Crosby woman turns to Labour MP with catalogue of complaints abo

Veronica Bennett, Karen Turner and Bill Esterson

A Crosby woman has turned to Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson for help in submitting a catalogue of complaints about a government back-to-work programme which had her sitting through presentations on "a brief history on the invaders of Britain through the ages" followed by pictures detailing where not to park a car - including on the ramp of a boat.

Karen Turner said she and the rest of the job seekers on the A4e scheme were left humiliated  by 'trainers' who told her during one full class session that she should have a chlamydia test, "there and then".

The 48-year-old mother of one, was left so angry at the scheme, she has turned to her Labour MP for help to "expose the disgraceful practices of A4e".

Karen said: "The way A4e is treating people is absolutely disgusting. They treated us like we had committed a crime. I had been unemployed for three months and I had to accept a place on the A4e scheme or face losing my Job Seekers' Allowance for up to three years. While i was happy to accept any additional help to find work, I objected to how we were being forced into the scheme at the risk of losing our benefits.

"But throughout my group was constantly warned 'you agreed to this, conform or leave and lose your benefits'.

"On arriving at the A4e Bootle office, I was struck by the total lack of organisation. People were left sitting in a room for several hours with no structure or purpose.

"After several hours sat at a table, the only thing we had managed to achieve was the viewing of a short slide show of injuries in the workplace, some basic stats on economics and a brief history on the invaders of Britain through the ages, followed by some pictures of 'where not to park a car, including the ramp of a boat'.

"On a number of occasions, I felt my time would be better spent looking for a job and clearly others felt the same way and left to return to the job centre to complain.

"But I stayed and was introduced to a placement work advisor who proceeded to talk to the group like a primary school teacher addressing a group of six year old. We were told to 'shut up, sit down, don't speak, put your hands down, you can't ask questions and don't speak over me'. She then proceeded to bring in a team of health workers  and told me in front of the group that I should have a chlamydia test, there and then."

Karen said the demeaning way in which she was treated along with the rest of the group, made her feel like they were being punished for finding themselves unemployed.

She said: "It strikes me that this scheme is nothing more than community service for the unemployed. I see very little difference to the treatment people being forced into the A4e scheme receive and the treatment those convicted of a crime and sentenced to community service receive.

"This is people's lives they are dealing with and many are already suffering from depression, low self esteem and other socially related problem, due in part I'm sure to being out of work and financially challenged.

"On a number of occasions, i was actually concerned that the lack of empathy and understanding from A4e staff, was leading to a lot of confrontations and volatile situations, which was clearly dangerous for both clients and staff. And it could have been avoided.

"Are the unemployed not entitled to a voice, being non-tax paying drains on society, as described by Conservative MPs?"

Labour Member of Parliament Bill Esterson's caseworker, Veronica Bennett, said the MP is receiving a growing number of complaints from constituents about A4e.

Veronica said: "We are seeing more and more people bringing to the attention of their MP the appalling way they are being treated by A4e.
"Many of the constituents make the same complaints, namely the way they are treated and the ineffectiveness of the training.
"One man has even told us that he was threatened that his benefits would be stopped if he didn't attend the session. But the reason he wasn't going to attend was because he wanted to go on a one-day training course which would give him the skills he needed to get the job he wanted.
"It is this type of case, and the experience which Karen had, which is being echoed by constituents throughout Sefton Central."

Labour MP Bill Esterson is demanding the government conducts a full investigation into A4e, which is already facing allegations of fraud.

Bill said: "I have spoken to a number of constituents who have had similarly awful experiences with A4e. It is utterly despicable how people are being treated by this company.

"People are finding themselves out of work for no fault of their own and they are being treated like criminals by a company which should be helping them.

"The national news about A4e is that they are being investigated over allegations of fraud. But I think there is a much more urgent need for A4e to be investigated for how it conducts its business on behalf of the government.

"There needs to be a full investigation into how the company treats people who are referred to it and what number of people have been helped back into employment by A4e.

"This is something which I am taking up directly with the Prime Minister and I am calling for a full investigation into A4e's practices.

"I don't want any more of my constituents to have to go through what Karen has been through when all they want to do is find employment and get their lives back on track." 

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