29 May 2008

Jobcentre Plus denies jobseekers informed service user choice

Hi, Derek

I note that the one 'comment' so far arising from my 'voice risk analysis' piece is actually spam :-/

Still, as you were keen to have more contributions from me, here is something else. (I regard this piece as revelatory material that can resource something else, rather than a complete article in itself.)

Jobcentre Plus denies jobseekers informed service user choice

"In 1987 John O'Brien, an American who works for better lives for people with learning difficulties, identified five important things to look for when judging whether a service provision was of a good standard." (http://www.elfrida.com/documents/homelink%20support%20worker.pdf page 4 [Accessed 28 May 2008].) I believe 'John O'Brien's Five Accomplishments' help provide a framework of best practice for services addressed to the requirements of disabled people in general, and will focus here -- with the aid of Accomplishment #1 -- on how some of Jobcentre Plus 'standard practice' actually works against the interests of disabled jobseekers. Accomplishment #1 is 'Informed Choice':

1. Informed choice defines and expresses individual identity. People with learning difficulties should be empowered to make informed choices and to take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. (ibid.)
When 'confidentiality' is a denial of informed choice and 'service-provider' accountability

Government departments get restructured and rebranded, but many aspects of practice regarding disabled people do not improve significantly -- even with such advances in legislation as the Data Protection Act and Disability Discrimination Act. This fact is exemplified by how the executive arm of government known through the years as the Manpower Services Commission, Employment Service and now Jobcentre Plus have denied disabled jobseekers informed choice and hide behind the word 'confidentiality'.

I first came across such use of the word 'confidentiality' in the fallout from a 'vocational assessment period' at a Manpower Services Commission-run 'Employment Rehabilitation Centre' [sic] (ERC). There in 1978, a six week 'vocational assessment' period proved very disappointing to me, resulting in no follow-up training period to the 'vocational assessment'. I was not allowed unsupervised access to the subsequent report of that 'assessment', and could only see it at the Jobcentre in the presence of a [then named] 'Disablement Resettlement Officer' or their assistant. We were told that the 'vocational assessment' report was "too confidential" for the ERC graduate to have a photocopy of. (Worryingly, the medical reports were deemed "too confidential" for us to have any access to.)

Twenty-one years later I was on a 'Work Preparation Programme' as a disabled jobseeker at Hendon College, funded by Jobcentre Plus. With an end-of-programme review coming up, I was eager to have a copy of the related 'Action Plan' so that I would be better prepared for that review meeting evaluation. To my request for a copy of the 'Action Plan' that I had drawn up with her, my Disability Employment Adviser replied, "It is not standard Jobcentre practice for you to have unsupervised access to that 'Action Plan'. The Action Plan and subsequent report are confidential between the Jobcentre and the service provider." Through the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities (aka Skill) I was advised that I had a right to such personal data by way of the Data Protection Act, and so the college obliged me with a copy of the Action Plan. They also sent programme participants a draft copy of the evaluation report, so that the participant could suggest amendments. But when I wrote my MP Glenda Jackson complaining at the retrogressive nature of Jobcentre Plus 'confidentiality', she replied something like, "What do you expect me to do about it?"

More recently, on New Deal induction with workfare company A4e (Action for Employment), I have noticed that a woeful lack of signposting information has been exacerbated by our being told that the induction packs outlining such matters as 'Terms and Conditions' of the 'Intensive Activities Period' are "too confidential" for us to take out of the building." Further, on the referral form I had reason to object to the absence of any questions regarding my disability access requirements as a New Deal 'beneficiary' [sic].

But I do know from friends who have been on New Deal in the City of Westminster and LB Hammersmith & Fulham that there is a postcode lottery regarding New Deal provision. Their New Deal provider is 'Work Directions' which does not hide behind such 'confidentiality'. Work Directions also provides free mobile phones to its New Deal participants, arguing, "How can you get a job if no-one can contact you?" and free passports to streamline such matters as Criminal Records Bureau Enhanced Clearance checks toward jobs that require such safeguarding measures. Instead of such freebies, A4e offers free debt advice -- while it is bidding to take over delivery of government funded legal advice services for the whole of the UK.
Is it not high time that disabled jobseekers be given more informed choice and such service providers enjoyed less 'confidentiality'? The motto of A4e is 'Changing People's Lives'. I would rather receive more resources and help in making my own changes, thank you.

Alan Wheatley
Disability Spokesperson for London Green Party


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I think that the article on the "five important things to look for when judging whether a service provision was of a good standard" is interesting. There are a lot of companies and each company has their own policies that they implement.

When Keir Starmer was a Marxist.

Canvassing in Brighton back in 2017 to support Green Party MP Caroline Lucas’s re-election efforts, I knocked on a door and came acros...