The latest government figures show that there are currently 2.62 million people unemployed in the UK. The highest figure since 1994. In reality there are probably even more people who are not on the register but who would really like to work. At the same time the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is predicting that the UK will slip back into recession, hardly good news for the job market.The likelihood is that the unemployment statistics will remain high for the foreseeable future, not good news for those out of work or facing redundancy.
I know that there are some people who abuse our benefits system but living on state handouts is not fun and I see a lot of people trying to improve their lot in order to get a job or become self employed. The system doesn’t make it easy. The more I meet with people who have to ‘sign on’ every two weeks the more troubled I become with the quality of advice that they get. It seems that every job centre adviser has a different interpretation of the rules and there is no flexibility or room for negotiation.
Today a single mother of three told me that her job seeker’s allowance has been withdrawn because she will not give up the training course she is on! She is in the third year of a beauty therapy and hairdressing course and the course takes up 16.5 hours per week over two days. Apparently because the course is for more than 16 hours she is ‘not available for work’ so can’t claim job seeker’s allowance. When she is qualified she aims to set up her own business but in the meantime she needs to work to support her three children. She is available to work five days per week.
This lady has shown a real desire to improve her status in life. She has shown dedication to self development having studied for two years already. What she needs is a system with the flexibility to support her and her family until she can start her own business. She does not need to be spending hour after hour being passed from one benefit office to another to get a little financial assistance to keep her children fed and a roof over their heads. At the moment, because she has lost her job seeker’s allowance she is not entitled to housing benefit and she is also being told that she cannot have income support. What is she to live on? The irony is that if she gave up her course she could be on benefits whilst she looked for work but until she completes the course she has few qualifications with which to get a job.
This lady’s case is not unique, I hear similar stories all the time. I believe that the job market will remain in the doldrums for years to come and that people will need to take a new approach to work. This means more people will need juggle several part time jobs, to work freelance or set up their own businesses. We need a benefits system that will provide them with a safety net as they develop their own individual solutions. We need a flexible benefits system which is properly understood by those who administer it. We need a system that encourages people to improve their skills and to find work whether as an employee or self employed. Above all we need a system which does not treat the jobless as second class people and which knocks all self confidence and self respect from them.
I have been running an Enterprise Club for six months now helping people who are unemployed to set up their own businesses. It is slow progress for a number of reasons one of which is the lack of flexibility in the benefits system. Have you found a way to move from benefits in to self employment? Have you found the obstacles just too great? Whatever your experience I would love for you to share it here, click on the comments button at the top of the page.