Welfare not to Work

Since the country returned to the dark side with the election of the ‘Condem’ administration. we’ve heard a lot about plans to shake up the benefits system in this country. Having worked previously at a local Jobcentre Plus, I have some experience in this field, and plenty of frustrations at how our system fails to provide help and support where most required.

In many ways, Labour failed to deliver on benefit reform; of course they did introduce some very good measures, such as the minimum wage, working tax credits and ‘Backing Young Britain’. This didn’t go anywhere near far enough though; the new government needs to be radical in its thinking, whilst remaining fair to those claiming.

Of course, my main fear is that Cameron intends to target benefit claimants in a bid to save money; and as was reported today this is exactly what is being planned. Including the pathetic idea of using credit reference agencies to snoop on claimants. Better time and money would be spent chasing those who dodge paying tax in this country, costing up to £40 billion.

So, time for some observations. As mentioned, all too often we fail to provide targeted  advice and assistance to claimants. Targeted support needs to be offered from day one; this should include CV completion, skills checks, better off in work calculations, training, help with application forms and interview preparation. These are basic, but essential tasks that are all too often left too late, or not provided until the claimant has been receiving job seekers allowance for over twelve months. At this stage they are referred to a third-party employment services provider, (such as the one I now work for), where these services suddenly become available.

This is such a stupid way of doing things. Why should an individual have to wait a year before receiving the direct type of help that they in some cases obviously require? I quite often see clients, who after being unemployed for what could be considered a long period of time, who don’t have a CV, have little or no idea how to apply for jobs online and have very limited job search skills. This is where the system really needs to be shaken up. We should be providing these services much earlier, in some cases by twelve months it’s too late, and as a result you end up with a long-term claimant. This really is a tragic state of affairs, particularly when I see so many young people out of work.

However, this is not the fault of jobcentre plus staff, the majority of whom work very hard under quite often difficult circumstances. The system is simply not set up in a fashion to allow JCP staff the flexibility and scope to offer targeted help.

This is where the third-party providers come in. The best solution would be to offer claimants the opportunity to be referred to these providers from day one of their claim. This would be on a voluntary basis, and would provide them with access to training and assistance early on in their claim. There can be no doubt at all that this would increase their chances of finding employment at a far earlier stage. At the moment, under ‘Flexible New Deal’, claimants are referred to providers at twelve months – this should be decreased to six months, and as happens now, this would be compulsory. Only by introducing a programme of assistance at an earlier stage will we begin to tackle the unemployment problem that we have in this country.

Of course, there are those individuals who play the system. People who are claiming benefit, yet not actively seeking work, (a fixed condition of claiming JSA). This is another area where the government need to be brave and radical. There should be much tougher penalties for those either shown to be not looking for work, or for those who refuse employment. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve seen over the last few years who’ve turned down employment, sometimes for the most pathetic reasons. This should not be an option; all too often I see several different generations from the same families claiming benefit. It seems all too often that the ‘work ethic’ that was instilled into me as a child has all but disappeared from many of today’s families. Of course, the responsibility for this must remain with the parents; but in no way should we write these people off – Cameron will look to target these families in a bid to save money; what we should be doing is looking to change attitudes and behaviour. All part of the so-called ‘Big Society’….

3 thoughts on “Welfare not to Work

  1. Brilliant article – you have touched on a few major points I have always felt was daft.

    The first being CV’s. How can someone be ACTIVELY seeking employment if they do not have a current up to date CV (or in some cases, a CV at all)? There is absolutely no support for people to get a CV written. I must stress that there are numerous resources online etc. which can help people but Jobcentre Plus doesn’t even check or more to the point help prepare people. A New Jobseeker Interview (NJI) is an hour long, consisting of “confirming details” (such as what you gave over the phone) for 20 minutes and an meeting with an adviser for 40 minutes who signs you on (30 secs), gives you a signing on time, asks you about job goals, write a Jobseekers Agreement and if you are lucky a job search. Anyone knows that most of this hour is waiting around.

    If you ask about CV writing they will give you a big fat booklet (if I can recall it was A5 and 2 cm thick). Those on New Deal and Flexible New Deal (up to 12 months after they started their claim) typically claim not to have a CV. A year without a CV?! Approx 3 in 5 jobs is by written application (CV & Covering letter).

    One of the major issues I find is; it isn’t about having a CV…. rather simple to achieve. The problem is: a CV that best presents your personal and professional qualities, skills, experience and qualifications to the employer. This is difficult – you really do need someone who can achieve two major elements. The first is giving someone a reassuring boost of confidence to better present the personal elements which this person wouldn’t otherwise know (many people find the personal profile the most difficult). The second element is someone with prior experience in recruiting many staff and/or in a relevant industry that can highlight problems or more to the point suggest improvements. Most Employment Officers, NDPA’s and third party Trainers/PAs for example although they can be great at their job aren’t cut out for talking about CV’s. Picking the provider on New Deal… the person might be excellent at teaching someone material they absorb from a book whilst having the qualification to prove it; the issue is the variable elements, we can all read from a book about what sections a CV should have… but the content is another thing entirely.

    Most people on New Deal I think actually have an “attempt” at a CV yet lack the confidence to present this to the provider; which means they are less likely to be giving out their CV enough. At the end of the day a good CV isn’t good enough – it must stick out for the right reasons. The definition varies when compared to other CV’s which recruiters will be doing. I believe the Government has a scheme called “Next Steps” open to some which is an adult careers advice service, and is optional. If JCP can arrange a NJI within 2 weeks (normally 1 week) from a claim being made, there is no reason why within the same timescales of the NJI that a CV couldn’t be done.

    Secondly, third party providers do not work. People do find employment through them but most people go round the loop many times. This is a Government issue and not a provider problem. New Deal was “successful” because it forced people to sign off, got people sanctioned and moved people off unemployment register to “in training” whilst on the course.

    If the Government can pay providers to take these long-term unemployed people on and pay many thousands for bonuses if they get a job; then they can mix up the order, and pay a professional company to produce a CV for jobseekers within a month from making a claim. Unemployment gets harder with time. Your suggestion of 6 months instead of 12 months is a good concept and it is already done for under 25’s I believe, however, as for CVs etc. 6 months is still too long to wait to get those wheels in motion. The Government isn’t interested in this because statistically most people either find employment or sign off around 5-6 months of their claim anyway, and many more sign off to dodge these courses, so they feel investing earlier on will cost them much more money in the long run. I beg to differ however job creation (other than paying all the wages for employers) must be a priority.

    In addition, I also agree with your point about referring unemployed voluntarily from day one… This is what is wrong with the system. At the WFI/6 month review; Jobcentre Plus should be looking to see (thus legislation should be changed to enable this to happen) whether someone has done enough to seek work. If they haven’t done so, they should lose entitlement to claim. For this example, the claimant can then prove whether or not he or she has done the minimum required to comply or whether they have been properly looking for work. Therefore, if a claimant says “I chose to enter an optional scheme to help my employment prospects further” they should be allowed to continue claiming, whereas those who look like perhaps they aren’t doing enough… should have their claims terminated. It is always a problem – when I am unemployed I always take any rejection or interview letters with me to my signing on appointment but rarely are they interested. They tell me to keep them for the WFI – sadly assuming I would still be claiming then – but by then I no longer have the letters which leaves me in a difficult position other than explaining I have provided evidence of job seeking every 2 weeks.

    Thirdly, people do play the system. I think there are different types starting from the benefit cheats, to those who are dragging their feet due to lack of confidence because the state isn’t encouraging their personal wellbeing. You can tell these people a mile off at Jobcentres… the very confident type who are mostly very outgoing and socialising with everyone, bit of banter with security maybe typically the thought of never getting a job isn’t a problem for them – and – those who dwell at the thought of having to go to that depressing place whilst keeping to themselves typically, feel insignificant because they cannot maintain for themselves or their family and of course scrapping by in poverty just hoping that someone will give them a chance just to be someone.

    I disagree with your solution though. More sanctions aren’t required. There must be however, increased pressures of seeking employment. At current people only have to do 3 activities a week to seek employment and neither, even had to be applying for a single job. Looking in a newspaper, looking online and ringing jobseeker direct is adequate enough.

    I do not see a requirement to a negative focused aspect to all this (i.e. everyone losing their only income etc.) but positively focused (i.e. you decent people who are really looking for work are entitled to benefits). Perhaps this can be extend further that on attendance to an NJI you must bring evidence of applying for x jobs before you can even claim – I think that is fair enough. I think this bridge aspect is very important. At current it is like after making a new claim you will potentially be getting money for nothing – indeed a few people do not seek employment at all. If it is a weekly requirement (which it is) to seek employment then asking for minimal evidence of prior job seeking isn’t much to ask at all. Ironically speaking, if an NJI is a week or two after the date your claim starts, it is by no means unreasonable for JCP to ask for evidence of job seeking. In fact, at current it is like a 2 week holiday being paid without applying for a single job.

    Regardless of everything you hear – most claimants are genuine. Bad press makes finding employment even harder for them which don’t help the situation. I think some claimants give up after 2 years or so knowing it is almost impossible to get a job after such a period of unemployment.

    It is the same old though… those who want to work with a disability couldn’t get support and those unemployed who wants support couldn’t get it either. Those who do not want to work are largely ignored by the state and allowed to claim. Those genuine find it more difficult to seek work with the silly timescales and sanctions, as most genuine claimants do not wish to comply with the “rules” but just with the law and focus getting back into employment. Now all disabled people whether or not they can work are being forced onto JSA because it is cheaper.

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