DAVID CAMERON is to unveil a plan to get Britain back to work by forcing millions of welfare claimants into training.
I’ve mentioned before that I think that getting the unemployed working for their benefits is a great idea. After all, they have a much better chance of getting a job and presenting a good impression of themselves when they are used to getting up and working all day, as oppose to rising at lunch and spending the day in their pyjamas engaging in slovenly behaviour.
However I don’t believe that the Tory plan is the right one. This idea that private companies, i.e. employment agencies, will somehow be much better placed to find work for the terminally unemployed, or even just the hard up, is wrong. As anyone who has ever had any dealings with employment agencies knows, they are only interested in bums on seats and meeting targets.
They don’t care about the individual, nor even about finding the right job for the right person, just about filling positions. Sure this may sound ideal, but the unemployed don’t want to work for three weeks, be unemployed again for a month, then employed again etc. People who are unemployed want a job first and foremost, but they want to stay in that job. The idea is to find the unemployed long term, meaningful employment, not short term fixes to make the quarterly figures look good.
The Government currently has a similar scheme with private companies getting paid to find work for the unemployed, and has also had a comparable scheme running for several years with various Chambers of Commerce. It doesn’t work, because the Government, and by the sounds of it the next Tory government, are only interested in setting targets and making the figures look good. These private companies in turn are then only interested in meeting these targets in the quickest and simplest way possible and getting their payouts.
Job Centre Plus
The only reason such measures are being considered is because Job Centre Plus is so poor at providing the service that it was set up to do. The Job Centre’s very premise was to get the unemployed back to work, now the Government gets third parties to do it.
The original labour exchanges were an idea of Winston Churchill’s, and they were intended to help the unemployed back into work by matching them up with vacancies.
Today, they are basically just used to collect claimant information, little or no effort is made to match a claimant with a job, other than displaying vacancies. Indeed most of the real job matching work is done by private companies under impressive sounding schemes such as Employment Zones or Pathways to Work, and as with most Government schemes, it is an exercise in meeting quotas and ticking boxes. Only those in ‘high priority groups’ are eligible for the schemes, i.e. those with alcohol or addiction problems, single parents etc, in other words, those least likely to benefit from them, but look best on paper.
Many Job Centre Plus locations are closing; processing claims is now being taken over by Benefit Delivery Centres, where fewer and even less attentive people can spend even less time looking over claimant forms. Another example of the lax approach to dealing with unemployment is the fact that claimants are now known as customers! An excellent way of tackling the benefit culture, by making it seem as though claimants are doing the benefits office a favour, rather than the other way around!
Back to work
How hard is it to spend time with individuals to work out their requirements for employment, and then match that? To find their weaknesses and resolve them, such as providing training courses, work experience etc? With a £8 billion a year budget and more staff than the British Army, over 120,000 at the last count, one would think it was relatively simple. Yet the Department of Work and Pensions seems intent on paying others to do their work for them, and it is a lucrative business.
Several years ago now, I was involved with my local Chamber of Commerce in providing the above to claimants on behalf of the Job Centres. It seemed like a good and worthwhile project, helping claimants with their CVs, running workshops about interviews etc and helping them find work that they were qualified for. All pretty basic stuff. Add to this a work placement scheme and it did indeed seem a brilliant way of getting people back to work.
Unknown to me, at least at the time, was that claimants had to be unemployed for at least 18 months to be eligible for this ‘help’ and the course was only mandatory if the person had been unemployed for three years! For each person on the course, the Job Centre paid the Chamber of Commerce the equivalent of one year’s Job Seekers Allowance, at the time about £2000.
They could also get a bonus of about five times that amount when one of the claimants found full time employment whilst on, or immediately after the course! At any one time there were at least 20 people on the course, meaning a payout of £40,000 and a potential bonus of £200,000 and many of these courses were run consecutively. I can only guess at the money being made by private companies now.
The words ‘Gold Mine’ spring to mind. But that said, it was a great way of getting people off benefits, especially as the work placement scheme was for one year and the vast majority were either hired by the company they were working for, or immediately found work upon completely the course.
Unfortunately a year is a long time for politicians, this was cut down to six months when more pleasing targets and figures were needed. A year was deemed too long, when the claimants could do a six month placement and then find work. Needless to say the success rate dropped, but rather than increase it back to year, it was halved again to just three months (worse still, those completing the course had to wait another 18 months to be eligible again so it now took 6 years to get 1 year work experience!).
Three months is next to useless, and the number of claimants finding work plummeted again, however the bonuses did not. It was often remarked by the claimants that the Job Centre would have been better off handing the 5 years worth of ‘dole’ money to the claimant and getting them to find themselves a placement for a year. A thought that obviously never occurred to them.
Good money after bad
In the end disillusioned with the project I left, but I still believe that something similar really could work. The Conservatives proposal is just throwing more money at the problem, and farming the responsibility, and therefore the blame, out to someone else. At the end of the day, these companies will be given tick boxes and targets to meet, and that is precisely what they will do, and nothing more.
You have to remember that it is not really in the companies interests to find long term employment for people, the more people they have through their scheme, the more money they get. Many of the current private companies working in this area have multi-million pound turnovers (some more than £100 million a year), and are increasing this year on year. More often than not, this is because they find the claimants work with agencies, which is normally short term, and they get to cash in on the same claimants several times a year. This is just paying private companies millions of pounds of tax payers money to take advantage of those in desperate straits.
Paying for the right training courses, or providing benefits to people while they work for free at local hospitals, councils, charities etc is the right way to go. After all, even the most work shy will not work for long earning £60 a week, when they could be earning £260 a week doing the same job.