What follows is a personal account of the experience of one person and what it is like to be unemployed and disabled in Tory Britain. It shows the contempt that people are treated with by some so-called work program providers engaged by their Tory friends and paid for by the taxpayer.
This example shows quite clearly what we all knew: that people are not being supported under this Tory regime, rather they are being belittled humiliated and having legal rights under the Equality Act ignored. At the same time they are being driven towards new or further mental health issues resulting in suicidal tendencies for some.
The fact that this example features the A4e Company run by disgraced multimillionaire Tory darling Emma Harrison speaks volumes. Ministers ended the A4e contract for the Welfare to Work scheme in May this year under the shadow of a range of accusations, arrests and resignations within the company.
Karen wrote to DPAC so that her story could be shared –we believe this inhuman treatment and worse is happening to many people under this Tory regime. She says:
I finished University in 2002 and was sent toQueenAlexandraCollege. I signed on in 2004, before that I had long term problems with health and eyesight. I had specialist help from Action for Blind People who were instrumental in getting me a voluntary placement at aBirminghamCollege. Although it was two years before I got a paid contract there. I was supported in furthering my skills and gaining more qualifications as well as experience. In 2009 government cuts meant I was unemployed again. Action for Blind People got me some courses under the advisors discretionary fund. However, I was summoned to the jobcentre and informed I was to be put on flexible new deal with A4e in 2010. I was stopped from seeing Action for Blind People and the placement they were arranging fell through as a result.
A4E and the constant threat of sanctions
I informed A4e that I needed large print documents, but they continued to send out small print documents which were illegible to me. The first contact given for at A4e was not contactable so I went to my job centre and asked for someone else. A4e said they’d send someone out but I had already arranged a lift to their offices. When I got in the office they presented me with a form to fill in, in small print. I told them I couldn’t see it and asked them to photocopy it, but they didn’t enlarge it. I was then taken to a very public area where there were other clients and I was asked humiliating personal questions. For example: are you a drug user? What medication do you take? and so on, at no time was I informed that I didn’t need to answer these questions.
I was then called over to see a woman, let’s call her Ms Harris. The first thing she said was:
If I were you I’d go on the sick.
This would have meant that I was off their books. I told her I wanted to work, at which point she became very rude and then refused to reimburse my travel costs. I explained that I needed large print documents, Ms Harris and her manager barked at me that they didn’t need to provide me with anything! Then they amazingly proceeded to threaten me with sanctions.
Three months passed. I decided that if they couldn’t provide reasonable alterations, equipment etc. I wasn’t going to sign it or do it. They threatened me with their sanctions again and put me through a psychometric test. Once again, no attempt was made to provide for my reasonable alterations. In the end I showed the A4e worker how she could enlarge the screen this for others that might need it, after I’d worked it out for myself-they didn’t have a clue nor care. I think I skewed the results so badly that they didn’t bother me for a while, until I received a call from Ms Harris, she informed me about a teaching job. However, when I told her that I didn’t have a teaching qualification, she got aggressive. I later learned that she had immediately got in touch with the benefits office in an attempt to impose sanctions again. To be fair they did provide training in CV writing-that was great as they told me to leave my degree off the CV! In the end they submitted the CV I had done while at Action for Blind People and claimed credit for it.
More months passed and I was transferred to Beacon Centre for the Blind. It was not taken into account how I would get there, I got lifts mostly, but trying to get travel costs reimbursed was still made as difficult as possible. At this time my mental health issues had been worsened by the treatment at A4e. I told A4e I couldn’t use buses (I had had some training before going to A4e but it was a bad experience and really didn’t work). A4e thought this was an opportunity to belittle me and humiliate me, telling me I was missing out. By the next meeting they made their contempt even clearer:
Look you’ve been sent here, you’re better off than others: stop complaining!.
If you don’t like it, don’t sign on-nobody is forcing you to claim JSA are they!
I was then sent to the Job Centre. They told me to sign for the work program, if I didn’t …then – you guessed it: I would be sanctioned.
I am now with Action for Blind People again, the people I have had a ten year relationship with, they saw the mess I was in and helped me loads. I am also now seeing a specialist mental health nurse and psychiatrists for the suicidal feelings. I avoid signing anything and am terrified of going to the job centre now, after my experience. In fact, I am starting to be scared of going out at all. Sometimes, I’ll pretend to be sick so I don’t have to go out of the house. For example I live with my parents and they often go to see my nephew-I just can’t face leaving the house. It’s the same when I have the chance to go to my brothers.
I put a formal complaint in to the Independent case examiner. They believed that it was acceptable for A4e NOT to provide large print documents, despite the Equality Act. The job centre still doesn’t provide large print documents. I have to ask each time and explain again and again. I’m close to the end of my tether with it all. I finally got my travel expenses 12 months after that first meeting with A4e, after my formal complaint. They were paid on the 1st April.