Stevie Martin | Staff Writer | Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Unemployed? David Cameron Proposes To Treat You Like A Criminal

The Debrief: The Tories pledge to make the unemployed do community service to get benefits. But is this a good idea? (hint: no)

If you’re 18-21 years old and don’t have a job, and you’re not in education (yes, that includes you, graduates!), and it goes on like that for more than six months, then David Cameron wants to force you into community service in exchange for the benefit money.

It’s part of a new proposal geared around preventing ‘a life on benefits’, where you work 30 hours a week to pick up the £57.35 a week – but is this attempt to get people jobs a bit misguided?

If you’re looking for work, then this system will mean that a) you’ll be working for less than £2 an hour, which is demoralising and b) if you have your sights set on a specific career that requires interning or work experience, you won’t have time to do this, which is demoralising. 

Oh, and why the hell have the Tories called it community service? It sounds like something criminals do. Especially considering you’ve been unemployed for six months – anyone who’s been there can tell you that 30 hours a week doing something you don’t want to do, that neither helps you work out what career you want, or will help you toward the career you already have in mind, won't make you feel particularly motivated.

And a hell of a lot of people are unemployed because they’ve lost motivation, and direction, so how is this supposed to help? All my unemployed ladies throw your hands up if you hear me. Or just throw up. At the thought of this ridiculous proposal. 

‘I’m confused as to how David Cameron thinks that treating unemployed young people the same way as criminals is going to help them find a job,’ says Natalie, 24, who signed on a couple of years ago after graduating with a Journalism degree.

‘Surely the best way to help people who have been out of work or education for more than six months is to support them into work, rather than punishing them with community service? I think young people know what they want to do but they don’t really know how to achieve it. It would be better to have staff in job centres who could give actual useful advice, rather than forcing young people to work 30 hours a week for next to nothing.’ 

On paper, you’d think that this is what the current Jobcentre Plus scheme is doing, but, erm, it’s not. While the government proudly boasts that 75 per cent of people claiming jobseekers allowance, and using the Jobcentre, are off benefits again within six months, only around half are still in work eight months later. A third of them find themselves back on the benefits wagon.

Jenny, 23, signed on after she graduated, before getting a Christmas jobShe’s now signed on again, and feels like it’s actually hindering her progress. ‘I can tell I’m so close to taking my first professional step, but the job centre makes it so much more difficult,’ she told us.

‘I was doing an unpaid internship at a social media agency for 45 hours a week, and they said I couldn’t keep doing that, because I wasn’t available for work.’

Jenny is one of the proactive ones, too, having not found herself totally crushed to the point of 24hr sofa-crying. She volunteers constantly, is on the board for the Young Women’s Trust, as well as being an ambassador for Youth Unemployment UK. But what about those who have lost heart?

‘I’ve seen young women trying to do things and being held back. I’ve also seen young women who just lack the self belief and confidence to progress, and forcing them to do community service just isn’t going to help,’ she says. 

That’s the crux of it – those who need the most help, are the ones who are the least confident. And there’s not enough time and resources available for them. So, is there a compromise between the two?

‘I think that if Jobcentre advisors were able to help young people find useful placements that were related to the career path that they had chosen then that would definitely be helpful,’ says Natalie. ‘And of course there are transferable skills from lots of other placements too, but I think it has to be a decision that a young person makes, rather than something that politicians force them to do.’ 

Feeling like you are making a decision, and taking control of your life, is a huge part of getting the motivation to start working when you’ve felt lost for a while. A key part of that is a service that respects its customers, and makes them feel welcome. Not something synonymous with community service, and not something the current system is particularly known for, either – treating people like dirt.

‘You’re made to feel like you’re not a fully acceptable member of society. I‘ve been told there were no toilets, and I couldn’t use the toilets in a nearby cafe. I was told off for drinking water in the waiting room. I was passed around from advisor to advisor, and used by some advisors just to tick boxes because they figured I’d get a job really quickly,’ says Jenny. ‘Tiny things add up, and you're made to feel like you aren’t good enough.’ 

And it’s interesting to note that this ridiculous community service idea has come in the run-up to the general election, when parties are fighting for votes. You know whose vote the Tories wouldn’t count on anyway? Young people. So who have they thrown under the bus? You guessed it. 

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Follow Stevie on Twitter: @5tevieM

Picture: Jan Postma