Gary's Story

We've been getting lots of positive feedback about the speakers at our 'Perils of Participation' event on the 19th March. Many people told us they were especially moved when listening to Gary and Clive. Here's a written version of the speech that Gary delivered on his experience of workfare: “Hello everyone, my name is Gary. Back in August 2014 I was invited to take part in what I thought was a regular interview with my Job Centre advisor. I was swiftly given three options: 1. Sign-on every day (without knowing what time I would sign on the next day) 2. Sign-on every week 3. Be referred to a CWP (Community Work Placement) - a six month workfare scheme. In the end I didn’t really have much choice. My advisor had already decided, without any assessment or any checking of my CV, that a CWP was for me. I was sent to the training provider, Urban Futures, in Wood Green and over the next few weeks, I was deeply disturbed by what I saw. There was a total lack of care and concern shown by the staff of Urban Futures toward the people who were entering the centre; people who were expecting support and guidance, but instead were placed into an atmosphere of fear, bullying and intimidation. There was no support or understanding for those who had mental health issues, illiteracy or drug and alcohol dependency issues. The staff were simply interested in getting you onto placements as soon as possible, and making sure your paperwork was completed for profit reasons only. Later I would learn that many of the claimant's skills were not being properly assessed, and not matched with the job skills they had, or put in the desired area of employment they were looking for. The majority were simply put in charity shops. So you had the situation where graphic designers were ironing and hanging clothes from 9 to 5, but also one where plumbers and electricians were working for removal companies, and people with excellent IT skills were picking up litter in parks. If you failed to comply, you would be threatened with sanctions. I actually turned out to be one of the luckier ones. Although I had been due to work in a Marie Curie charity shop, I fortunately ended up at a charity organisation, known as Embrace UK, instead where I took on wide and varied tasks involving youth development. But the threat of sanctions was always present. People were sanctioned for not completing the register; they were sanctioned if there was an emergency at home meaning they couldn’t get there; and if they phoned to explain anything, the message was not passed on, and they were sanctioned. I recall one day sitting in the centre at Wood Green, during a routine job search session, engaged in conversation with a young man who was at the point of total exasperation. He said, "Gary, I feel as if I'm on parole". Immediately, I could identify with his feeling. He was so right, the description was so apt. I felt like I had committed a crime too, but what was this crime we had supposedly committed? It is my belief that what we are witnessing in society today is the criminalization of the unemployed. There is an atmosphere now at Job Centres and training providers, that you are guilty until you can prove your innocence. However, when we take a pause, take a closer look, a closer examination; we see clearly who the real criminal is, and who has committed the real crime. And what is this crime they have committed? The crime is: they have stolen our time, they have stolen our energy, and they have stolen our creativity. It doesn't matter which of these training providers you visit, all are the same. All have a total lack of care and concern for claimants. All of them don’t care if you have mental health issues or other problems. And all of them don’t care which placement you end up in, just as long as you are there. Instead of actually receiving help to find employment, you experience a loss of confidence and self-esteem. So that is workfare; that is how it operates within every provider and every Job Centre, purely because you found yourself unemployed, through no fault of your own. I thank you for listening”. You can also see Clive tell his story in this video and article published by the Guardian.