NEW LABOUR constantly says that the New Deal for the unemployed is at the centre of its programme. MARTIN SMITH talked to some of those on the scheme to find out what life on the New Deal is really like.
RAY IS 19 years old. He was homeless for a year but now has his own flat in Sheffield. He was offered a placement on the New Deal. Ray signed onto a computing skills course. He hoped that would enable him to get a job. But the reality did not match the hype:
'THE COMPUTER courses were all full in my local college. So I was sent to a private training company. The course was a joke. There were not enough computers to go round. I'd often spend the whole day just hanging around waiting to get on a machine. We got no support from our tutor. I found out later that the training company I worked for had been shut down twice - once for fraud and the other for not running courses properly.'
'The training course was not about helping us get jobs. It was all about making profits for the company. The more unemployed people the company train, the more money they earn. So they try to rush you through the course and get you onto placements. Once you're on a placement they can get another New Deal person in and get paid a government grant to train them. It's like being stuck in a revolving door. When you finish your training you are chucked out and the next unemployed person takes your place.'
'In my first placement all I did all day long was move boxes and make cups of tea. I was just a dogsbody. I was paid £39.85 a week and I was also given a free bus pass. This is slave labour. I had to borrow money from the DSS to furnish my council flat. I now have to pay the loan back at £6 a week. That means that I have just £34 a week to live on. I complained that I was not getting any training. Finally I was transferred. I started work in an office. But I soon found out we were replacing permanent staff. They were being laid off. I felt sick. We are being used to take other workers' jobs at lower rates of pay.'
BERNADETTE IS 39 years old and lives in Hackney, east London. She was offered a place on the Reed 25 plus New Deal scheme. This is a pilot scheme designed to help those over 25 get a job. To get on the scheme she was asked to take a psychometric test. These tests are meant to measure 'mental ability'. Bernadette's account of her treatment makes harrowing reading.
'I HAD to fill in five different forms asking me personal questions like, 'What makes people smell?' I felt degraded. What was I supposed to say? I felt I was being treated like a child. Then I was asked to fill out a Personal Effective Profile form. One question asked, 'What kind of clothes would you wear at a job interview?' I was shown drawings of a skirt, trousers, leggings and miniskirt. How can there be a right answer to this question? It is a matter of personal taste.'
'I was then asked by my adviser, 'What do you think of the police?' I'm a black woman. How could I really say what I thought about the police? Another question I was asked was, 'Are social workers troublemakers?' When I questioned why I was being asked all these questions I was told they wanted to see if I was a suitable candidate for certain kinds of jobs. All my self confidence was shattered by the interview.'
BETWEEN APRIL and August of this year Reed found work for just 185 unemployed people in Hackney. The Employment Service found jobs for 234. The civil servants' union, the PCS, calculates that it cost Reed £11,267 to find a job for an unemployed person, compared to £3,024 in the Employment Service.
TERRY IS 23 years old. He lives with his girlfriend in the west Midlands. This is his story.
'GOING ON the New Deal was the biggest mistake of my life. I left school with no qualifications. I have worked as a barman and an exhaust fitter. I've never been afraid of hard graft. About two years ago I ploughed my savings into a video shop. Within a year the business collapsed. I'd been unemployed for just over six months when I was offered a place on the New Deal. I jumped at the chance to get back to work.'
'I signed up to the environmental task force. I was told I was going to help my local community. My training officer boasted that he was going to give us the skills that would keep us in work in the next millennium. What a lying bastard. All I do all day is pick up litter, fill skips and clear ditches - £54.85 a week for wading knee deep in crap. It's a joke.'
'There are six of us working together. I hate my supervisor. He treats us like we are in a chain gang. Last month I was made to work in a drainage ditch full of freezing water and mud. When I complained the supervisor told me to shut my mouth. I wouldn't mind the low wages for six months if I knew I was going to get a job at the end. But we have all just been told that there are no full time jobs.'
THE NEW Deal is a compulsory scheme for 18 to 24 year olds who have been unemployed for six months or more. New Labour now plans to extend the scheme to every unemployed person. If you do not find a job within four months, you must sign up to a scheme. The employer is given a £60 a week subsidy per worker. There is no set minimum wage the employer has to pay.
A GOVERNMENT survey conducted in October found that only 43 percent of 18 to 24 year olds who completed the New Deal got a job.
SOME 40 percent of people who embark on the New Deal leave before their training is finished. Most end up working in the black economy.