Friday, 28 March 2008

*A4e: Changing People's Lives

Guest posting from my friend Alan Wheatley, Disability Spokesperson of the London Green Party:

Today at A4e on the New Deal Intensive Action Programme induction, we were each assigned a folder with induction materials. I say, "assigned" rather than "given;" the folders with induction material are stored at the A4e building and so we are not allowed to take the induction materials out with us. By contrast, on my Certificate in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector course, reference materials for each class session are available to us via the course's 'Virtual Learning Environment' and proved very helpful to me recently in my completion of Reflective Learning Journals for that course. The course leader commended my Reflective Learning Journals as "excellent -- the best [he'd] seen" and sought my permission to show them to other students as models of best practice!

Lack of signposting information for New Deal 'Intensive Action Programme' participants at A4e

Another major issue for me with A4e is that there is no clear signposting information available to prospective 'beneficiaries' [sic] in advance -- either via their website or at the Jobcentre. ('Beneficiaries' is the term A4e applies to those who are mandated to attend their programme and do not risk losing benefit by refusal of that call-up.) It appears that the more mandatory a programme, the less the subjects of that programme are permitted or encouraged to make really informed choices. Lack of signposting information reduces the choices I can make and increases my anxiety levels -- especially when I am given little or no choice!

By contrast, I recently attended three of a series of four exciting and fulfilling Personal Development Workshops organised by Age Concern Camden's Employment Advice Programme; the flyer helped prepare participants for the four weekly sessions:
  1. Self-awareness and skills assessment
  2. Creating a dynamic future
  3. Assertiveness and confidence building
  4. Setting goals and action planning
and I was looking forward to attending the last session -- which my mandatory New Deal attendance now bars me from attending.

If outsiders gained access to the induction materials from A4e, they would witness -- among other things -- unprofessionally photocopied forms and information sheets that have content overspilling the margins. On the premises, there is a shortage of computers in relation to the people using them and monitors set with resolutions that cause eye strain -- and permission for the user to change the monitor settings to suit personal preference is denied.

It is not surprising to me that much of A4e's corporate work is in prisons, 'delivering' the Offender Learning And Support Services. ('Delivering' suggests a one-way process rather than interaction. It is riddled with managerialist 'targets', as a recent 'letter of the week in Community Care magazine pointed out.) Like 'beneficiaries' of a mandatory New Deal programme, prisoners are deemed a 'captive audience' and thus it does not seem necessary to A4e to appeal to prospective 'beneficiaries' before their first point of contact. A4e is not the only player in 'delivery' of 'welfare to work' programmes, but I find it the most frightening in the way that it presumes to take over so many areas of government-funded services. It plans to deliver legal aid services for the government, offers debt advice and counselling services. Yet I believe it ambitions in these regards and approach to 'informed choice' in relation to confidentiality and signposting information regarding New Deal participation signals cause for public concern. It reminds me of David C Korten's appropriately titled book, 'When Corporations Rule the World'.

The logo of A4e appears in the A4e building on Holloway Road, with the slogan, "Changing people's lives." I would rather be assisted -- as a citizen -- in making my own changes, than be made a commodity of by a private company that makes huge bonuses out of imposing change on others' lives. It would be interesting to compare the information access policies of the various New Deal brokering companies -- and for more 'whistle blowers' to come forward.

Alan Wheatley
Disability Spokesperson for London Green Party

For further study, compare the following websites: and


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historian said...

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There is also some interesting stuff on Youtube.