Thursday, February 02, 2012

"If we want them to tap dance then they will tap dance"

So said a Whitehall mandarin apparently, referring to the government plans for the sick and unemployed. True or not (or a combination of the two) nothing better sums up the malicious glee of our Tory Overlords: at last the poor are going to get what's coming to them, the bastards! Our surplus humanity will tap dance for their alms? Well, these must be dancing lessons.

In a classroom upstairs, an 18-year-old man with red acne scars and a powerful stammer, who has been unemployed since he left school with no GCSEs and whose parents have never worked, is sitting with a 33-year-old father of six, who hasn't worked since his plastering job, helping renovate the Travelodge hotel, finished two years ago. They're being taken through an induction programme by a man who introduces himself as a multifunctional trainer and who tells them (reading from a script) that: "Through a range of activities, we integrate your vocational, social, personal development needs with your work aspirations."

"We want to share your brilliance with the rest of society," he tells them. The teenager looks at his fingernails and the older man's brow wrinkles with polite scepticism.

The trainer spends a long time taking them through the "You and I Charter", which he reads with hushed reverence, as if it were poetry. "You and I need to always be on time... You and I need to sustain an understanding of what we are together aiming to achieve. You and I need to be proactive. You and I need to just be… You and Me." The older man nods agreeably, the teenager bites his lower lip.

There's more.

Later there is another induction session upstairs for people who are claiming employment and support allowance. These three men, all in their late 50s and early 60s, have been tested and provisionally found too unwell to work for the moment, but put into a "work-related activity group", which means that they have to perform some work-related activities (such as attending this meeting) in order to continue getting their benefits.

Although they do not have to sign up for two years of the work programme, they are obliged to turn up to the Pertemps office in central Hull, and sit through this meeting for an hour. On a flipchart at the front of the room, there is a picture of a smiling shop assistant drawn in blue marker pen, left over from a retail skills class, annotated with lines pointing to positive aspects of his appearance: an approving arrow points to a tie, another line points to his armpit, and is marked "good hygiene".

None of the men in this room look like they would be obvious employees at the flashy new shopping centre that has opened next to the railway station, full of not very full Top Shops, Zara and H&M.

"Why should you join the work programme?" the instructor asks. "It will give you increased quality of life, better health, increased independence, increased confidence, improved finances, improved social life and increased ability to be a role model for future generations."

One yellow-faced, grey-stubbled man says nothing until the instructor asks if he is all right, and he replies that he is on morphine because he is recovering from an operation to remove two-thirds of his pancreas and bits of his spleen. "I'm a bit drowsy, from my medication. That's why I don't think I will get a job."

He is 53, and before this illness has been working without break since he was 16.

Sitting opposite him, a 57-year-old ex-British Aerospace employee, who was made redundant two and a half years ago, decides he won't be signing up, not least because he is suffering from prostate cancer, has just finished a course of radiation and is undergoing hormone therapy "I feel shocking," he says.

There you are, there's just that little bit more misery, despair and deprivation in the world... happy now?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Typo in the title! Otherwise, love your blog, regularly read it!