Monday, 19 October 2009

"Flexible" New Deal - Working Links Debacle. Treating people like slackers

Below is a complaints letter (rather long as there was A LOT to complain about) which I am sending to the Jobcentre and Working Links people. I was treated to a hideous day which left me utterly exhausted for the rest of the week. The emotional and physical stress left me completely dead on my feet. I sincerely hope nobody else has to go through anything like this!

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to complain about the appalling treatment I recently received from the “Flexible New Deal” programme run by Working Links on the 13th of October 2009 at the YMCA Leisure Centre in Scarborough. I am 26 years old, I have two degrees and have suffered from M.E/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since I was 14, and have a past history of epilepsy.

A few days before, I received a phone call asking me to attend a compulsory workshop in Scarborough (23 miles from my home) as there was not one being run from my local Jobcentre in Malton. I was more than willing to attend this day, and even had some hopes that it would be useful to me. Although I did find the manner in which I was asked to attend quite abrupt and threatening, having been told repeatedly that I would lose my benefits if I did not attend.

Because of my health, early mornings are not easy for me, particularly if I have had a disrupted nights’ sleep, which often happens to people suffering from M.E. I can often wake feeling no more rested than when I went to bed. I arranged for my Mum to drive me to Scarborough as it is not safe for me to drive when very tired and there is no local public transport from my village. I had never been to Scarborough before so wanted to leave in plenty of time, to ensure I found the right building and was not late.

When I arrived there was no reception desk or anybody to let me know if I was in the correct place. I wandered round the building until I found somebody to ask. When I stated that I was there to attend the Working Links induction I was told that there was no Working Links happening that day and I must be there for the Jobcentre’s “Back to Work” session. Although sceptical about this I could only go by what I was told so was directed to wait in the kitchen as they were not ready. The meeting according to my letter was due to start at 9.30am. At about 9.40am we were asked to take a seat in the room provided for the “Back to Work” session. On entering the room and taking a seat I and two other people were told that we were not on the list for that session. We took out our letters, which had been sent to us instructing us about the day and showed them to staff. When the staff saw these letters they were stunned as they were apparently unaware that any Working Links session was supposed to be held that day!

I had made a lot of effort to attend this session, my Mum had to sacrifice her time to take me, and the people supposed to be running it were totally unaware that we were coming.

There were about six of us in total attending the session so we were sent back to the kitchen to wait whilst staff, understandably panicked and rushed to arrange a hastily cobbled together plan for the Working Links session. We did not start the session until about 9.55am.

The letter I had received before attending stated clearly that during the induction we may be asked to discuss “the skills and work related abilities you have and anything that might be stopping you get where you want to be, including medical conditions” I was very keen to do this as, having two degrees already, it is my medical history, and not lack of training that has prevented me gaining employment. However, whenever I attempted to raise the issue I was treated dismissively and it became clear that during the induction we were not allowed to discuss anything other than “the new government rules.” We were expected to blindly obey these rules in order to continue to receive Jobseekers allowance.

We were told that to continue to receive benefits, we would have to be completing 30 hours of work related training and activities per week. I was understandably concerned by this because I am only supposed to be looking for part time work until I am strong enough to increase this. It has been recommended by my GP that I begin with working about 16 hours a week and build up gradually, to avoid having another set-back. When I tried to raise this problem I was aggressively and abruptly told that “those are the rules and if you don’t comply you will lose your benefits.” J**** T****, who was delivering the un-planned seminar, did not want to hear of any problems or issues I may have, and there was an attitude taken towards me which implied I was just finding excuses. No matter how calmly or how many times I tried to clarify certain issues, and ask for advice on my individual needs, I was answered dismissively and very unsympathetically. I was reduced to tears of frustration in the seminar, in front of a room full of strangers, and was made to feel absolutely miserable. I felt I was being treated like a second rate citizen who could not be bothered to find work.

I was at the time of the seminar already doing voluntary work at a local museum and had arranged this for myself with no outside help and have gained a huge amount of work experience. I had for some time tried to organise a work placement through the Job Centre but despite many phone calls and emails, the people who were trying to arrange this (RR of YH Training services Ltd) had ceased to contact me and no work placement ever materialised. Being desirous to work and gain experience I arranged one myself.

During the seminar we were told that in order to comply with the “Flexible New Deal” rules I would have to attend a session in Scarborough once a fortnight. Again this worried me as it is not exactly local or easy for me to get to. When I tried to ask a question about this, discussing my ability to get to Scarborough in relation to my health difficulties, I was again met with an aggressive response and threatened with having my benefits taken away. I live in a rural isolated location and there is no public transport within easy reach (the nearest bus stop being a mile away at least). I was horrified by the prospect of having to get to Scarborough once a fortnight, especially if it was morning appointments as it had been that day. There is no guarantee I would be able to drive myself and could not expect my mother to drive me there and back every time as she had done that day. I only recently passed my driving test (only having taken it recently due to a history of Epilepsy) and cannot drive when tired as it can be dangerous, I suffer cognitive dysfunction and myoclonic jerks due to my M.E. Again I tried to question the sense of forcing me to go to Scarborough once a fortnight when my local Job Centre in Malton allowed me to sign on by post, as according to them the distance from my home was far enough to warrant this. I asked if there were any sessions run nearer to where I was living or if some could be run in the Malton Jobcentre. Again and again I was aggressively answered that I had to attend or I would lose my allowance. J***** T**** at one moment even sarcastically asked “well if you can’t get here, how are you going to get a job?” It was clear she wanted to assume that I was only out of work due to laziness, even though she knew absolutely nothing about my personal history. I spent much of the seminar in tears and felt totally humiliated by her responses to my concerns.

J***** T**** was completely unprepared for the seminar and her behaviour towards me was unprofessional.

The day was physically and emotionally exhausting and I felt ill and drained of all self-esteem. I have battled this illness since I was 14 years old and never once have I given up, I am proud of what I have achieved culminating in gaining my Masters degree. However during the seminar I was treated like a waste of time. I had gone to a lot of effort to prepare for the day and nobody was a bit interested in listening to what I had been doing to find work. It was only after the event that I realised the letter I had received informing me of the day and stating what I should do in preparation was actually signed by J***** T****. It is somewhat confusing that the letter informing us about the seminar was signed by the woman who on the day, claimed to have had no prior knowledge that we were due to attend.

The letter stated in the “what we expect from you” section, that I should: “tell us what you’ve done to find work. It’s easier if you write this down and bring letters from employers and anything else that shows us what kind of jobsearch activity you’re doing so we can be sure you’re getting the right support.” I did this and had prepared copies of my CV, records of jobs applied for locally, records of my voluntary work etc. but on the day J***** T**** was not the least bit interested in any of this and was merely going through the presentation and laying down the rules. The presentation itself heavily implied that we were out of work due to being “happy as we were” and not wanting to find employment.

The rest of the session was spent filling out various forms including basic knowledge tests etc. Even this seemed slightly degrading and we were not given any explanation as to the purpose of these forms, by that time I had lost all my strength and was just trying to fill them in as fast as I could so that I could go home. At one point in the “presentation” an image was put onto the screen which appeared to be some kind of optical illusion. Because of my history of epilepsy and cognitive dysfunction resulting from M.E I found this difficult to look at as such things often make me have involuntary jerks or spasms. When I mentioned this I was impatiently told by J***** T**** “well don’t look at it then”. What was baffling about this episode was that no explanation at all was given as to why we were supposed to be looking at it anyway. It seemed like yet another pointless exercise and, like the rest of the day, an utter waste of time.

The last few years have been a huge struggle for me, and it has been incredibly hard to get myself back on my feet and into a position where I am able to work part-time. I have had little or no help from anyone other than G.P. and my parents and am therefore proud of my achievements. The Working Links session made me feel like an utterly useless member of society. I left in tears, very shaken by the treatment I had received and so exhausted that I forgot the “Working Links” information pack that I had been given. For someone struggling to live with a chronic yet invisible illness the day was detrimental to my health and wellbeing. The effort involved to arrive on time was exhausting and the treatment I received left me in physical pain, emotional exhaustion and despair. The thought of ever returning filled me with dread but I was forced to arrange another appointment before leaving.

I wonder why, once I had explained my situation, I was not referred to the Specialist Disability Employment Programme, which I discovered existed when I looked at the Flexible New Deal information published on the DWP website. This programme’s web page states that: “The aim is to provide a tailored, coherent range of specialist employment services which can respond more flexibly to the individual needs of disabled people”. Surely this may have been a more appropriate programme for me, yet nobody even made me aware of it despite my asking about disability programmes on several occasions both at my local Job Centre and at the Working Links induction? I would also like to quote the Disability Discrimination Act which states that: “it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you if you are disabled: by dismissing you, or subjecting you to any other negative treatment”. Perhaps Working Links should refer to this in the future to prevent them subjecting anyone else to the awful treatment I received.

To end on a positive note I can report that the day after the Working Links debacle I received a telephone call from the museum where I volunteer, asking me to begin part time employment with them. I do not want to be positive statistic for Working Links as my employment is nothing to do with their programme but is a result of my own hard work. The Museum that has hired me has, and is, being wonderfully flexible and understanding even though they are under no obligation.

The Jobcentre/Working Links programme were not in the least bit supportive. Part of my joy in hearing that I had secured paid employment was that I would no longer have to be treated like an employment evader by the Job Centre/Flexible New Deal.

On hearing of my ordeal my employers instantly offered to write in support of my case and show their own displeasure that “a hard working and conscientious” person could be treated so badly. Please ensure that this complaint is taken seriously as I do not wish anybody else recovering from, or trying to live with, a chronic illness to be treated the way I was.

Yours Faithfully


  1. I am very interested on this complaint. Any chance may I upload it to a few of my sites? Please email me ( with the unedited letter (your name isn't important but the name of employees etc. are). Thanks :)

  2. I'm in the process of working with the CAB on this now, Please let me know which sites you would wish to use it on. I have been advised not to publically publish names yet so would need to see where it would be sent first. Thanks for your interest and hope I can help

  3. On New Deal Scandal, New Deal Complaints and Feedback dot Flexible New Deal dot me dot uk.

  4. You are welcome to post the letter onto your site, but I have been told not to publically disclose names whilst my complaint is still being "dealt with" so I think it best not to yet. Only posted it off today so still awaiting a response. Thanks for taking notice! the whole new deal process is a joke for most people as far as i can see