Is there any shred of humanity in The Work Programme?

I work for a subby on the work programme after being part of the TUPE fiasco of last summer, when I was working with a prime on New Deal. I considered myself lucky to be in employment -and still do, especially in the current climate, however I find myself despairing about a number of things with the Work Programme. I'm not naive about the big bad world out there and realise that companies need to make money, but at what cost?

I'm based is a deprived inner city area and with that comes the usual issues of huge caseloads with multiple barriers and diverse requirements. So far, our team have achieved targets, job outcomes, meaningful contacts and attachment figures despite meagre resources and the lack of an ESOL provision - considering that 70% of our clients have that need. I've always used a holistic approach and have found that spending time with clients, helping them recognise their skills and realise their potential has reaped massive rewards for the individual. This was something that I truly loved to do and over the years helped many people back into employment.This method doesn't work so well under the provisions and restrictions of the Work Programme, as the Primes seem to be more concerned how many people we can sanction and how many boxes we can tick in the shortest time frame possible. Whatever happened to helping people? Our team have recently been the subject of an action plan devised by our senior management where we are all under the threat of future disciplinary action. This horrifies us and completely demotivates the team. We work flat out and for what? None of us can do any more than what we do already. I'm seriously considering moving out of the industry. Years ago this was a career choice for me and recently I've found the floor moving beneath me. I'ts something that saddens me. I don't respond well to being beaten with sticks and neither do my clients.

Stephen, you have my sympathies, and I agree that the WP can at times be callous in its treatment of people, e.g. recovering cancer patients.

Your senior managament seem very unsupportive. Does "future disciplinary action" mean what I think it means, i.e. the sack if you don't meet your targets?

We have been asked to hit sanction targets too, although this is nothing new, as JC+ offices have been given targets of three people per week to refer for sanction whether they need to be sanctioned or not, and it's always the most vulnerable that are the easiest to target.

I know there has been a few issues about jobseekers NOT being sanctioned in the past for things like openly not seeking work or not turning up for booked appointments or refusing work but should we really be setting targets on sanctions – I think not!

I seemed to remember there was a newspaper article sometime last year that stated that JCP staff had been targeted on sanctions – I remember thinking at the time 'That can not be true' but now I am not so sure, I am so shocked!

Having said that I do think sanctions are needed in the system but not set as a target for staff to achieve - This is dangerous!

Whatever "future disciplinary action" means the sack or not is unclear. I asked questions to the senior manager and recieved a distinctly non committal response. Somehow i feel it may be the case, but if the Prime decides that they want to pull the contract then we'll all be out of work anyway. The Prime are insisting that we sanction clients after one missed appointment, regardless of previous attendance levels. This seems likely to undo all the progress we make in trying to break down the client's barriers in the first place. Even my work ready clients( not many of those) will be alienated.
It feels like we're being forced to cut down a tree, use the wood to build a boat to cross the moat we've just filled with water to protect the wall that sits in front of the client's original barriers.

Sanctions are a DWP imposed "rule", the provider has no say and MUST raise a sanction for a missed mandatory activity, harsh though it may seem you have to hope the decision maker takes everything into account. That said since the tougher rules it has certainly improved attendance.

Yes, I'm sure attendance has improved, it's just a shame that we don't have enough time to see them because we're too busy fulfilling other contractual requirements.

I believe that any employer attempting to take "disciplinary action" would come unstuck right away unless you breached specific guidance or company rules. They may be able to start "capability" proceedings against you if you are failing to hit targets, but even then, only if your colleagues are meeting theirs, or they too are the subject of proceedings. I'm not really a 'Labour' person, but there are times when the support of a Trades Union may be helpful.

You'd need to refer to your Capability and Disciplinary policies. I don't agree with Tyn on this one, simply because in my experience all staff can be under performance review if they are not hitting targets. It doesn't have to be one person "under performing", all staff not hitting targets can be put on capability.

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It's interesting that the role of advisors for sub-contractors is now being redefined to essentially become sales people. With the change to a target driven culture, if you don't hit your targets - you aren't going to be kept on. As an advisor you need to demonstrate the ROI you are generating for the business.

Many sub-contractors are now offering new staff only 12 week rolling contracts - the role is not to help customers but to hit target each month. There is a subtle but important difference.

Another reason for a 12 week staff contract is also that if the contract is taken away by the prime, the sub-contractor can simply give its staff 4 weeks notice and additionally avoid having to pay any statutory redundancy.

Generate a profit for the big private business - that's the most important priority of the game now.

Health service next.

I don't know whether it is so much about generating profits as delivering contracted outcomes, which are set out by government. If you do anything else, you are not delivering the contract and so shouldn't really be involved with it. Indeed it is hitting these contracted outcomes that generate revenue from primes, but I can assure you that no primes are making profit from the Work Programme as yet and will not do so for a couple of years at least. And if primes don't get large enough revenues, nor will their subs and so subs will inevitably have to lay off people if they are not hitting outcome targets. So really don't see the problem with this approach from the primes' perspective. If you don't like it, I suggest you blame the policy.

@Bob Cratchet

I thought that's what I said? If everyone is underperforming they should all be under review.

@Dangerboy

You are right, being from the voluntary sector I don't have much sympathy for Primes who are out for profit, but as things stand it's more about them just breaking even.

On a personal note, I was taken aside by one of the senior management team before the close of business on thursday afternoon, to be informally told that I would be facing a disciplinary procedure on monday for (I assume) non compliance of contract for not applying the required sanctions. The manager told me that I would be informed by email. The problem with this was that I was out of the business on annual leave today, so I have no idea what to expect when I go into work on monday. I have no time for preparation. Can anybody offer any advice? My only avenue of defence is the crushing workload involved and the fact that three of our team are off work sick with work related stress.

@stepheng - You are too decent to be involved with such unscrupulous people.

@stepheng

Did senior management insist that these clients be sanctioned, however you used your discretion not to sanction, or are these 'targets' that senior management have been told to hit?

Either way, get their reasoning in writing, and then if you are disciplined for either applying your discretion or not hitting odious targets, you can then go to the press.
IDS has already been humiliated once when he described 'sanction targets' as "claptrap and a conspiracy", only for it to revealed as true.

Thank you both for your comments. We are discouraged from using our discretion. The prime has been very clear on that. We are told 'It's a process'. I have a feeling that there are set sanction targets but nobody is telling us that. This would be a logical conclusion considering my recent experiences. I will be asking some questions on monday.

Thank you both for your comments. We are discouraged from using our discretion. The prime has been very clear on that. We are told 'It's a process'. I have a feeling that there are set sanction targets but nobody is telling us that. This would be a logical conclusion considering my recent experiences. I will be asking some questions on monday.

If your Customers are not complying with mandated directions then DWP provider guidance clearly lays down that you must raise a sanction. No point in getting yourself in a tizz over it. If Customers do not comply then they need to answer for their actions, if they have a good enough reason then I assure you the DMA process is fair. Fill in the forms and move on. You are NOT allowed to exercise discretion, again it is in the guidance and subsequent releases of DWP policy.
If you are not following process and you have been found out then you deserve to be brought to book, you are helping no-one by allowing Customers to hide.
There are no sanction targets, trust me I see hundreds of them decided in the Customers favour every week when the evidence suggests they should have been sanctioned, if there are targets then the DMA teams would simply uphold every one against the Customer, not happening, another lame conspiracy theory.