Monday 30 September 2013


George Osborne has announced that benefit claimants who have been out of work for three years will obliged to choose from three choices on a new Help to Work scheme. 

They will be made to:

Work 30 hours a week for six months doing community work;

Attend the jobcentre on a daily basis to look for work, or;

Undertake a mandatory regime for dealing with the issues causing their unemployment, such as mental health problems or drug addiction.

I've worked with unemployed people for 15 plus years. In my experience most people who are unemployed, want to be employed. 

I accept absolutely, however, that there are those who don't want to be.

I think that many of the people who “appear” to be workshy are in fact not.

They may seem to be disinterested but this is because they are fed up being bullied by Jobcentre, not because anyone gives a toss whether they work or not, indeed live or not, but because the Jobcentre has targets, and as long as a box can be ticket, that’s all that matters. Once you talk to them properly and try to help them, they start showing real interest in the possibility of a life with some money in their pockets.

Note: Any criticism here is levelled at Jobcentre and DWP management and not the jobcentre staff, many of whom DO care, but aren’t allowed the time or scope to work with their clients.

In most cases, people who have been employed for 3 years have some sort of problem. It may be drug related, it may be health related, and very possibly mental health related. Osborne and Smith would do well to remember that not everyone has good health, or the benefits of excellent education, connections and pots of money.

'Prison works' was, I seem to recall, the slogan of failed Home Secretary Michael Something of the Night Howard.  While that may be true in some ways, it also leaves people with records that are now readily available to potential employers, and almost certainly damn some employees before their application has even started. This problem doesn't seem to have been addressed.

But I'm always happy to see some initiative come from Jobcentre or the DWP. I wonder just what this one will do, and how it will be funded.

Firstly, it is notoriously difficult to get people to work for dole money, particularly if they are being asked to work alongside others on proper wages. It is resented, and rarely produces positive outcomes. (I worked on a similar project at the beginning of my career. We dealt with over 400 people and only 2 ended up employed. Attendees did what they had to do, mainly with bad grace, and then left to return to the dole queue as short term unemployed. In the process, they made the figures look better, which was the real object of the exercise.)

If you want people to work you must pay them. But what do you pay them to do without taking jobs away from other people?  It's a problem that JC+ will have to solve.

Making people attend the jobcentre on a daily basis is of questionable use.

There is no longer the number of staff there to deal with them. There aren't very many suitable jobs advertised and if the jobcentre is any distance at all, the cost to the claimants will be proportionally very high (in Dundee around £15 a week; a lot from the dole cheque). It will be seen as the pointless exercise it is.

The only merit in the above two is that they will make it difficult for someone who is working off books to continue to do this. But as they will be doing the illegal work with compliance from their employer, who will be saving a lot of money on the deal, it is quite probable that the second option will be managed.

The third option though seems a sensible one. Mandatory treatment for dependency type problems.

Almost no-one will employ people with drug or drink problems, and this has needed tacking for many years. The questions of course are, how will it be afforded, where will the treatment staff and facilities come from, and what other medical services will be cut as a result?


  1. What annoys me is that there is already talk of the "work" being things like picking up litter - things that those on community service do as punishment for criminal behaviour. Never let's look at the CV, see what skills they have and see if we can find them something suitable.

    Yes by all means treat addictions but what about other barriers to work? Unemployment in over 50s runs at 50% as employers won't look at them - I look forward to the fountain of eternal youth that will tackle their issues causing unemployment!

    What about people like me with disabilities that affect the types of work they can do and/or and the working environment they can work in? Frankly a disabled ramp and toilet are no use to me, I don't have that type of disability.

    More dog whistle politics. Let's throw billions at A4E etc and when they don't get people into work despite their "expertise", then blame the claiment.

    The Rev Stu has emergency kittens when things get bad. I feel I need an emergency penguin!!

    1. Yes. I agree about the kind of work. As I say, that does nothing for people's abilities. It's just cold nasty work in the Winter. A punishment for being unemployed.

      You're absolutely right too to mention the question of age. Employers don't want people over 50, for a variety of reasons. And again, disablement of whatever kind is a barrier. Especially at a time when there is high unemployment and it's an employers' market.

      A4E has no expertise. They are a joke.

      The trouble with most of these companies is that they have to bid big to get the contract. They can never, at the price, actually do the job. They pay terrible wages to their staff and they are frequently utterly hopeless.

      I once observed a class being taught how to write a letter of application. The one the instructor wrote would have gone in the bin if I had received it.

  2. Tris

    I just made a wee blog about this today as well but with much less detail than yourself lol. For myself, the angle I took was this is basically a declaration of war against the unemployed. As you will be aware there is very little employment in Dundee right now, in fact there never has been in my 44 years. I had to go to Uni and then leave and come back to get a half decent job and given it's local government it is not safe anyway any longer.

    No, today we are seeing the next stage in the war against the poor, if this doesn't convince people that they seriously need to think about where this country is going then nothing will. People are going to have to take to the streets and more likely in England than in Scotland as Scotland feels nearly defeated to me now.

    We will see more of this and given that the government has the media in their pocket it will be tough for people to learn more but they have to. I mean how can 200,000 people march against NHS cuts in England and that not be headline news, how can 30,000 march for independence in Scotland and no arrests and not be headline news.

    We are living in interesting times and the political classes, I believe, think there is no fight left in the people and while I can see why they believe it given what we put up with I think there might just be one big fight left in us. With Labour abandoning working people years ago and the unions finally catching on, with more and more people in Scotland starting to find out the truth through hard work and no help from the media the nearly defeated I mentioned earlier might just have one last gasp of air left with which to fight. So, lets be clear here, if people don't start to fight back in whatever way they can then we might as well just lie down and let them run over the top of us.

    I used to think the people like the SSP were nutters but you know what, they are the ones who are mainly fighting the Oxford and Cambridge Boys and Girls in the main parties and maybe just maybe we need to join them.


    1. I'll go and read your piece Bruce.

      It is a war against the poor, but, they have successfully managed to persuade middle England that people on the dole are scroungers. As a result the majority of people polled agreed that this was a good idea.

      So they can persecute them with complete freedom. Never mind it's not their fault. They are going for people who have part time jobs too. They will have to find full time work if they rely on benefits to make up money.

      It seems that if you want to get anything out of this lot you have to be rich, or get married.

      What amazes me is that they say we are heading into the unknown with independence. It seems to me that this kind of brutality from the government is pretty much the unknown.

      Advice to the government. If you want everyone to work, try getting some jobs.

  3. A few years ago I found myself on a New Deal scheme after a lengthy period of unemployment. It got me out of the house and allowed my to regain some of the self-confidence I'd lost having been bullied out of my previous job. The community project I was part of eventually offered me a short term contract at the end of the placement. Yeah, so I worked for less than minimum wage, but it was training rather than a replacement for an ordinary job, and I got a lot out of it. My personal adviser at the job centre genuinely took an interest and was absolutely fantastic.

    £15 a week extra, a bus pass that gave me up to 80% discount, the chance to do college courses at no cost and some genuine encouragement got me through it. Nowadays the only encouragement that's there is the threat of taking away the little amount you do receive. New Deal wasn't ideal, but it was a hell of a lot better than what's on offer now.

    1. Hi Gus.

      Yes. To begin with New Deal was pretty good.

      They spent a fortune up front on it, and later found that they had to cut the options.

      I think that well run schemes can help some people. But the trouble is that the schemes here are rarely well run.

      They are now always farmed out to private companies to do G4S, ATOS, etc etc. They bid low to get the contract and then just can;t afford the staff that they need to do the job.

      The courses are all pretty much of a muchness. There's not much more you can do. CV writing, letter writing, surfing for jobs, interview skills, ... but most of them have done it to death ... and in a lot of cases it is so badly done.

      If they could go back and spend the money that they did on New Deal, for teh first two years, that might make a difference.

      But they won't. It will be crap short changing the people again.

      As I once said to a government minister, when he commented on lack of job outcomes... how many of these guys would you like to employ in your office?

  4. Thanks for your reply, Tris. In my case, the main contractor was Aberdeen City Council, which then sub-contracted out to smaller providers, which for me was a small community enterprise company. At the time I wasn't aware that there were job outcome fees (probably why I was offered a short-term contract in the first place), but I could see that what I was doing was of benefit to the community in which I lived. If I'd been made to work in Tesco, I don't think I'd have had as much enthusiasm!

    It wasn't without its faults, but there seemed a genuine interest in providing the out of work people with skills and delivering some benefit to the local community as well. Let's face it, if anyone is to profit from such schemes, I'd rather see the money go to a local non-profit than the likes of A4E.

    1. Yes, I agree.

      I've seen schemes of various kinds from "Project Work", which was simply punishing people for being out of work, through “New Deal”, which, as I said, started off well, but ran out of steam, and most particularly money. Then there were Programme Centres, which were all outcome based funding. I was peripheral in the company to this scheme, but advised against getting involved with it, because I knew it would be ruinous.

      We went through more staff than we had ever done. Some lasted only a day. It was a total nightmare. To get the project they bid so low, they simply couldn’t afford to do the work... They were permanently under target.

      But help for people who need help is something I approve of wholeheartedly, and having been involved in a voluntary scheme, I feel that this is a better bet.

      There are some people who will never be employable no matter what you do or how many courses you send them on…for whatever reason... sometimes they just aren't bright enough for any of the work in the area. We have so limited the range of jobs available to people. There were days when even the least intellectually able and the physically weakest could find something. Now there are so few jobs for people who are not computer literate.

      Quite rightly we set up Disclosure Scotland, but the ease with which employers can use this service means that if you have a criminal record, you can’t risk lying about it.

      We also rarely want to employ anyone over 50.

      I actually think that some measure of acceptance of unemployment is probably required, so that money can be spent on those who would benefit from it. In the meantime they need to reinstate the Fraud Squad who used to check up on people who staff though might be on the fiddle.

      I totally agree about the charities getting the money rather than the dreadful fiddlers who usually do.