Richard Lowe wrote a piece this week on his experiences with the Job Centre Plus and decried how it is completely unfit for purpose. His story is not unique, as the comments on his piece show, and I know several other people, including myself, who have had a similar experience at the hands of an organisation that is supposedly designed to help them. It is clear that the system needs reforming, and there are two key areas in which this is required.
First on the list is the need to be adaptable. Many Job Centres are tailored to provide manual and low-skilled jobs, which is absolutely fine. Unfortunately when they are dealing with people who have A-Levels or Degrees this isn’t particularly helpful. Many employers who are looking to recruit low-skilled workers will not employ people with more qualifications because they, rightly, assume that these people will leave as soon as they can find something better. What they should do instead is offer a service tailored to suit the skill level of the job-seeker. Stream applicants by qualification and provide job adverts and training opportunities that are tailored to them. If people with degrees need office experience then offer positions that will provide that, and work with local employers to ensure that opportunities are available to do it. If someone with A-Levels needs help writing a CV then offer that. If the support is tailored to the needs of the applicants rather than trying to mould them all in the same image then it would be a great deal more successful.
Secondly is a need to deal with the staff and improve the support that they provide, and an injection of common sense would be a good start. There are many cases where people are offered jobs that are completely unsuitable, and then criticised for not taking them up. To take one example, a friend of mine was presented with an advert for a part-time minimum wage job twenty miles from their home. The cost of the commute was more than they would earn, and yet the Job Centre staff could not understand why they wouldn’t take it. Is it any wonder that so many people get turned off from going to the Job Centres when they have to deal with that level of ignorance? Staff should also show more empathy with the people they are responsible for helping. True, some people who attend Job Centres are the kind of feckless buffoons that one normally sees as guests on the Jeremy Kyle show, and I understand how that can wear the staff down but in many cases they are people who are desperately looking for work but, for whatever reason, are unable to locate it. Being in that situation can lead people to depression and despair, and when they are feeling that way the last thing they need is to be treated like crap by the people who are supposed to be there to help them. They deserve to be treated with a degree of empathy rather than as just another person looking to get some free money to spend on booze and fags. One suggestion could be to require those people who work in Job Centres to have themselves been unemployed. Experiencing the feelings of uselessness and depression that come from being unemployed might make them a little more supportive of those in the same position.
For the economic recovery to continue we need to ensure that we can fill jobs, skilled and unskilled, as they become available, and to do that we need to reform the Job Centres. Not only will this ensure that jobs can be filled as they become available, but it will naturally reduce the benefits bill as people join the workforce. Doing so will take time and doubtless cost money, but in the long-term this is a small price to pay to provide what is an essential service that can provide real benefit to the UK economy.
Bob Foster studied Military History at university and now lives in the North West. Socially liberal and fiscally conservative, his passions include American history, military history and defence policy, and can usually be found building models of aircraft and warships. He works in the defence industry but speaks for himself. He tweets as @Bobski1984