We are told that being unemployed is one of the most stressful times of a person’s life, but what does that mean and what’s it like being young and unemployed in Britain today? I’ve seen first-hand exactly what it’s like for a few young people; my friends, my family and formerly myself. We are from different backgrounds and the experience of being unemployed has affected all of us differently.
Britain’s unemployment system; though better than a few other countries is still very odd, bureaucratic, stressful and ineffectual. Britain’s politician’s favourite game is to tamper with it. Originally (Under midterm labour) the unemployed were left to get on with it, producing a job search every 2 weeks to prove they had been looking. Incentives and help was offered, such as a scheme where jobseekers could claim back the costs of transport after a job interview (Immensely helpful), or would be given help with CV’s, courses to raise the jobseekers education qualifications (Providing NVQ’S in things like first aid, health and safety and food preparation, etc). They even assisted with finding interview clothes. During the 2 week meeting the jobseeker could talk to the adviser who would make an honest attempt at providing help and support.
Despite this help I and a family member found it hard to get a job, I had an undergraduate degree whilst the other family member had D’s in their GCSE’s. It took me over 2 years to secure a part time role which I’m still in today; during that time I did a range a jobs including night work in a supermarket (10 hours a night (2 hours transport) earning 5p over minimum wage), worked at the Olympics briefly but travel costs meant I could only break even, and a range of other roles.
The family member has struggled ever since they left school over 7 years ago. Though they tried to get additional education they found it quite difficult; though did complete a self-funded course which unfortunately has an expiry date meaning it must be renewed. Though they have secured jobs they have never earned much over the £53 pounds a week they would have gotten on Jobseekers, additionally they tried to go self-employed working for a company but because of their status had to pay tax and earned very little. The job centre payments are also erratic and sometimes Jobcentre staff find arbitrary reasons not to pay the family member causing more stress. the system left the young jobseeker feeling completely worthless, with many of the roles paying below minimum wage and offering very few if any rights due to the massive gaps in the law that leave workers unprotected.
The situations gotten worse, my family member was part of one of the private company’s unemployment schemes that got 0.5% of jobseekers back into work. My family member is now required to attend the job centre daily or their meagre benefit will be cut for 2 weeks. Additionally they are required to log onto the government’s (unhelpful) website daily, using their 12 digit code and enter the steps they have taken to find work. They were also not paid 2 weeks income owing to having used the wrong bit of paper for job searching about a month ago.
The current job seekers rate is £56.80 a week, which sounds a lot but would buy you about 40 items in a supermarket, or two trips to London, or the average restaurant bill – in short it’s not a lot of money to live on if you include a lot of expanses and have bills to pay. Additionally it’s extremely stressful to not know if they will pay you this month or not.
My family member’s latest job was awful; for a start they were expected to construct the shops interior. They were initially required to work 12 hour shifts (7 days a week) and were not allowed breaks (the construction involved heavy lifting). Additionally the shop was paying £6 an hour (below minimum wage) and refused to offer its staff contracts. My family member was told they would be working 12 hours a day 7 days a week – all without a contract and without a guarantee of even being paid. Employees were also required to use chairs as step ladders and were not allowed breaks despite the law saying they should have a 20 min break after 6 hours. One shift my family member was yelled at 3 times and was told “If you don’t like it quit, there are plenty more workers begging for a job.” My family member hurt their back on the second 12 hour shift, went back 3 days later and started again for 4 more days before they, and other staff left.
When the family member signed on again her “unpaid” wages were deducted from their jobseekers allowance. It’s been over a month and the family member has not been paid for the time they worked. What can they do? –working tribunals take years and require upfront costs, because there was no paperwork the police don’t care, There is nobody out there to protect workers’ rights. It seems “99p” stores do have a hidden cost.
I know what you’re thinking; why doesn’t the family member get a job? Well recently 250 people went for 1 unskilled job in a local shop. It’s really not easy for people to find a job and the government only seems to inflict more stress on people instead of offering help. A number of years ago unemployment lead a friend I used to know to attempt suicide by taking an overdose. The overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, unwontedness and stress lead them into attempting suicide, and although they regretted the act (which didn’t succeed) it just shows how difficult it is for young NEETS in the UK. This friend eventually hooked up with an abusive partner and is now a full time mother, although I have lost contact with her due to the controlling nature of her relationship.
To summarise; long term unemployment is a horrendous thing to inflict on a person. No wonder so many people are turning to crime, or drugs and alcohol, or anything else to lessen the feeling of shame, of guilt, of unwontedness and of worthlessness that they feel. When they do find a work it’s often on a 10 hour a week contract where 100% of their earnings will be deducted from their benefits. These jobs also don’t tend to last once the government subsidies dry up. This measure does make the unemployment rate seem better (which is the government’s goal.)
The long term unemployed feel like they are being punished instead of being helped; if they do secure a very low paid role then they can find they are no better off. Working is good, but when you’ve been living in near poverty every pound really matters to you and working for free isn’t very reassuring. Also after years without stable employment many people find working to be initially stressful, and the 0% increase in income just adds to this stress. The government is now talking about forcing unemployed people to attend the job centre for 8 hours a day; I suspect this is a ploy to intimidate people into working, and to make their other actions seem more moderate in comparison. Yet another psychological weapon used against people seeking a place in society.
What’s the answer then? We’ll the numerous & crazy government schemes have all but failed and have incurred huge costs in terms of money, economic growth, increased crime and despair. The iron fist approach, as well as fear and intimidation tactics has only exacerbated the situation. What we need is a multifaceted approach with assistance offered on a personal basis designed to help the individual. Proper skills training for people of all ages would be useful for those that would benefit; Reintroduction of EMA or another funding mechanism (for all ages) would also help people looking to reskill. Proper government funded (guaranteed) work experience would also be very useful and the person working should be paid for their time, properly. Some people need some space: Not everybody’s suited to being harassed continuously (daily attendance and job searches… a 2 week basis is adequate). Also guaranteed income would also be useful; it’s hard to survive when your income could be cut at any second for any reason. I would also like to see a scheme where unemployed people were guaranteed a properly paid job after some time and would also like to see people who have got a job retain at least 60% of their benefit meaning they would always be better off working even on a part time basis. These schemes would save money in the long run, support; not penalisation is the answer.
I would also like to see optional education packs for every unemployed person; where they can undertake an educational course (like an Open University style course) and can leave at any time and still be graded (1/4 completed, ½ completed, etc). This would give unemployed people something to do that’s proactive and something they can achieve that will boost their skills and confidence without costing much – and have a real qualification to show after it. Most of the educational training could be given away on DVD, or via a website; and assignments completed online or sent through the mail.
We will continue to look for jobs: all most unemployed people ask is understanding and to know there is light at the end of the tunnel. Lastly the job centre does seem to treat people with utter contempt and the number of pointless bureaucratic hoops seems to have multiplied over time and will probably continue to do so.
Written by David Beck – www.dwbeck.com