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’….