Now working part-time, volunteers part-time. Cares what happens to UK society full-time
I was emailed this week by someone who follows my Twitter account. He asked if I would share his post anonymously on my blog… this is it.
Earlier this year, I found myself in one of the most darkest and depressing times of my life. I was still out of work and on a work programme. I had completed my time with Remploy and was signposted to Birmingham Youth Empowerment Project. I was told by an Advisor that it would provide me with the opportunity to mentor young people. I thought I would love the idea as I am quite open and sensitive to how young people are treated and would want to impart my knowledge, experience and information to others to make them feel better about themselves, especially if they came from disenfranchised or socially disadvantaged communities. I thought I would be on a journey of empowering others. The clue was in the name of the organisation. Or so I thought.
On my first day, I was yielding myself to new ideas and options ahead of me. Instead, I was faced with an old factory that had been refurbished. There weren’t any signs of any youths. There were however, people who were left to fend for themselves; we looked as if we were over 40 and past our sell by date. Years of corrosion and unemployment, had taken its toll on a number of individuals who I spoke to, a university secretary, a senior managers, former teacher and self-employed business man. We were all dejected, despondent and felt our livelihoods had been destroyed. It seemed that this project would give us hope and provide us with the motivation we so desperately needed.
I made the effort to dress smart but casual. I wanted to make an impression. I made an impression but not the one I had hoped or wanted to make. I’ve never shied away from being gay but the service which was provided, ironically about empowerment, was anything but that.
We had to enter a room which was furnished similar to a classroom. But we weren’t allowed out unless the staff provided permission. It was more like a detention room, holding centre or the modern day equivalent of a workhouse. To the extreme, it felt like the dying rooms of China. We were left to do nothing all day until the two members of staff decided what to do with us. They looked busy and efficient but I realised that that was just a façade. When they finally did decide to let us do something to gain “employment skills” we were provided with the choice of either litter picking, leafleting or staying in the room. I had to get out and opted to drop leaflets through letter boxes in the local area.
The leaflets we distributed were basically promoting the service we were supposed to be training for, stating that young people should attend to gain confidence and skills, be mentored and enjoy activities. The people I spoke to, who had attended this programme for several weeks if not months said this never occurred. It was a fallacy, provided by a businessman who also knew how to intimidate and bully those jobseekers who relied heavily on benefits with the threat of “sanctions” and “bad reports”. Just one phone call from him was enough to make them suffer he said. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”.
We definitely were not empowered but oppressed.
What made it worse for me was when I felt I was the victim of indirect homophobic attack. My sexual orientation created a bit of a stir amongst several male benefit claimants and it was having a negative impact on me. I was sitting on one of the sofas, trying to keep myself to myself, when I heard these men say “I wasn’t too sure about him” and the other replied “I did. Just look at the way he dresses and talks. You can tell even if he is Asian or Pakistani” I thought they were talking about someone else until I looked over. They were gesticulating and simulating sex acts. I was upset and decided to report it. As an advocate of LGBT rights, I knew I had to inform the staff.
I entered the office and informed the hijab wearing convert of what had just occurred. I said I would like to file a complaint. She questioned my report with a wry look on her face. I think she was taken aback from my open admittance that I was gay and it didn’t seem as if she was re-assuring me. I asked to see the anti-discriminatory policy. She pointed it out to me, stating that they would have to act on it.
But, as it happened, I received a phone call from one of the job interviews I had attended and informed that I was to start work in several days. The female member of staff said that as I had been provided with a job offer, they could not take my complaint any further as I was no longer part of the programme or organisation and asked me to leave the premises.
I couldn’t wait to leave. Not only was I let down by the service on offer but I had strong concerns about the organisation which proudly boasted it empowered others. The reality was it was abusing its powers to disempower others.
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