Gillian Palmer

Gillian Palmer

gillpalmer@tiscali.co.uk

To: Whom it may concern 19 December 2012

Dear Sirs

The Work Programme and similar schemes

I am aged 56 and I am a widow with no children. I live close to Southampton, Hampshire.

I have been enrolled on the Work Programme Scheme since November 2011 as customer of A4E Ltd in Southampton. A4E Ltd is one of the two Prime contractors for the Thames Valley Region (which includes Hampshire the Isle of Wight.)

My background is that I am a qualified lawyer. I practiced as a solicitor for 13 years before I was married in 1994. I then took a lengthy sabbatical from the legal profession in order to spend time with my late husband instead. I was widowed suddenly in 2003, after which I took two computer-user courses to make sure that my IT skills would be up to scratch in a modern office environment. I then obtained a series of four six-month fixed term contracts with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, based in Southampton, in order to obtain some practical experience of working with a large, complex, commercial quality IT system.

The only W2W provider whom I have come across in the last year who has been any good whatsoever has been George Kerr in Scotland, where George runs a business called TEREC. (TEREC stands for Training & Education Requirements for Employment Choices.)

I met George purely socially via an internet forum devoted to Welfare to Work (W2W) in about May 2012. George had no duty to try to help me but he took an interest in my situation. George asked me what I would like to do by way of a job if I were given a Choice about it?

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If I had a Choice, I would return to the legal profession in some way. I spent six years doing the academic and practical training in order to become a solicitor and I then spent 13 years working as a solicitor in private practice.

The only job I have ever had outside of the legal profession was when I worked for the MCA for two years from 2005 to 2007. At the time, that ‘professional aberration’ was worthwhile because I needed to practice my then newly-acquired computer skills. Having put my IT skills onto a solid footing, I have been trying to get back into the legal profession ever since.

Since the recession began to bite hard in 2009, the legal profession has contracted very substantially. My own background is that I am a Land Law specialist and Land has been hit particularly hard. The construction industry has contracted just as much as the land lawyers who look after their work and residential conveyancing has all but collapsed.

Therefore the only way I can get back into the legal profession nowadays would be by acquiring expertise in at least one new, growth, area of Law. Several areas of Law seem to be thriving at present. One is Personal Injury work. Another is Employment Law. A third is Welfare Benefits Law.

Of the three, I am particularly interested in Welfare Benefits Law, possibly with Employment Law as a second string to my bow. The only way for me to find out about these two areas of Law locally and without incurring colossal expense will be for me to join the local Citizens Advice Bureau as one of their, “Trainee Volunteer CAB Advisers.” I have been in touch with the local CAB. Their next intake of trainees will be in January 2013, so they have invited me to contact them again in January 2013.

Just hanging about waiting for the CAB’s next intake of trainee volunteers has been very frustrating for me.

George Kerr very kindly put me in touch with a lady lawyer based near London, who specialises in Employment Law matters and who is a business contract of George’s. I had a very long chat on the phone with this lady lawyer during September 2012. She provided me with masses of extremely useful information, none of which I had realised before I was able to speak with her.

I realise that what I am saying might sound very abstruse and “purist” to someone who has never been involved with the provision of legal services to members of the public.

According to all the propaganda in the newspapers, the unemployed should be rushing around trying to get “a job” – any job – and the nature of the work is irrelevant.

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The propaganda overlooks the fact that it is an employer’s market at present. In my own area, for example, every office-based Admin or Customer Service type of job attracts a minimum of 250 applicants and the jobs involving the provision of legal services in some way are attracting not less than about 500 applicants each. The majority of the applicants for all of these jobs are considerably younger than me.

The employers can afford to be fussy. My CV shows that I am over-qualified for all of the non-legal jobs. With the legal jobs the question, invariably, in the mind of the prospective employer, is, “Would this middle aged lady lawyer, who wants to return to the legal profession after a lengthy career break, be able to bring a large, lucrative, following of loyal clients with her if we took her on?” No, I would not. I no longer have a client following of my own.

George Kerr is not being paid anything for the immense help that he has given me, which is disgraceful, in my view. George is not one of A4E’s subcontractors, even though he should be.

A4E’s approach to the employment problems facing me has been useless. A4E suggested that I should “dumb down my CV.” This, they thought, might conceal my highly-specialised professional background. A4E’s idea is also inherently dishonest, but that does not seem to bother them!

I asked A4E what on earth they were doing by suggesting dishonest ideas that would, potentially, mislead a prospective employer? A4E’s excuse was that I am not a “typical” Work Programme customer. I pointed out that there is no such thing as a “typical” Work Programme customer, according to the Government-inspired propaganda about the Work Programme scheme.

The truth, with A4E’s involvement with the Work Programme scheme, is that A4E does not know how to do its own job. They started off by imagining that they would find it “easy” to push their customers into Minimum Wage, usually unskilled, jobs.

The official first year results for the Work Programme scheme showed that NONE of the 18 Prime contractors managed to achieve even the DWP’s very lowly target of 5.5%. I am not surprised. I would guess that all the others have made the same erroneous assumptions as A4E.

The only W2W provider I have come across who has not made these erroneous assumptions has been George Kerr:-

 George has understood that there is no point in pushing people into jobs that they would not be any good at doing; the employment would be unlikely to last for any length of time if one does that.

 George has understood that the Work Programme is designed to take several months before it can start to produce any meaningful results.

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 George has understood that a skilful W2W provider would not dream of suggesting “dumbing down” a customer’s CV.

 George has understood that the qualifications, skills and work experience that the (middle aged, at any rate) customer obtained in the first place are the ones that s/he is most likely to be able to slot back into; they are the ones where s/he will be a credible candidate in the mind of a prospective employer.

 George has understood that in order to be able to help me properly, he has needed to be able to offer me various possible Choices, based on my own professional background and my own vocation.

With the Choices element, George has been unexpectedly brilliant. When he suggested that I should speak with his lady lawyer contact who specialises in Employment Law, I was nervous. I know very little about Employment Law. What would she be expecting from me?

It turned out that the lady lawyer had not expected anything from me. Instead, she turned out to be a veritable goldmine of excellent, specialist advice and she helped me to understand the various, specialised, Choices that might become available for me. There are more possible Choices than I had realised before speaking with her.

Obviously, I have been trying to research my possible Choices by myself as well. With a field that is as specialised and as heavily-regulated as the provision of legal services, that has not been easy. I pursued one idea, thinking it sounded brilliant, until closer inspection revealed that it would actually have been nothing but a red herring for me.

George has also asked me about the possible Choice of my becoming self-employed, like his lady lawyer contact? I have explained to George that I am aware of the possibility but I need to learn about a new (to me) field of Law, first.

My conclusion is that my best bet will be to hope that my local CAB will accept me as a trainee voluntary CAB adviser in January 2013. There seems to be no other way that I can learn about Welfare Benefits Law properly.

Whether learning about Welfare Benefits Law properly would enable me to develop a sensible self-employment idea in the future remains to be seen, I believe. I think it will become a growth area of Law during the next couple of years and probably beyond but I am not sure how it will all work. Similarly, Employment Law is definitely a growth area of legal practice and is likely to become even more so as time goes on but I need to learn the basics of Employment Law before I could embark on more exotic ideas in the future.

Therefore, for me, the only sensible place for me to start locally with learning about these two areas of Law will be via my local branch of the CAB.

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Additionally, the CAB branches have always been hugely well-connected within their local business communities. However, to tap into any of that and to find out what the possibilities might really be for me, I need to become a CAB trainee volunteer first.

However, there is no doubt about it. George Kerr has been amazingly useful to me because he has opened my mind to what possible Choices there might be for me. George knows that somebody like a Welder (say) might be able to work this out quickly but, inevitably, it takes longer for someone like me to be able to do the same thing – make sensible, well-informed Choices that would be likely to lead to sustainable employment (or self-employment) and a life away from Benefits.

Yours faithfully

Gill Palmer (Ms) MA (Cantab)

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