‘Anybody knows jobseeker programmes do not work’
20 April 2007 - Until recently, Anush Avetisyan
advised the welfare agency. She does not really believe in the jobseeker
programmes by which the municipality tries to help people find work.
People are better off doing volunteer work that suits them.
Until 1 April, Avetisyan was the chairwoman of the client advisory
committee (cliëntenraad) of the welfare agency (DWI). Now she
coaches volunteers in Geuzenveld-Slotermeer, who for example want
to organise bicycle courses. Many women who do volunteer work end
up finding a paid job.
does one end up on a client advisory committee?
“As a result of external circumstances I had become unemployed.
There was an advertisement in the DWI’s client magazine. And
I am someone who has a lot of energy (laughs). So I thought OK,
I am going to do some work for my social assistance benefit. I was
also writing for Mug Magazine at the time, I was doing all kinds
of things to keep myself busy and learn the language”.
Did you have a specific idea of what you wanted to
do on the client advisory committee?
“Yes, I saw that many things were going wrong. Those arrangements,
look, I had this feeling, you are making up arrangements upstairs,
but you do not know your clients at all. That was my main motivation
What was wrong with these arrangements?
“Those letters you receive... You can write people they have
to do something, but not in such a humiliating tone. Those civil
servants are themselves often unaware of the impact of their letters,
because it is legal vocabulary they use.
Another example is that it had never occurred to them to make bicycles
eligible for a ‘knipkaart’ refund. It is one of the
achievements of the client advisory committee that people can now
get a refund for their bicycle under the knipkaart arrangement”.
The media paid a lot of attention to the home inspections
by which the DWI tries to find out if people are not secretly living
at the same address. Did you deal with these inspections?
“We advised against them, although you will always have to
have some sort of verification. But they came up with an instrument
that is so negative. If you enter people’s homes, you can
also take a more positive approach: how can I help. I do not just
come to count tooth brushes or to inspect your drawers, but: have
you used the knipkaart?”
The municipality says it now uses the home inspections
also to inform people about such arrangements.
“Yes, I think they adopted that suggestion. Many of our advices
have been acted upon. I am rather proud of that, we achieved some
very real results”.
Recently, the Accounting Office published a report
criticising the ‘reintegration’ programmes designed
to support jobseekers.
“Let’s be honest, anybody knows they are not working,
we said so all the time. I was in a reintegration programme myself
and they really did not help me. They were only busy keeping their
administration in order so as to receive payment”.
What are these programmes like, do you follow courses?
“Oh no, most of the time it is just writing job applications
and resumes. And more often than not, you are forced to accept a
job that really does not suit you and you are not allowed to say
‘no’. Or your benefit may be cut...”
In practice, the client advisory committee turned out to be an
effective means to help people find work, Avetisyan found out.
“Our secretary found a job very soon, then I found a job,
it really works like a reintegration programme. It is a kind of
empowerment. It provides you with many learning opportunities”.
You started working for the Geuzenveld-Slotermeer District.
How did you end up here?
“I had organised a course in dealing with paperwork, that
had to do with something the DWI had done wrong. They have a Forms
Brigade. But what this Forms Brigade often does is to take over
citizens’ responsibility by filling out these forms themselves,
making citizens dependent on the government.
There was a ‘Make your idea reality’ campaign. Then
I thought, OK, that could be my idea: a course to teach people to
fill out these forms by themselves. That was very successful. And
at some point I was asked to coordinate Wijkweb (Neighbourhood Web).
I think it was my DWI background that made me turn this into some
sort of reintegration programme as well. Unconsciously, you know!
(laughs) Since September, I have been coaching sixteen volunteers,
and eight have already found a job”.
Wijkweb is a network of volunteer activities?
“It is very simple really. Someone enters and says, I really
want to organise this. For example, Habiba wants to organise a bicycle
course, that is a very good example. Then I say, OK, is there a
demand? There have to be people who want to participate. You may
really want to do this, but if no one shows up, there is no point.
Then she investigates, finds a location, that is how I coach her.
I coach her doing her thing.
There always has to be a degree of self-interest. We never force
anyone to do anything, especially if it regards volunteer work.
Many people think they have to do something on my account. They
come here saying: what can I do for you? I say: nothing at all.
What can you do for yourself?”
Illustration: poster of the We Amsterdammers campaign of the
municipality. More on Wijkweb
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