Tag Archives: unemployment figures

In and Out of Work – Glenn Jenkins from Marsh Farm Estate, Luton

I am a resident of the Marsh Farm estate in Luton who became unemployed in the 1992 recession and, for a number of reasons, has been living on state benefits for most of the time ever since. However, unlike the more than a million other people in the UK who find themselves in the same situation, I have been lucky enough to have escaped the worst of the numbing effects of long term unemployment by taking part in the creation and organisation of community self help projects ‘by and for socially excluded people’.

This gives me long, first hand experience of life ‘at the margins’, which means I really appreciate the positive impact the introduction of the Community Allowance would have, not just for the sizeable minority of people living here who are stuck in different departments of the ‘benefits trap’ and highly unlikely to ever find meaningful work, but also for the public at large.

For many people on Marsh Farm who do manage to find work, the story is not much better. The latest unemployment statistics for Luton show that the current economic downturn has seen joblessness go up on Marsh Farm at a rate 3 times that of Luton generally. This is caused by the large number of people living here who, when they do manage to find work, end up in temporary and insecure jobs which are always the first to go in a ‘recession’.

This syndrome of ‘in and out of work’ nearly always leads to a period of severe financial instability similar to that described above for these individuals and their families. This is a disaster caused in these cases by the disjointed nature of the benefits system and its inability to efficiently manage the transition from work to benefits and benefits to work.

As the UK Insecure at Work survey explains “throughout most of the last decade, almost half of the men, and a third of the women, making a new claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance were last claiming this benefit less than six months previously. In other words, almost half of men who lose their job, and a third of women, had had that job for less than six months. This shows the short-term nature of the jobs that many unemployed people go into”.

As a long term resident of Marsh Farm I promise you, the instability caused by the ‘in and out of work’ syndrome is pushing several young families to the brink of impoverishment and homelessness.

Although it almost goes without saying (I hope) that everyone is an individual with a specific set of needs, the welfare to work systems in the UK are notoriously bureaucratic and unable to provide relevant and useful support for the majority of long term unemployed people living on Marsh Farm. The internet dictionary ‘Dictionary.com’ describes a bureaucrat as “an official who works by fixed routine without exercising intelligent judgment”, a description which perfectly sums up the experience for most of the long term unemployed people I know.

For many people, interventions by Job Centre Plus and other support agencies leads not to a pathway to work, but instead to being forced onto ‘courses’ which are widely felt to be box ticking exercises for government targets rather than genuine attempts to help people back into work.

As a topical and personal example of this ‘one size fits all’ approach, I was recently ordered (at threat of loss of all my benefits) to take part in a ‘basic skills assessment’ (due to my reaching 18 months unemployed).

This is a 1 hr ‘exam’ consisting of a set of numeracy questions like: 2 + 2 + ? = 11 and literacy questions like “I wien to the shop to get some tea” – please identify the spelling mistake.

This ‘exam’ was delivered by a qualified teacher who travelled from Dunstable College (which is 5 miles away – and there were only two of us there!). As I hope my authorship of this article shows, this ‘exam’ is a complete waste of my time, the advisors time, the trainer’s time and is nothing less than a scandalous waste of public money. In any sane system, the advisor would have the flexibility to identify those who need such support, and those who do not, and would be free to tailor any support provided according to the specific needs of each person they are working with. But here again, the only support the advisor can provide is restricted to that delivered by those providers who have ‘won the contract’, regardless of whether the training is relevant to the individuals needs, or the quality of the training itself.

My own experience of this ‘one size fits all’ approach to the provision of ‘support’ is nothing when compared with the real and lasting damage caused to other people’s lives who are treated in the same way, but who are not so well placed to cope with it as I am.

A busy few days

It’s been a busy time recently, what with the resignation of both Hazel Blears and James Purnell, the two Secretaries of State we have worked hard to influence. Hazel, in particular, was a strong advocate for the Community Allowance and we are waiting with some trepidation to see what the new Ministers will make of it.

Yesterday I went to a quarterly meeting of the Community Sector Coalition, in part to brief the Chief Executives of the member organisations about progress on the Community Allowance and in part to talk to Phillip Blond, who was there talking about his Progressive Conservatism project.

It was an interesting discussion about what builds associative behaviour and the need to broaden and pluralise our notions of ownership. All stuff that has been the bread and butter of the community sector but it was refreshing to hear it talked about with such passion and clarity from a Conservative.

Phillip suggested we write a list of all the harmful things the state does to the community sector. No doubt the benefits regulations will be in that list. He has kindly agreed to write a piece for a booklet we’ll be publishing later in the summer about the Community Allowance.

Yesterday came the depressing news that unemployment has reached a new 12 year high, with the CBI predicting that there is worse to come, estimating that unemployment will reach 3 million by 2010.

Then today the Equality and Human Rights Commission released a report that unsurprisingly shows that people in deprived areas are being worst hit by unemployment.

All this points to a need for a Community Allowance now more than ever. We have been advised that the DWP will be making a decision about our Right to Bid proposal next week and have written to our supporters asking them to write to Yvette Cooper, the new Secretary of State for DWP, letting her know just how important a Community Allowance could be in these difficult economic times.

We believe it will:

  • Encourage positive behaviour – people doing good in their communities – creating role models and turning problems into solutions
  • Generate thousands of new jobs at a micro level in the poorest areas – laying the foundation for resilient communities
  • Turn the welfare safety net into a springboard – helping people bounce back rather than sink down in the recession

If you can see the need for a Community Allowance in your community please take the time to write to Yvette Cooper today.

This campaign started back in 2001 from the grassroots experience of hundreds of people across the country, drawing on their frustrations and aspirations for what could be achieved if the benefits system supported rather than held back community regeneration. It has built on the momentum created by the New Start/Urban Forum campaign a few years ago and over the last year has involved hundreds more people across the UK in letting James Purnell MP know how important a Community Allowance could be in transforming lives and communities.

Let’s not let all this effort go to waste.

You can write to her at:

Yvette Cooper MP, Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions,Caxton House, Tothill Street, London, SW1H 9DA