Benefit Busters - 2nd episode

The second episode of Benefit Busters is showing tonight. Here's the Channel 4 webpage, and here's the blurb:

Unemployment is rife in Hull, but for one company business is booming: A4E has won the lucrative contract to help get the long-term unemployed back to work.

Mark Pilkington is an ex-soldier who hasn't worked for 10 years. He welcomes help and within a fortnight he finds a job. But the joy of receiving his first pay cheque is short-lived; after just four weeks a business downturn results in Mark being laid off.

Facing a return to A4E and potentially a four-week wait to restart his benefit payments, Mark begins to wonder if there is more security in a life on benefits.

It appears to be a shockingly common perception amongst the clients at A4E, who are at the mercy of an increasingly casual labour market.

Feel free to post your thoughts on the show, but as always try to avoid insulting everyone.

Well I thought that was a lot better than the first programme. It really gave a feel for how current New Deal programmes operate, what the barriers (sorry, needs) are to getting people into sustainable work, and why claimants become disillusioned with leaving benefits.

I seriously hope it was not a portrait of how new deal schemes operate in general.

Please someone say, that was just a one off, and no where else on the planet operates like that...

The scary thing is, they probably put more effort into the course whilst the cameras were running than they would normally, so I hate to think what it would be like without the cameras.

The government are actually giving that bunch of losers money? (a4e I mean, not the claimaints) - the course was a shambles, badly run, badly organised, no meaningful content - the whole thing was diabolical.

They could have just sat the people at the back of a nursery school class, and given them a paper to look for jobs.

The dwp should pull the plug and let a4e go...

Last week I defended and tried to see reason, this week I was totally gobsmacked ......... Just do not know what to say .......... except I was embarrassed for the whole W2W sector........WOW

Indeed. Brutal viewing, but I'd challenge anyone who's been around the industry for a while not to recognise what they saw on the screen. It even picked up on nuances like the employer liaisons having to focus on job ready candidates to meet target, i.e. creaming. This is precisely why I'm a big supporter of many of the commissioning strategy reforms. They pay on sustained job entry, and they allow providers to create tailored delivery instead of cooping up people in a room for 30 hours.

It's a real shame that the series is unlikely to look at newer, more personalised delivery approaches. An Employment Zone might have provided a useful counterpoint.

What the papers said:

  • Independent - 'It seems perfectly clear that the system is deeply flawed'
  • Telegraph - 'he berated Mark for “not job-searching like the other people reading the newspapers” as the camera cut to a bored-looking man flicking through the Daily Star'

No comments yet? I suspect people are in shock. A4e can't be accused of trying to cover anything up, at any rate.

I was shocked alright, at the resources A4E have, I was quite envious, sadly.

I particularly liked the points made about agencies and 0 hour contracts.

Oops. All anonymous commenting had been blocked by the software. I guess that would explain the lack of postings. I'll try and rescue some from the log files...

Here are the comments that were trapped by the spam filter. Sorry for that!

Thought it was quite positive for the provider

does anyone think about how staff who put their heart and soul into helping people feel.

Yes Daniel far better than the Hayley love fest that was the first programme. I bet Emma Harrison is regretting this episode as her business is looking rather unethical from this indeed she comes across as insincere and uncaring. I hope this set up at the Hull A4e isn’t going to be the standard model for there FND delivery in the extended IAP/VSO type stage 4 (stage 5 is work for benefits isnt it?)(i am in a phase one area and long term unemployed however i am a genuine jobseeker and fear for the future under this XXX business women). Still i don't suppose the government and the DWP will do anything about A4e.

Thought it was quite positive, hard group to work with, when so many sent by JC+

Daniel. You have got to be kidding! In what respect was it better than last weeks show. For entertainment value you mean or as a really good emetic. I'm sick of this defending of A4E who in many peoples opinion are an absolute disgrace. Let's recap on tonight's programme (to the theme tune of Soap playing in the background) and imagine i'm a customer attending A4e's programme.

Let's meet Matt, the Induction Tutor who offers words of encouragement to his 'good apples' "if you get a job before 13 weeks...Spot on!". Does that mean Matt that if i'm still here after 13 weeks I will be a big bad apple? maybe Matt after 13 weeks you will be able to speak properly and know your present and past tenses "what type of work was it you was looking for" says Matt...erm maybe your job Matt because I can actually speak properly. God forbid I should end up relegated to the 'Amber' room'!

Now let's meet Gary, another Induction Tutor who wisely advises Mark not to leave a gap on his CV. He then utters something about bin bags and hey presto...Job Done! Thankfully I should only be spending a morning with Matt and Gary who are experts in 'Inducting'! Only 12 weeks, 4 and a half days to go so who else will I have the pleasure of meeting...

Hopefully not Lee, the 'Amber' room Tutor. That would mean i'm a useless rotten apple who might end up missing several digits through the boredom of looking at 4 blank walls for 12 weeks, 4 and a half days and also Lee's extremely uninspiring fizzog! Perhaps I could hide behind a computer like you Lee... nice... very proactive.

I left Lee in the 'Amber' room playing on his computer, passing Karen the Business Manager who was very very busy licking stamps for the spec letters, where I was given a copy of last week's Hull Gazette, and a roll of duck tape, then asked to recreate a full scale 3D model of the periodic table for use in the local secondary school science lab. It was here I met Eric who was a very nice man. He soon had me conforming and acting like an 'Idult'!

After passing the 'Green' room (still no sign of the 'Red' room), Natalie stumbled across me along with Dave her sidekick. Natalie should really take up hypnotism because after just 10 minutes she made me forget all about my skills and qualifications and I found myself with an overwhelming urge to cut the heads off leeks. Whose payroll are you on Natalie, A4e or Greenco's?

Steve then appeared dazzling me with his outgoing and debonair personality but mostly his diamante earing mumbling something about not being to help everyone, before leaving for his recruitment drive at the local monkey brain glue factory. On my way past Lee again in the 'Amber' room who was up to his eyes in full blown timesheets, I commented on a cartoon painting on the wall in reception which looked like Ringo Star and a queue of Andy Capp's. "No No No"...shouted Emma! Apparently she likes to say things in triplicate (a bit like Lee's full blown paperwork), that's a picture of me outside a Sheffield Steelworks 24 years ago when I decided to make a difference to peoples lives"! But your staff Emma have just got me a temporary job in a meat factory, what do you think of that? To which Emma replied " yeah, yeah, yeah.

I asked Emma if she thought it was good that her staff encourage low paid, temporary, agency work. Emma said she was "gutted, yeah gutted" (let's throw another gutted in here to keep things uniform). "Perhaps you could discuss it at government level Emma", along with your 700 million quid contract to provide more of this traffic lightery, rolled up newspapery and sellotapery stuff you do so well. And to think, most other training providers fork out for the occasional outward bound course or several hundred if they want to dabble with a bit of teambuilding. More fool them hey Emma.

Emma summed up by saying " people often ask me what A4e do better than anyone else? I say we just do things differently"! I will give you that Emma, A4e certainly do things differently alright. On the way out I eventually spotted the 'Red' room. Apparently so called as It was full of Welfare to Work practitioners and architects whose embarrassed faces having seen tonight's show cast a warm glow upon the room. It was all going so well before Emma Harrison, when asked what the solution was to customers losing confidence in A4e's staff for fear of pulling the heads off chickens. To which she replied..."do you fink i'm some sort of Einstein or summink"! ...erm "No Emma, I don't!

'Benefit Busters' with A4e was excellent. At last it was confirmed how much these people get paid to run the New Deal programme and the bonus payments. No bonus or payments for the poor unemployed clients getting their hands dirty and doing the real work? It was a perfect portrait of the New Deal course I was on for months, and yes, of course they operate like that, and much worse. What planet have you been living on? Get out there and sit in on one of these courses for a few weeks. A shambles, a nightmare, badly run and badly organised with incompetent staff, you couldn't make it up. They actually get paid too? No meaningful content, a diabolical joke.

Submitted by ukbix: 'I seriously hope it was not a portrait of how new deal schemes operate in general. Please someone say, that was just a one off, and no where else on the planet operates like that...- the course was a shambles, badly run, badly organised, no meaningful content - the whole thing was diabolical.'

Ok, we still have a few problems with comments, but I'm capturing them on the fly and reposting:

Truly shocking. I've been in the industry for 15 years both in operations and management and have worked for private and voluntary sector organisations. None of the companies I have worked for ever treated their clients with such apathy.

Two things were particularly telling:

1) the high turnover of vacancies at the grounds maintenance company where the ex-soldier found work indicates something not quite right going on. Why were A4E continuing to use this source of vacancies when it was obvious that the company was exploiting both A4E and the clients as a cheap source of recruitment?

2) the complete cluelessness of Emma Harrison when faced with not particularly tricky questions about the use of agencies. She looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights - a bit bewildered, a bit panicked, a bit pathetic. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! Why she ever thought this would be good publicity for A4E probably tells you more about ego than good business strategy! If I were DWP I'd be asking some very serious questions

same old a4e people doing nowt from 9 till 4, i must say the place looked ok, why did we not see the clients who were on placement?? or were there none on placement, emma at the end that was so so funny lost for words, if places like a4e wanted to do a good job they could but they put profit before people most of them only want the money, i have been to a4e it was a total nighmare our a4e is now closed. to me the a4e last night looked ok you should have seen our a4e it was 100 times worse that that place.

On my last week on the New Deal program at A4e Edinburgh in 2008, someone from High Riggs jobcentre visited and spoke to a couple of clients (one who was on their first week, and another, who like me, was on their last week). And I know from speaking to them afterwards they told the person from the jobcentre excatly what we did. So the DWP can't pretend what they saw in Benefit Busters programme - as far as clients sitting around doing nothing is anything new. It's not, it's ancient history. But it obviously suits government to turn a blind eye to all the shortcomings. And if we are to believe the propoganda, FND will miraculously make all the problems of the old New Deal disappear.

I've tried not to jump on the kick A4e bandwagon but yesterday's show portrayed a company trying to deliver a very big contract at very little cost.

There are a few mitigating factors. At time of filming New Deal was already on it's way out and A4e would undoubtedly have been focusing their efforts on gearing up for FND. Also, Hull has been heavily hit by the downturn (low job density, high unemployment, failing schools, customers with low/no qualifications).

However, this is Tesco Value New Deal. In fact, it's Poundland New Deal.

-No evidence of any teaching or learning or any qualified tutors. Crazy given that payments are available for customers achieving qualifications. You would have thought that given the low qualification base of Hull, this would be high on the agenda. FTET is Full Time Education and Training - no evidence of this, the Recruiter with the agency positions simply waltzed into the room to sell the benefits of non-permanent work. I'd be launched out of the window if I did that during one of my tutors' lessons. Ofsted inspect New Deal and will inspect FND. This is Grade 4 stuff.

-Disgraceful lack of resources. It looked like 1 computer per 10 customers and 1 tutor per room. No evidence of local papers, just red tops and blokes looking to see if Suzie, aged 19, from Essex, has got any work going.

-Lack of respect for customers. Dressing somebody down and threatening to exit them from provision in front of a room full of people (and a camera) really lacked dignity.

-Agencies. Absolutely disgraceful way of inflating JER. There's no justification for claiming a job payment in the knowledge that the customer will be back in the loop in a month's time. Worryingly, the Agency-Pusher was the highest performing recruiter. Thankfully the FND funding model will remedy this quick fix mentality.

-Emma Harrison. More self-portraits in her estate than the Queen. She's coming across badly, unlike when I've seen her at events and conferences. She looked genuinely suprised that the report had exposed such failings in her organisation - which in itself is suprising given the apology one the A4e Directors posted on their website for letting their customers and partners down.

The top brass at DWP towers should be very, very concerned about having awarded 5 FND contracts to A4e. I've seen many New Deal providers in operation and this was singularly the most shambolic, cynical and cheap provision I have come across.

Benefit Busters invokes in me a feeling akin to watching an episode of Ricky Gervais's The Office - where you shudder with awkwardness just watching the employees go about their day to day business. The scene where the chap got his rollicking off the bristling advisor for going awol the previous day was particularly uncomfortable to watch.

For someone who has worked in the business for nearly a decade I was appalled to see scenes of bored, unstimulated people sitting around leafing through papers counting down the minutes until the next fag break - and absolutely no evidence of any one to one support. Do A4E intend to spend their £700 million on more of the same?

From both episodes I was also surprised to see the reliance (and apparent value in terms of success) that was placed on temporary vacancies. Episode one culminated in the majority of participants fulfilling an unpaid (Christmas!) work placement at Poundstretchers - how benevolent of you Mr.Poundstretcher and how "we do things differently" of you A4E. I will be interested to see how A4E fare with the long job outcome targets in FND...

I watched last week's episode, but missed it yesterday. Do you know when they will repeat it?

Bungle: I can understand the reluctance to join in on the bandwagon. How can we know other providers are better or worse when they're not represented? Having said that, it's impossible to reserve judgment forever. Thanks for your comments across the site by the way - I learn a fair bit from your contributions, and I know other people find them useful as well.

Anonymous: It will go up on 4OD later today, which means that by going to the Channel 4 webpage you can watch the show online. It also lists repeat dates for the show if you fancy staying up till 4am next week.

A4e the amount of money they are making compared to what they provide for DWP customers is disgusting.

I have been involved in delivering a New Deal programme for several years. We have excellent staff, good and plentiful resources and customers are made to feel welcome - it is not all about profit but to deliver a service to help people build up their confidence, respect and self worth and get them the best resources and facilities to get them back into work.

A4e gives other providers a bad image especially if after watching Benefit Busters the potential customer may think all New Deal Providers are like them.

Staff should be given a shake - they are hardly motivated themselves never mind help and motivate customers into work. Was that the best staff A4e had to appear on t.v. ? If so, what will the rest be like?

What chance has anyone got when FND comes into force !!

The contrast between the job seekers and the CEO of A4E in her mansion was quite dramatic, but also very telling. Just after she admires the painting of herself and the steel workers she supposedly supported, she was asked about zero working hours, she simply replies that she isn't a genius. Oh, really? I would never have guessed!!!

i am so sad that a4e are portrayed this way as the office i work in bears no resemblance to either that have been on benefit busters, our clients enjoy coming

It's true that there are many many A4e offices around the country, and I suspect that there must be good ones as well as bad ones. Were the documentary makers focusing on the most dysfunctional ones? I've no idea, but this is a blunder that could damage the reputation of the entire industry. I really, really hope that next week shows a good office.

The programme identified last night that staff who work in welfare to work,whether it be New Deal, Employment Zones or whatever, are weary and need a burst of inspiration from somewhere as the job gets increasingly more difficult and from day 1 have always wanted to make a difference(ie Will FND BE ANY DIFFERENT?NO).Short of actually stopping benefits altogether in favour of individuals earning their benefit and doing something constructive for it which would benefit everyone, then all of these government programmes will continually cost huge amounts of money,with the same clients using them,and the viscious circle will continue.
The boss of A4E said, that they do things differently from other providers,but I would agree with Daniel that I felt uncomfortable at times because I recognised plenty of the conversations which took place last night,and talking to friends who work for other providers,they felt the same.The whole system is full of cracks and need overhaulled as the level of bureaucracy is prioritised over people, and NO ONE is doing things any differently.How many people do you know in organisations talk a good game but actually cost huge amounts of money through their ineptitude but get away with it,and are getting filled even more by recent graduates who don't understand what it is like to be unemployed and all the worries associated with it.
Overall, my solution: create positive community activities for individuals to work on on a compulsory basis which brings both work experience, and respect for their communities too. Surely this would kick start the economy, and separate those who need the help, from thos that don't want it

I am so glad I don't work for A4E, the comapny I work for would NEVER operate in such a way. The customers I work with love coming to our office.

You will CONFORM - they are people not robots

A4E delivering FND OMG

Unfortunately I am of the belief that this has not given A4e a very good image.... playing into the hands of the many people who criticise the company. I have to ask whether this was the very best that could have been done to represent the good work that does go on in some centres.... very disappointing indeed

Ive been in this industry for over 20 years . This was toe curling stuff , it reminds me of the 1980 job club era . Ive seen a lot of critism of A4E on here and other places and yes Daniel you will bring the subject round to the purpose and get back to the point and wont accept A4E bashing . I am not into scoring points of other providers , I am just so glad I have my attitude to our customers and my staff have the same values I certainly wont be knocking their door for a job thankyou very much. Not the best P.R. excercise Emma!! more like an audition for a Pauline for an episode of in the league of gentleman

Tea with Emma anyone

Things must have gone backwards.

When I first went on courses like that in the 80's one was a little like that, and we were told to do what we wanted, but at least those that wanted to do something had some option to do something (even if it was all of their own back).

In that course, its like its designed to stop you doing anything.

In other courses, 80's 90's we learn't stuff (I got my first exposure to learning msdos on one of them) and even covered total quality management, marketing, team work etc on another.

Instead of learning from past courses, they seem to be just giving contracts to anyone who can take the required numbers, and not caring how they deal with them one iota.

Surely the dwp has a contract that specifies what the must be doing, and surely this program must be cast iron evidence they are not doing whatever is in that contract?

Isnt that fraud?

Or do the dwp just hand over vast amounts of money, with no safeguards?

I would be very interested in Ofsted's opinion regarding the quality of A4E's provision - particularly the relevance of allowing someone to read the Daily Star as part of their jobsearch. Given that the common inspection framework is changing (there will be more emphasis on the learners voice/ opinion - that could be very tricky for some of the staff featured in this programme) I think this organisation may have it's work cut out - at least in some of it's centres. I think that some of the staff in this organisation would do well to remember that it could be them on the other side of the desk one day....

I noticed here and elsewhere a number people metioning the scene where jobseekers are reading the Daily Star. From my own experience at A4e Edinburgh I can tell you that papers like these are what the clients bring in with them.

Who is this Pauline in the league of gentlemen? I never heard of her, nor the programme.

Xxxx are even worse than A4E, they see the unemployed as a revenue stream, then (as widely reported in the press), proceed to ask 'clients' sexually explicit questions, what for? who knows!

[Moderation - We can talk about A4e because they've been on TV so everyone has a reference point. Trashing other companies without a similar reference point is a different matter]

A couple of comments

Firstly, in response to Gerry Attric - I don't think the problem is with people buying the Daily Star, the problem is that the team leader at a4e told Mark that he should be looking for a job through the yellow pages and the papers - cue, camera pan to two men hiding behind the Daily Star. I wasn't aware that the Daily Star was recognised as an industry leading job vacancy paper.

Secondly, Emma Harrisons thin veneer of sincerity slowly dripped off her face as she was asked a series of soul searching questions - except they weren't really soul searching, they were questions a 5 year old could have answered if they really believed in what they were doing, rather than focusing on a huge extension to their already enormous and overwhelmingly undeserved country estate.

Thirdly, Mark - maybe the program was edited in his favour, but even taking that into consideration, I sat on the sofa, my heart bleeding for him. I genuinely wished I owned a company in Hull, I would have taken him on in a shot. The guy is articulate, wants to work and is prepared to put in a hard days graft. All he wants is job stability. How can it be that difficult to find him a job?! Frankly, he showed more enthusiasm and interest in having a job than the people who were supposedly working on his behalf at A4E. They should get sacked, and Mark should be given their job. Except, he probably wouldn't want to sit around all day doing naff all - he's too good for a4e.

Finally, who on earth was the pinhead with the diamond earrings? What right has he got to decide who is "job ready" or not - he hasn't had a shave, looks like he got his clothes out a skip and is a far cry from the professional image potential job seekers should be meeting in their own quest for employment. Get him sacked.

Firstly, the facilities available for "job search" in comparison to Emma's rambling country pile left a lot to be desired. Considering a4e are paid per person for a) being on the programme and b) for sustaining employment measured at various points according to the contract delivery, I find it abhorrent that the "customers" ( why are they called this when they are clearly not purchasing goods or a service and absolutely have no consumer rights or apparently choice in their own destiny?) are treated as nameless non-entities only deserving of attention when they tick boxes and take a temp job which will mess up their benefits yet swell a4e's stats and self congratulatory attitudes that they've "helped" someone.

I found Emma's attitude, arrogant, ill informed and entirely distasteful, yet [redactedy redactions]

The actual final procuring of Mark's job was dealt with by the job centre, who in my experience are more motivated, empathic and genuine in their bid to assist their clients. Poor Mark, there was something not quite right about the fact that although he appeared to have been an exemplary employee, he was given notice after only 4 weeks...Possibly to make room for the next a4e round of newbies, unaware that after stopping all their benefits the same fate would be looming a mere month down the line.

Where are the training and educative opportunities? Where is the consideration of an individual's prior experience/ qualifications? Where are the confidence building and self esteem courses? Where is it recognised by anyone who works for a4e that the people who attending their programmes may have barriers, child care, caring for others, mental health issues, where has anyone treated any of these customers with respect?!

[Moderation - Opinion: fine. Accusing people who take the risk of appearing on a TV documentary of having Swiss bank accounts: not so much]

I currently work A4e and for the last 2 years I have been incredibly proud of what we have achieved and how we treat our customers and have whole heartedly defended any attack or ridiculing of the industry I work in. Following Benefit Busters episode 2 I was barraged by texts of ridicule and I have no defence. I am devastated that the country now believes this is a true reflection of A4e as a whole. This is not the case and although our morale has been severely dented by this appalling programme, I personally will be driving the quality of the customer journey through A4e in the area I work. The only problem is it's going to be even more difficult to convince potential customers we genuinely want to help them.

Especially when the Boss of a4e saw nothing wrong, and sings the praises of the documentary on her company blog, even saying the dwp reckon as is fine, and they are doing a good job etc.

Hard to convince anyone a4e is good, when the boss stands by a docu like that.

I think A4e still have have a future, but not in the UK.

A4e are the biggest provider in the UK and have current DWP contracts lasting until 2014-16. They absolutely have a future in the UK, and thinking that they are some kind of 'rotten egg' is wrong. The solutions to problems highlighted in this show lie more in getting rid of New Deal-style provisions than getting rid of a single provider.

Daniel is correct in that A4e have a future.

My employer is one of the more successful subcontractors for fND - we are a niche provider and in some ways we have a rather unqiue perspective of different primes.

A4e has been one of the most organised primes providing effective, clear information to their subcontractors and have made a real effort to engage with them.

This must be welcomed and certainly does not reflect the attitudes of some posters to this site.

Going off the point slightly, I think there are going to be some really interesting developments in fND as some primes have very interesting delivery models, some approaches not seen before in the UK and which have not really been discussed yet on this site. I would hope that a documentry will look at some of these differences and which of these models work best in the UK environment.

I have been on Incapacity and Disability benefits for about 5 years, my health deteriorated after having my son - he's now 6. I've been requested to attend an interview at A4E Pathways. I have numerous medical conditions and medications as well as seeing a Rheumatologist, a Gastroenterologist and now i'm also being referred to see another consultant shortly.
Since watching Benefit Busters on TV, then receiving my A4E interview, myself and my husband (also my full-time carer), are concerned about how I'll be treated. The two episodes we've seen so far, I think i'd have a nervous breakdown!
What I'd like to know, if anyone has the answer is: How do they deal with someone that is too ill to work? Are they bullied?
If I had my health I would get a job tomorrow, I was working three jobs when I met my husband 7 years ago, I loved it. I never imagined being too ill to work. But that's what life threw at me & it's a struggle - daily, physically, mentally, emotionally and not to mention financially.

Benefit Busters...... what is of concern is that Managers within A4E, who expected A4E to be given a massive publicity boost by coverage by Channel 4, have simply proven beyond any reasonable doubt that A4E staff do not possess the competence needed to relate to the long term unemployed, and yet who are paid an extremely generous retainer to get the LTE back to sustainable employment.

For the next party trick.... perhaps Channel 4 should now address other wasteful Private Sector firms which are simply represent a Black Hole where taxpayer funds are concerned. Far better that such provision is delivered through Job Centre Plus.

Oh dear.... was this week's programme a slur against the provider or the system.. it seemed a bit of both to me. I have been in the industry for 20+ years both in JCP (it was ES in my day) and now for a 3rd party provider. I fear my management team will be looking at my expenditure on my New Deal budgets. All of our clients receive basic and life skills assessments. Spend time in a two week assessment programme then go on to do industry specific certificated courses, ie: basic food hygiene; CSCS; CIS; H & S as well as basic skills or ESOL (if reqired), whether they are FTET or not clients. They are then ALL* moved in to work placement at the end of this 2 week period. The exceptions being FTFT basic skills. Agreed sometimes the placements break down but this is simply used as another tool for analysis of the individuals needs/barriers before putting them back into an alternative placement. Having said all that and feeling like I've blown my own trumpet, there are times when an individual has completed all of our in-house job-search training modules (CV's; Spec Letters; Interview skills; telephone skills; seeking unadvertised vacancies, etc - there are 22 modules in total that individuals can access)and their initial placement has broken down, when they may find themselves sitting in a jobsearch room reading papers and scouring the internet. Not ideal but we do not provide red tops, only locals and commercial/industrial titles. The jobsearch tutors spend 1-2-1 with everyone daily, our difference to A4E is that we use an admin team to do the timesheets with participants so they also get a bit of 1-2-1 time with someone else as well during their time in our offices. In work benefit calculations (Better of Calcs BOC) are carried out for everyone on a regular basis... I see very little evidence of this sort of support for the A4E customers. Having said all that, they must be doing something better than us because we didn't win an FND prime contract!!

Although I have said I was 'gob-smacked' about this weeks episode and still am , as I read through all the negative feedback I have been trying my best to pick out some good points but it is difficult. I still think in amongst all this negativity there must be a few good things to take note of about what we saw.

I know in the program many of these things I have picked out may have been seen as ‘not working’ but I still think the fundamental ideas could work if properly used especially for FND.

1. I know some would disagree but I thought the idea of having the induction in one room then individuals moved to different colour coded job search rooms dependant on their assessed job readiness was a good idea . This would give individuals a visual sence of progression as they move up through the rooms and more importantly give staff the ability to target the help they need to move forward. I did expect however on the programme lots of tutor led or atleast ……..some tutor led activities to be going on in the amber room with much more help and support to individuals. As you all know individuals who are not job ready need a different sort of help to those that are , where as individuals that are job ready just want to be supported in finding a job.

During the show I was very, very disappointed that it took so long for Mark to get his benefits back as this insights fear in jobseekers stopping many taking the first step. If the show showed Mark getting his benefits back with 48 hours of being laid off then it would of lessened the impact and maybe encouraged him to try again. I know JCP has improved the delay by introducing a rapid reclaim system but I do not know how effective it is if used today.

2. Having a department that is tasked to work closely with local employers to search out vacancies and placements for customers is already used by most W2W providers today and can be very effective once relationship with businesses have been forged. Tight quality controls are needed to ensure customer and employer satisfaction. The problem on the program concerning the temp jobs should be eliminated by FND but I feel temp or part time jobs may be still useful for small number of individuals as a stepping stone to full time employment but only if they agree. In some areas because of the downturn temp jobs account for over 65% of the current vacancies , however this is expected to reduce over the coming year.

3. The training rooms seemed well decorated to reflect the corporate image and friendly environment but before you all shout at me ...... I know the program seemed to show lack of activity or structure.

4. The worrying factor is and I think it’s been mentioned before on this website ‘if this was what it was like when the cameras were there can you imagine what it must have been like when they had gone’. On a positive note however if no nothing constructive was happening when the cameras were there, then could it actually get worse when they left.

I expect and hope that massive improvements have already been made in this centre and we should not really judge all staff within A4E the same brush as the staff we saw on the TV, there are a few bad apples in every box (not normally so many however, in the same box though).

That’s it! ………. having watched this episode three or four times now I just can’t think of anything else positive to say. ……………… sorry.

Paperdos. at the a4e that I went to there was a 59 year old man on our course he could hardly walk up the stairs( lovely fella) he was harrased to go for jobs that there was no way!!! he could do it was unbelivable, good luck with you a4e course

Greyham.. last year i worker most of the year with agencys temp when i used to get laid off i used to make a rapid reclaim, phone up get a appointment within two days then was back on job seekers untill the next job the rapid reclaim with me was fine the only problem i had was with housing benefit taking for ever!!!!

Highpark1 - That is very reassuring thank you for that, we just need to make sure they improve the housing benefit then.

Highpark1 is right about housing ben taking ages. Unless you have savings or a sympathetic landlord it can be a very stressful time waiting to get it sorted.

Greyham: the In and Out of Work pilots have been running in seven local authorities for a couple of years, and are currently extending nationwide. Once active, one visit to the Jobcentre should restart all claims including HB, although it's not clear whether there are still processing delays with non-DWP benefits. Here's a notably TLA-heavy report on the pilots, and there's a press release lurking on the DWP site from a couple of months back.

Paperdos: it's difficult to know what to advise without understanding more about your individual circumstances. I'm assuming that your benefits are secure, and that you're being asked to attend Pathways voluntarily. If so, then it shouldn't harm your benefits to go along and have a chat, but you need to be certain at every stage whether there's mandating involved and what the potential impact on your benefits might be. Anyone dealing with you has a responsibility to explain these on request.

Daniel: Thanks for the information , I was not aware of the In and Out of Work pilots but I have had feedback from jobseekers that there have been delays in getting back their benefits after the short term work had ended. Although I had being spreading the word this area had improved, Benefit Busters with the delays on Mark's benefits, although filmed last year brought this subject back on the agenda.

My fear was that with the recent extra sign up work JCP were doing generated by the rise in unemployment because of the downturn and media coverage saying JCP were understaffed that delays still existed. It seems that this is not so and JCP seem to be on top of things which is great stuff.

It was also very pleased to hear from Highpark1 as he confirmed no delays because he said he experienced no problems with getting his jobseekers benefit back quickly, which is great, he said it was his housing benefit that he had problems with.

Is there anything in the pipeline to address housing benefit delays?

Interestingly, I watched this online (as could not stand to watch it at the time it was on tv, so watched it later when feeling better) but now, its 'vanished' from channel 4's website. People are asking why its not available on the comments, and on other forums, one person on another forum stated that channel 4 had replied to their question (why is it not online) that they do not have the rights to the programme so cant put it online.

Something funny is going on. I wonder if they are getting pressure to hide it, or if its just a glitch?

"It also lists repeat dates for the show if you fancy staying up till 4am next week."

Not any longer it doesn't.

Are channel 4 being forced to stop this from being repeated, and if so - who is doing the forcing.

the problem that i had with housing benefit was i would get a job sign off jobseekers once i signed of jobseekers my housing stoped, say the job was for 4 weeks i would not get the housing i was owed but i still had to pay the rent, so the job ends sign back on go the housing tell them. i would get a job within the week or so claim stops again no housing benefit still have to pay the rent though, i talked to the housing and they said the only way around it to get the money i was owed was to cancel my claim for housing benefit then reclaim when the job ended, if i did that when i reclaim it would take anything up to 6-8 weeks for the claim to become live again its a catch 22, you should have a rapid reclaim for housing and there should be somthing in place so we get the money we are owed and not have to cancel the claim if you no what i mean, were not on housing benefit when we get a temp job but the claim is still live for 13 weeks i think or somthing like that...

Excuse the nonsense...

They have the rights to the show because it initially went on On Demand. The repeat shows like UK BIX has stated, has vanished. A4e may have pulled it. Heroes fans will be aware that it went on iPlayer then it didn't etc. due to rights issues however this is neither here or there. If they don't have rights to showing it On Demand it isn't a reason why they can't repeat it.

I'm really glad this program was shown because it shows a bit of what a lot of us know is going on in these places.

Ive been unemployed for too long and have been on 2 13 week courses, although mine involved a job placement. The site of people sitting around looking at walls is very familiar. Sherrielle (I apologise for my spelling) absolutely called it right; its brain numbing. And its true, there is very little training or help.

Were told 'We here to help you help yourselves' which basically means they're not going to do anything. They offer us very little that we couldnt do for ourselves; even less in fact.

Because I have a PC at home I can use to job search; but no Ive got to come in and use theres. Even though theres not enough PCS to go round which means I can only use it for an hour or so. Theres barely enough chairs and the papers are out of date.

But A4e arent alone. Its happening at 2 centres (different companies) which aren't
A4e and now we know its happening at Hull. Its obviously widespread.

Its all a terrible waste of government money.

Here's an idea. Quite a few people in the industry have been saying that their courses are far better than those shown in the documentary. It would be of help to everyone to show some good delivery in action. To do this we need two things:

  1. Someone with a video camera and editing knowledge
  2. Some providers willing to let the video cameras onto their premises

If you fit the bill on either of these then email me at goodpractice [at] indusdelta [dot] co [dot] uk, and let's see if we can't show what the industry can do at its best.

thats a good idea dan but you will not get a true pic at my a4e that i went to one day the staff said to us the area manager is coming tomorow. all day we were cleaning up, they had a board on the wall saying who had got a job they just put loads of names on there to make it look as though people had got jobs my name was there on the board and i was sat in a4e not working.

You're missing the point highpark1 - it's about capturing good centres doing what they do well, as a counterpoint to the delivery shown in Benefit Busters. It wouldn't be an investigation, more a showcase. I think last week's show pretty much ran the gamut on showing what can go wrong; what's the point in sending undercover cameras in when perfectly open filming (and possibly some creatively evil editing) produces such a devastating picture?

With regard to cleaning up the day before, bad centres will never look better than mediocre, no matter how much they polish up on the day. I suspect a good inspector with free rein could spot a cover-up inside ten questions.

It's more profitable to offer a no frills service like Ryanair.

I think the new phrase is 'getting more for less' translates to getting more profit from contacts/services by offering less. The Conservatives are really keen on the idea.

'But A4e arent alone. Its happening at 2 centres (different companies) which aren't
A4e and now we know its happening at Hull. Its obviously widespread'.

The FND contacts can fit into the format offered by A4E in the doc, it's just a case of offering more childish/boring activities to do: we can be flexible with out format.

Just had a look and, yes, the 2nd episode isn't available on 4OD. Maybe Emma did have a word with 'government' after all.

I note some comments have tried to offer a more balanced view of the 2 shows. Personally, I don't feel there is anything worthy of praise although I have commended them to colleagues at work as examples of how not to engage with or train people (irrespective of whether or not they are out of work).

Some comments have also mentioned DWP type programmes in the 1980s. I started my working career on Community Programme in 1987 as an unemployed graduate. I've never thought of it as 'working for my benefits'. It was a job and I was happy to be working and glad somebody had offered me a chance.

I've never known this site to be so busy at weekends. Daniel must have his work cut out

Shaw Trust, the provider profiled on the third episode of Benefit Busters this Thursday, has some information about the episode on their website. Here's a direct link to the page:

http://www.shaw-trust.org.uk/shaw_trust_stars_in_channel_4_documentary_benef.

I guess we'll have to wait until Thursday before passing judgement!

This seems to be the correct link

http://www.shaw-trust.org.uk/search?q=benefit+busters&go=GO

I've got the training manuals for Pathways to Work issued by the DWP, so I'll be interested to see how Shaw Trust approach customers with a disability.

From A4E's website:

"Benefit Busters vividly outlines how our methods of tailoring welfare services to the individual’s needs, increases their chances of finding and keeping employment, especially in a challenging job market."

Obviously Channel 4 screened the wrong episode. Let's hope they rectify this soon and give us the episode which shows A4E to be an exemplar provider of W2W services as their own internal PR blurb suggests

From Emma's blog:

"The Programme that focused on Long Term Unemployed people in Hull was aired last night. As i said - it was a gritty slice of reality showing the real problems that some people face in a city like Hull - where there is high unemployment and many low skill, part time jobs.

I visited Hull yesterday - and spent time with the clients and staff in the A4e office. Within the large building there are many activities - all supporting people. A lot of the activities are attended by people who have volunteered to be there as well as people who have been mandated to attend. Education, English for speakers of other languages, Job searching, instruction in interviews, confidence, CV's, networking, etc etc. Everyone engaged in many many different activities. A very busy and buzzing place. The 60+ staff were passionate about their work - telling me the stories of people they had helped and ideas of how they were going to help those who had not yet found work.

There is a big issue though - for people who are long term unemployed in Hull - the 'insecure' nature of some of the jobs on offer. Just imagine - you are on benefits - you know where you stand - and you live from day to day on the money you get. You have worked out how to get by - making sure you can feed your children etc etc. Taking a job is a scary thing - i know that there are improved Job Centre schemes that help with the financial transistion into work - but i am not sure that in a city like Hull there is enough 'reassurance and comfort' for people who fear losing that job. There is a system called Rapid Reclaim - but the people of Hull tell us that it is not Rapid enough. When you have no money - waiting for even a week is too long - never mind three.

A4e is highlighting this issue and looking for solutions - we are even considering ways in which we could offer this reassurance from our resources. This is important as i think it is the reason that some people are getting trapped on benefits.

Any thoughts welcomed"

Bearing in mind the documentary was filmed 10 months ago, we should give due praise to Emma's proactive response to the issues that were highlighted to her directly by the filmmaker. Well done.

Righty ho. Enough of this for now. I'll open up a new discussion on the third episode later in the week, but this one's being archived. I may edit a few of the comments if I get chance, but it's very difficult to separate legitimate critical response to pointless bile.