast majority of our respondents talked about it.
What makes Job Path such an object of fascination is how it has been farmed out to private entities like Turas Nua, a joint venture between Ireland’s FRS Recruitment and the UK’s Working Links. Seetec is another name synonymous with the delivery of the programme – an organisation that has been at the centre of some dodge reporting in the UK and gets a poor rating on Glassdoor.co.uk from former employees.
Job Path first really got mentioned in the Dail as a new initiative back in November 2013. And if you’re looking into the origins for this stuff, then undoubtedly, the Memorandum Of Understanding put together by the Troika drives much of it with its call that there be “the application of sanction mechanisms for beneficiaries not complying with jobsearch conditionality.”
This writer first stumbled upon Job Path when a friend directed me to the garish Seetec website, full of brutal stock photography and a rolling ticker announcing “now recruiting” again and again and again. I was left with the feeling of being rick rolled, mouth open gawping at tawdry corporate genericism reeking of the blandroid evil mega-corp in an 1980’s b-movie like Robocop. This couldn’t be real surely?
Coercion and Sanction
If there are two elements that most define these changes in how the unemployed are managed then its a context of coercion through the threat of sanction.
Some of this started to take root in the FG-Labour coalitions Pathways to Work agenda which set up Intreo as a rationalised “one stop shop” for jobseekers (under the tree at Spar etc…) – it expanded Tus, set-up the decent enough Springboard courses for re-skilling and rolled out the PR disaster that was JobBridge amongst a million other things.
Retrospectively, it’s the introduction of the Record of Mutual Commitments that summated a new departure here – this was a new “social contract” where claimants signed a piece of paper giving them a caseworker and committing them to a promise to “take up any work placement, work experience and/or training/personal development places notified by the Department.”
At the time the Irish National Organisation Of The Unemployed warned about the consequences of the missing word “suitable” or “relevant” here. Those of you who are quick off the mark might see where this is all going.
An Imported Ideology
While our survey was running, a number of people chipped in with pointers – many of them declined a “hat tip” – expressing fears over research or career paths if their names were used. One such folk, a junior academic pointed out how Job Path and the ideology around it was never really put before the Dail for public scrutiny.
Mary Murphy, another prominent academic (you might remember from her report into JobBridge for Impact) mentions this in her work too – talking about how these policy ideas were never really a truculent election issue – it didn’t feature in 2011 at all and then in the debates during the 2014 euro elections it was really only a target of the Socialist Party’s campaigning against “Scambridge” while Labour Youth murmured about their “Youth Guarantee”- remember that?
So, it just kinda came into being – this new language that appeared all of a sudden – imported wholesale as it were. And I guess that’s kinda maybe what happened.
In order to build on the Pathways To Work model, in 2012 the Department of Social Protection brought in the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI) from the UK to bring expert advice and guidance to the table in order to in Burton’s words “increase its activation capacity”. This report has never been published, questions in the Dail asking why are brushed off with nonsense about its contents being commercially sensitive.
No doubt its contents outlined a seismic reform of how the unemployed were to be managed here. Back in 2013, Joan Bruton expounded ideologically to the Dáil on this new configuration of the distribution of welfare being dependent rather than a given social right to the Dail:
“We will support them with income support and do everything we can to help them to get back to work, but they have a social obligation to the wider Irish society to take up reasonable offers of work. That is what the whole activation process is about. We have an obligation to assist the person who has unfortunately become unemployed but they have social obligations, a social contract, to the wider society to make themselves available for work. “
Then the letters started hitting the doormats. “You are invited to attend” they said and we all raised our eyebrows and whispered suspicions to each other.
Our Simple Survey
So, what we did was set up a simple survey form and pitch it on our website. We cast a fairly wide net posting it out on our social media pages and including it on our mailing list. It was a slow start but in the end something like 50 responses came back. A quick email was sent to thank all those who took part and this helped us weed out any submissions that were sent in from fake email accounts.
Take what you will from this fact, but several of those that bounced back from the old MAILER-DAEMON were on the more positive spectrum. Including one about how the Amiens St office transformed a long term welfare claimant from a house ridden bag of anxiety into someone frolicking with joy in the fields of work. But truth be told, we got away lightly with just a handful of Daniel Fakes.
Above: You can see a slide show of how people responded to some of our survey questions. Space was left for further information to be given and in some questions follow on questions were sent over email. That’s where the quotes in this piece come from.
Just A Number
The first thing that popped out was the feeling people had that Job Path completely disregarded their own efforts at self-improvement and training, totally ignoring their life experiences and sought to downgrade their expectations. One post grad in her mid-30s from the midlands who had prior experience in hospitality and was looking to move into adult education complained that:
“It was very frustrating not to be listened to, my number was pulled by the system and no amount of human interface and logical reasoning would get me out until my number was moved into the next part of the machine. In fairness the staff in there were apologetic and earnest in their attempts to help.”
This woman had been due to start a post-grad in September but was still forced to attend their in-house training days until the course kicked off making her ineligible for the scheme.
Cookie Cutter Advice
There was wide frustration too with cookie cutter levels of advice and career guidance being rolled out regardless of who’s in the room. Another of our respondents, with prior experience in community work and advocacy told us:
“The model of advice being given is different from the old Fàs centres. I was at a group meeting with a construction worker, chef and community addiction counselor and the facilitator was clearly using a corporate model which just did not apply. Not every unemployed person wants to put on a suit and work in Google and as Google don’t have enough jobs anyway it’s a pointless model and humiliating for participants who have not worked in offices.”
One person who dealt with Job Path services out in Crumlin, reported that they’d taken up an Office IT course which they found useful but told us that even the staff weren’t impressed with the scheme’s offerings:
“Their services, and they admit it, are more geared towards the likes of school leavers. Being a university graduate, the woman I was meeting one to one, said she unfortunately didn’t have much to offer in ways of help, other than perhaps some training courses in IT etc. She was also concerned about the future of community based employment schemes, and that the government was going to shift over completely to profit for placement type schemes.”
Another clanger that chimed through on the regular was a widespread anger over perceived breaches of data protection. These are private business entities with a foot in the commercial recruitment game and now with a valuable store of personal details they could theoretically mine if safeguards were not in place. Claire Daly has specifically asked what is in place to prevent such breaches in the Dáil.
It got a bit no holds barred and frothy in some of our responses with it came to information being shared with private companies. It was a matter of principle. One man in his forties, who’d previously worked as a taxi driver told us he was:
“Disgusted at having private information been given to a private company WITHOUT my consent. I hated being forced to sign a contract under a threat of payments being cut off. Disgusted with the Gov for throwing me & my family (wife and four children) to the wolves. Washed their hands of me. Privatising unemployment. A new and disgusting low even for FG.”
A respondent in the South West told us a story of two members of Turas Nua staff openly discussed the details of a “client” in front of everyone in the office. He said:
“When I asked the appropriateness of this I was verbally attacked by the manager of the office. I proceeded to return with a local councilor and we took a statement from the manager which I forwarded with my complaint to an anonymous title and office in Clonmel. This was in June of this year yet I have had no further contact with them since then.”
He expressed concern that according to the Department of Social Protection he was still on Job Path and was worried that those running the scheme are “still claiming money for my non attendance to non existent appointments is what I would like to know but as usual no one can inform me of anything about my personal details.”
There was another anecdote about a receptionist and staff member making fun of a person who had just rang in:
“They didn’t care who heard them. They’re so unprofessional, it’s unreal.”
One post-grad in her late thirties told us that she had to give her “signature for videos and photographs to be taken and shown and it’s not negotiable.”
With supervised job seeking being high on the list of requirements among our cohort there was a general frustration about the pointlessness of having to travel when this was an activity that could easily be done at home. One person described how:
“I have to drop down to them twice a week where I log on to their computers and send out CV’s (something that I could do at home and have been doing at home for months now.”
The issue of transport and the distances required to travel for meetings came up a number of times. One person told us that:
“They just don’t care about people’s circumstances, as I live 14 miles from centre, no transport and don’t have a car.”
As Vardkar outlined in the Seanad back in March, Job Path is ran on a “payment by results” model. This sees the third party suppliers get a registration fee each time a Personal Progression Plan is developed and then “job sustainment fees” are paid out for each 13 weeks of 30 hours per week or more employment. Such payments to these companies cost the state €26.8 million in 2016.
Some of what came back to us rattled with despair, a feeling that the Job Path scheme was really only about attempting to force people into taking up roles they’d avoid otherwise just for the sake of moving them off the dole.
One woman in her late 20s felt like he was being ground down by them. She had completed two Jobbridges since graduating in 2014 and had been called for both Gateway, Tus and was now on Jobpath.
Speaking of Jobpath she said it “blind-sided my skills that I’ve obtained from my Jobbridge (which I worked really hard in) and are placing me into any roles that pop up.”
The same person talked about a feeling of harassment and being “unfairly targeted”.
“If I’m unable to show up for an hour of job searching on their computer, I will be written down as ‘not engaging with the system’ and my money will be cut. I have been searching for work since my last Jobbridge finished. They have been offering me paid positions as a ‘local deli counter assistant’ and a ‘home carers’ role (no education required). They also ring me up quite regularly telling me about these jobs as well which is beginning to get quite annoying and I’m beginning to feel on edge now.”
One 60 year old man, who was dealing with a crowd called Skillsteam, one of Seetec’s partners in delivering Job Path in the Dublin area told us that:
“They suggest totally inappropriate lines of work for my age, experience, qualifications etc. Very aggressive pushing towards a race to the bottom. Constant chopping and changing from one ‘adviser’ to another.”
Another example of the this dampening of personal goals came from an out of work actor who said his advisor “burst out laughing” when he mentioned what training and employment goals he had. Then ridiculous demands were put on him:
“She also put things into the Personal Progression Plan, that I didn’t say, and withheld information, which, if I had been given, meant I wouldn’t have signed the contract, which is what the PPP really is. The specific piece of information is the obligation to attend at least one job interview every fifteen workdays. This is something I can’t control.”
Booted and Suited
One person told us the Job Path staff they encountered expected them to dress in “business attire” and be “suited and booted”. The plain oddest response we got might give readers of a certain vintage terrible flashbacks of being harassed in school for such petty things as long hair or dress style. We’re not talking a million years ago and the 1950s here either.
It started off with this being summoned at extreme short notice, in this case basically Turas Nua rang a chap and told him he was to be at a Telesales interview the following morning. As he tells it:
“I was clean shaven and clean clothed and there ahead of time. The interviewer himself was ten minutes late, then during the interview he left for a few minutes, which I thought unusual.”
The interviewer then asked our respondent what he thought of Enda Kenny, saying “you probably wouldn’t be his biggest fan”.
Fast forward a week later and this chap’s Turas Nua PA is making accusations that he “sabotaged the interview”. They’d been told he turned up “disheveled” and now apparently the Turas Nua area big wig wanted to complain about him to Intreo for “not engaging with the program” with a possible nine week suspension mooted.
Our respondent mailed their PA with talk of a formal complaint and told us that:
“There was no reply. But when I went in today she brought it up, and showed me an email, about my appearance at the interview. The fashion police at the company didn’t approve of my appearance. However there was no mention of the word ‘dishevelled’ this time. On top of this I now have to attend a second day every week ( for 15 minutes) to search for Jobs from the Turas Nua office. Like ffs, I do that every say from my phone or at home. I see this as a form of harassment or punishment for them believing the story from the interviewer. That said they weren’t so bolshie today when I attended my weekly meeting, I suspect my angry email helped. My next step, if they push me, is to involve a local independent councillor.”
A word to the wise: from what we’ve been told, getting a local independent councillor on the case definitely leads to them backing off.
Our apparently disheveled friend wasn’t the only person to speak of having their knuckles rapped.
In our survey there was a fear around the dole being cut or early morning meetings used to discipline as part of a pattern of punishment. One of the people we followed up with told us she had to cancel a meeting due to illness and was next called up for a 9am Monday morning meeting. Chatting to other folks she found out that this treatment wasn’t out of the ordinary.
“They had to cancel their appointments through illness or whatever and were given 9am Monday appointment. I, and they, believe that this is to deter people from cancelling, because no-one would choose to be there 9am on a monday morning. The manager at the Cabra office has a reputation for being hard, and no-one wants her as a caseworker. she completely runs the show there and I’ve heard her question men and women like they were children late for assembly.”
One person out in Tallaght told us of the brewing horrible atmosphere that punctuated encounters with the simple power dynamic of being able to sanction people always hanging in the air.
“They are horrible. You’re made to feel like they’re doing you a favour by inviting you to the meetings. The people who give the ‘workshops’ are barely able to speak in a group situation, they’re basically kids who don’t care once they’re employed. They hold the fact that they can get your benefits cut over you the whole time.”
The Other Schemes
We were open to hearing about experiences on other schemes too. Some of which bore positive results for people. Take this musician’s account:
“My placement is in an art gallery where I help out with installations and invigilate but I am also a musician and the network I developed is fantastic. That’s down to my Tus director he didn’t want to put me into something that I would have no interest in so worked to put me on that placement in the gallery. I’m lucky enough though and have friends doing hard manual labour for an extra 50 quid, which is a disgrace like. “”
There were complaints about Tus too however, take the case of one young teacher who came forward to us. She felt that her interactions with the system particularly the Tus scheme jeopardised her career and in the end forced her to emigrate.
She had just graduated from a Hdip programme and was trying to complete an induction period of 300 hours brought in as a new requirement by the Teaching Council.
“This meant that I would have to get those hours of work in my own subject or face the possibility of being struck off the teaching register at the end of the time limit. I began sending CVs and within about 3 months social welfare informed me that if I did not take a placement on their programme called Tus (ironically) I would have the possibility of having my welfare cut. They did not understand or care about the fact that I was desperately seeking work under pressure from the teaching council induction programme. They told me I could not miss a day if I were offered temporary work. Everybody knows that new teachers do not get full time jobs without first getting a foot in the door by being available for subbing.”
The logistics of this put her in a double bind. On one hand her mother had to transport her to a local community programme every day or she’d be cut off social welfare, while her conscription to the programme meant that she was no longer in a position to take any days subbing in schools because her payments would be stopped for skipping Tus.
Hello rock, meet our friend hard place.
She says she eventually “snapped” and ended up in London where she met lots of other Irish teachers dashing around London at the last minute making money for agencies.
“My hours could not be signed off by the Teaching Council since I was in a different school every day. Now I work in Spain where pay is much lower. I finally had my hours signed off by the Teaching Council but I do not have any immediate plans to return to Ireland despite the lower wages here. Very few of the teachers I graduated with are now working in teaching after 5/6 years of study.”
What Else Would They Be Doing?
People reported being treated differently than others in the same workplace when on such placements too. One former accounts administrator in his mid-thirties who worked in Age Action Ireland told us:
“There were only maybe 10-15 paid employees out of 60 plus staff. The rest was made up of Tus, CE & Jobsbridge and there was a pretty clear split in terms of mingling or feeling a part of the group. It was quite demoralising after a while and while it helped that it was a charity rather than a profit making entity it wasn’t a great experience overall. I think these schemes are, for the most part, a complete scam. Their only real lasting legacy is a depression of wages.”
One mid thirties male from Roscommon told us that he found the CE scheme “exploitative nonsense”. He said he was threatened with his dole being cut if he didn’t take up a CE scheme. At the time he had a three month old baby and ended up administering the workings of the scheme. It placed him into a quagmire of answerability, trapped between the Department of Social Protection, his boss and a local committee.
He railed against it and the organisations that used CE schemes in his response.
“Difficult, stressful work, that just isn’t appreciated,” he told us and went on to say:
“ Local ‘community’ organisations that benefit from free labour include The GAA, The FAI, Hospice, Rehab – all profit making organisations who pay their CEO’s hundreds of thousands, yet fail to employ someone to facilitate the upkeep of their facilities. There is zero value placed upon the participants in these schemes. There are no acknowledgements for doing a good job, more ‘sure what else would they be doing, when they’re on the dole’. I believe that for every four CE participants an organisation receives, they should by law have to employ at least one of them. All of these organisations have the funds to pay for full time staff members, but opt for free labour instead.”
The Rising Tide Of Complaint Against Job Path
The negative with Job Path is starting to slowly boil to the surface and personal experiences from those on the scheme became a bone of contention during discussion of the Social Welfare Bill in early November.
Despite the complaints we heard about Community Employment schemes providing a scaffolding of free labour to organisations, politicians of all stripes are complaining about how Job Path is gutting the backbone of such CE Schemes – forcing people into inappropriate roles or undermining opportunities to make socially useful contributions to their communities by taking up placements.
Martin Kenny directly cited I Daniel Blake as being the carbon copy story of one of his own constituents The Sinn Fein deputy gets this writer’s reward for fiery lambast when he described how:
“Every Deputy has examples of people in a similar position to those to whom I referred and have come up against the machine of Seetec and JobPath. It is a machine that blocks, wears down, destroys and dehumanises people.”
Country music loving Labour man Willie Penrose also went in hard, talking about how it was inappropriate for the life skills of some of his own constituents.
These concerns are largely about taking people away from CE schemes and pepper much of the developing negative flak about Job Path as evidenced by Brid Smith’s contributions in February too.
A Tale Of Two Surveys
rabble is a fairly do what we can outfit, so this digging around was done simply by firing out an online survey and drawing attention to it on social media – so it may not stand up to relentless academic scrutiny but hopefully it’ll awaken those with more force in the mainstream of our media to start scrutinizing just what’s going on in all those shiny new offices aiming to profiteer from harassing people into employment that are popping up around the country.
And, given the nature of our audience as a raggle taggle band of enragées, weirdos, political junkies and fiends – our results could be dismissed as reflective of a degree of self-selection that channels the anti-establishment, antagonistic mood of our crowd.
Back before Xmas, Vaardkaar was pawing off questions in the Dail about Jobpath with news that he had commissioned a customer service survey which kicked off in September of last year. The results when published were positive in the extreme.
Yet, if rabble’s peek into these issues reflects the kinda discontent expected from “our demographic”, then maybe those agreeing to take part in the one ran on behalf of the Department of Social Protection could equally be discerned as self selecting – that is those that answered it were folk happy enough to take a recorded call from somebody related to the welfare and have their reaction recorded. I’d personally be hanging up on that one. That old adage of “say as little as you can to them” holds true in many parts still.
So perhaps the overwhelming positivity chiming through in that first Job Path performance report should be tempered with that realisation too.
Whatever notions you have of the rabble readership, it’s worth pointing out that our responses were split nearly 50:50 on whether they’d work for their benefits – which to me suggest the folks that took the survey weren’t all died in the wool reds, or subcultural rapscallions adhering to a dolie lifestyle and ideologically opposed to workfare .
It’s also worth saying that if there are real horror stories to be heard out there, then it’s unlikely that either of these two surveys are going to come upon them. You’ll hear about those when it’s too late, from a politician or the media as an afterfact as always happens when people in severe social marginalisation fall through the system’s cracks or suffer under its wheels.
Why The Radio Silence?
Now that Jobbridge is effectively dead, it might require some jogging of the memory to recall that it took ages for its real nature to shine through. While looking into Jobpath, one thing that really bowled us over was the massive levels of radio silence in operation compared to the eventual wall to wall attention Jobbridge got.
Jobbridge drastically undermined the employment conditions facing a generation of new graduates, research showed some half would have got work anyway and that 30% of employers using it would have created paid work had it not existed. Jobbridge was always going to rankle the type of folks that end up being commentators in the official organs or making noise on social media.
The Journal, for all the woes of its comments section, has been covering these schemes extensively enough with a litany of human interest stories about them and even fielded a critical opinion piece by Tom Boland and Ray Griffin, two Waterford academics who weighed in against Job Path.
Jobpath also featured on Joe Duffy on two rare occasions, where a woman called Majella rang in and described her experience with Turas Nua as “absolutely soul destroying for customers which is what they call us” . She talked about being brought in and made sit at a computers to apply for jobs. She had 20 meetings and only got two interview referrals
“There are people beside you who can’t even turn on a computer and are just left sitting there” she told Joe.
Then there was another fella, who took up a job after Turas Nua invited in employers to run interviews, despite being a qualified care professional he was put standing on the road with a “stop go” sign and eventually was hit by a car. Sounds far from solid stuff really.
When it comes to the rest of the media brigade, it’s a certifiable nadda, zilch, fuck all.
We can illustrate just how big this radio silence is by heading over to the Irish Times and taking a poke around. The supposed paper of record’s website delivers nine results for articles dealing with Job Path. By comparison Job Bridge returned 228 results. We found three mentions of “Working Links“. Four results for “Turas Nua”. Five for “Seetec”
When one considers the sort of coverage such schemes have received in the UK, and the fact that the same companies are operating here now – isn’t it rather stupendous the media isn’t clamouring to investigate how these programmes are working in practice?
To find anything you need to trawl Reddit or forums and turn yourself over to the hivemind of experiences shared in online rabbit holes like this thread on Poltics.ie.
Another way of tapping into just how little these reforms of the dole have filtered into the consciousness is to look at Twitter where whispers are beginning but it is nowhere near the avalanche of returns that is JobBridge.
If the whole crisis period was used to dramatically restructure the dole system, then we’ve been on snooze mode as to what that entails.
An Academic Responds
Maynooth academic Mary Murphy has been one of the few consistent commentators on labour activation schemes here, so naturally we turned to her for some comments. Firstly, Murphy described how the competitive tendering or commercialisation that led to Job Path has had a shut down effect that might explain why there is so little noise out there around theses schemes.
“I think the main reason for radio silence – not just on this but on the much wider range of privatisation, is the real and palpable fear amongst local providers that they may be next for commissioning/tendering, this has a chilling effect. This alongside more direct restrictions on using statutory funds to promote advocacy, effectively means groups ‘feel’ silenced and at both national and local level are less likely to speak out”.
She points me towards the work of Brian Harvey, who oversaw a three year project called The Advocacy Initiative. It consisted of dozens of community organisations exploring how funding arrangements work to suppress their independent and critical voice. A feeling epitomised in a final report sharply titled Are We Paying For That? A term familiar to anyone that has had to deal with an irate funder questioning expenditure.
Having shared our results with her, Murphy warned us not to over generalise from what is a relatively small sample and pointed to several positive comments about staff operating the services to highlight there wasn’t an overwhelming rejection of it. She felt that:
“It is too early and not yet clear enough to comment. I am clear it does not work in principle or in theory; I have less evidence to say what is happening in practice and it is difficult to conclude from your survey for example in relation to staff. “
She did, however, say to us that:
“The survey suggests clear structural issues in relation to Job Path (data, protection, access to information, questions left unanswered etc) as well as issues regards sanctions and use of threats, questions of illegality, and a worrying overall sense of personal autonomy being undermined. Alongside this there is a clear sense of in appropriate imposition of time wasting job search activity, courses and other ‘off the peg’ interventions, systems based rather than client focused as well as aggressive pushing towards a race to the bottom, lower quality employment, wages and low hours encouraged.”
It’s been reported that the cost of running the JobPath scheme is going to double to 65 million this year. While, of the 1,266 long term unemployed who entered the scheme, less than 30% got work.
So, it’s not surprising some have noted with a cynical eye, that these schemes could be looked at as nothing more than a way of cooking the unemployment stats and knocking off as much as 2.3% to 4.2% from the live register.
That’s a costly exercise in political chicanery, when these are millions that could be put into proper training or educational opportunities like Springboard instead of encouraging low level crap like supervised CV sending sessions.
Anecdotally what we’ve come across suggests attempts to push people into precarious jobs rather than focus on their long term reskilling or training. The effect is a pattern of pathologization that assigns blame for a lack of work to personal failure in finding it.
The unemployed are blamed for having bad CVs rather than poor government policy being the issue. Structural faults in the economy become personal failures that can be overcome if people just get with the programme.
The other activation schemes like Tus and Gateway are questionable on the basis of simply being used to shore up organisations or fill in for cutbacks in the community and voluntary sector.
As Mary Murphy put it to us in her reaction to our survey:
“The aim is to discipline and develop a ‘standby-ability’ in unemployed with a shift in role of the state from active management of labour market to control/correct personal behaviours through job incentives and ‘ethical’ skills’”
The constant hoop jumping that comes with this can have the unintended consequences of simply burning people out. To illustrate this Murphy points towards an academic anecdote about how electronic devices that are left on standby all the time waste more energy:
“The paradoxical result of such – ‘active’ measures’ is that they may lead to passivity people resign themselves to rotating through low-cost activation interventions.”
Murphy sent me on a presentation she’d given in Maynooth in December of last year, it’s questioning title kinda gets to the heart of what’s going on here and poses it bluntly: “tackling unemployment or supporting a low pay economy?”
When it comes to Jobpath, one of our respondents might have summed the whole thing up herself by saying she’d “probably just have to take something from them soon in order to escape it.”
It’ll take academics and others to look into this landscape over a longer term properly and judge if these schemes and programmes are fit for work.
That said, we’ll whack a fiver on it that JobPath and these other labour activation schemes will eventually be seen as leading to a revolving door of low quality work in a zero hours economy with employment rights and union density whitering at every corner.
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