A note to those who don't know me from before the blog; I post as username Arec Balrin on the Guardian website. This is the second supplement from my article for Comment is Free.
I am a client. I am a customer. These terms are used interchangeably in public services, each service probably even issuing guidelines on which one is preferable. A 'Client' is relying on your expertise and is getting a service but this sounds like something dirty. A 'Customer' is always right and is getting a product but they are idiots and don't know what they want. My Flexible New Deal provider doesn't care what term is used; it manages to interpret them both so that any which way they win and the jobless and possibly sanctioned pleb they claim to have helped loses.
Fred is not my friend. He's very friendly, lots of smiles, lots of courtesies, but he's not a friend. Sometimes he does something to remind me; like yesterday when he notified me of his interpretation of the latest action plan only after I signed it(an action plan is legally binding). I must now apply for a minimum of five jobs between now and the next appointment, where as the action plan is written so that I search for a part-time job that I could manage a few days a week. Fred asked me for an estimate number of places I would be likely to consider and I said five. Five possible workplaces does not equate to five suitable vacancies and he watched me counting and naming the potential workplaces with my fingers so he couldn't have not known what I meant.
A4e's conduct to this point was abusive enough on top of the mismanagement of information(they were obliged to tell me when I was next back at the Jobcentre after my Mandatory work-related activity finished and they didn't) that I went to the Jobcentre and asked to see the disability employment advisor to complain about A4e and ask if there was any way I could get out of their clutches. She was off sick but one of her assistants spoke to me. "I have some concerns about Fred at A4e" I said. "Oh don't worry, I spoke to them last week and Fred is no longer handling caseloads" she replied. "I have just come from my appointment with Fred". She was silent and still as a Weeping Angel for two seconds; it seemed there had been a history concerning Fred which led to A4e assuring the Jobcentre after quite a few seperate instances of complaints. They lied. Who would have believed it? What is the world coming to when you can't trust a bottom-line, profit-above-people, race-to-the-bottom, public purse-draining monopoly to tell the truth?
One of the worst parts of my experience has been A4e's tightness with information, whether it is deliberate or simply because Fred doesn't speak much English I don't know, but it has dire consequences for me. I need notice, I need details or when faced with change, a new person, a new place I have to adapt there and then without any preparation. This has outward manifestations, the more obvious things associated with Autism; stimming, repetition, echolia, gut and sensory issues brought on by stress etc. I am then blamed for my entirely warranted and necessary behaviour which was completely avoidable had I been given the information that would allow me to manage myself better. This is what led to my Mandatory work-related activity being just for the workplace that I already work at and the utter ballsing up of any hope in finding me a placement elsewhere: I was denied information about the possible workplaces when I requested it on the grounds that it was more than a month away. Well, I needed a month.
The lady at the Jobcentre had a ray of hope: my time on the Flexible New Deal ends in one month. I never realised there was a time-limit on FND: someone must have neglected to mention it(*COUGH* fred *COUGH*). But the time-limit is one year; I have only been on FND since last May so I'm left speculating as to why it could have been closed early. There is my obvious deterioration in health and functioning that led me to seek a support group, paid for from the Social Fund. It could be that they realised they had to get me out before I became an expensive wreck rather than a cheap to keep eccentric. A4e has clearly not saved the DWP any money in my case specifically and I don't think the national picture will look any better.
In the latest round of bidding for new contracts, more charities have won bids and hopefully Prospects will be one of them and they will be able to cover a larger area around their centres. If I can't get assigned to them next time I'm back on Flexible New Deal, it's back to A4e.
Since writing this supplement, Prospects does not appear to have won any bids and by what I can find has been significantly scaled back. An NAS initiative for unemployed Autistics that worked and did so with a group of people who historically have a very poor employment record....lost forever, where contracts would have saved it. Where a Welfare to Work industry that wasn't out for itself and only itself wasn't muscling everyone out with the knowing consent of our leaders. In a just world people would hang for this.