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Tomorrow's People, today's problems July 6, 2012

So far the charities sub-contracted to implement the government’s increasingly maligned Work Programme have escaped the scrutiny given to private ‘providers’, such as A4E or Working Links. So how much better are they doing? Not much, if the experience of a couple sent to Tomorrow’s People in Bath is anything to go by.

Andrew Adams, previously a professional photographer, and Linda Rive, a store manager, were sent to the employment charity in June 2011. They told Corporate Watch their doubts about the “rewarding and enjoyable” experience the Tomorrow’s People welcome pack had promised were first raised at the discovery the charity didn’t have an office in Bath and was using the local community centre, the Percy Centre.

Tomorrow’s People says the centre was “well-equipped”, with “an IT suite for job search activity” and was only used for the first five months. But Andrew and Linda say they were not told about the IT suite until they had already made other arrangements.

“All we wanted was computer access so we could look for jobs and travel expenses to get to interviews,” they said. “At the first interview our advisor said he’d have to check with his manager [about this], then we didn’t hear anything. We had to get our MP involved to get the travel expenses and the first time we knew of the IT suite was when we were sent there for a – totally unnecessary –adult numeracy and literacy course. But by that time we’d got into a routine at the local library, which we found just as useful.”

They say they were given just four job leads through the programme, all found from the Gumtree website. A jobs fair organised by Tomorrow’s People only offered low-paid work at McDonalds, KFC and BHS.

“We were told it would be a bespoke service,” they said, “but they seem to have gone for a one-size-fits-all approach, with no imagination, vision or sense they were trying to empower people.

“There [were no jobs] to represent the diversity of modern cities. We found more suitable jobs on the internet ourselves in our own time.”

Tomorrow’s People told Corporate Watch it designs an “employment action plan specific to each customer”.

But, although Andrew and Linda were doubtful of how useful these activities were, there was never any question that they would have to go to them.

“As the year went on, the advisors started getting harder. More things became mandatory, with letters telling us if we didn’t go our benefits could be ‘affected’” they said.

“They raised ‘availability doubts’ against us and asked for our benefits to be sanctioned, but the Jobcentre took our side and we were okay. They also asked us to give them copies of emails and applications we were sending to employers, but they backed off when we raised data protection issues with our MP. It is setting a dangerous precedent when a charity can profit from the unemployed”.

The cost of charity

Tomorrow's People may be a charity but its senior figures are making serious money from it. Its accounts show its chief executive Debbie Scott, who also sits in the House of Lords for the Conservatives as Baroness Stedman-Scott, earns more than £100,000 a year. Eight other employees make over £50,000.

It enjoys funding from corporate giants including British Imperial Tobacco, Astra Zeneca and private equity buy-out group Terra Firma, plus corporate philanthropists such as the Private Equity Foundation. But with these donations in the tens or hundreds of thousands rather than the millions, they are not enough to keep Steadman-Scott and her colleagues in the lifestyles to which they are accustomed for long.

Thank Vincent then, for the public. Tomorrow's People already enjoys grants of nearly £2 million from the government and the Lottery Fund for its work with young people. Its Work Programme contracts in East London and the South West should have significantly added to this but, with the programme only paying serious money when people stay in a job for over 13 weeks, and early evidence suggesting few have, it may not be the cash cow the charity had hoped.

This has not stopped Tomorrow's People embracing two of the Work Programme's fundamental components: sanctions - its willingness to cut people's benefits is shared by other Work Programme providers, as shown by the sanctioning figures revealed by Corporate Watch last weekend - and workfare. Tomorrow's People notoriously sent claimants for unpaid work placements with security company Close Protection UK, which then bussed them to sleep under London Bridge for the privilege of stewarding at the Jubilee celebrations.

This may be the most depressing thing about Andrew and Linda's experience: it could have been far worse.

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