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Working on the dole

The Sunday papers have picked up on IDS’s plan to make long-term JSA claimants do 4 weeks of voluntary work to prepare them for the world of work. Unremarkably it has been met with outright hostility on the left but it is in principle a perfectly sensible idea, and I come to this conclusion not out of some ideological hatred of the unemployed but from experience.

After leaving University I spent about 6 months on JSA unable to find a job, stuck in a cycle of not having enough experience to get that first job but unable to get the first job to gain that very experience. That treck to the Job Centre was humiliating, as was the interview with the Job Seekers Assistant. It was after a few months that I realised that this could not go on, I had to do something to improve my prospects of employment and end the weekly humiliation. So I saw an advertisement for a voluntary position at a local environmental charity and an opportunity to gain the experience and transferable skills I needed. So I applied, got offered an interview and took the good news to my JSA assistant only to be hit with a wall of total resistance. I was told quite forcibly that if I did more than 16 hours of unpaid work a week I would have my benefits stopped. But this opportunity was for 35 hours a week, I protested. The computer says no, was the response I got. It was ridiculous, the state was actively preventing me from voluntarily bettering my chances of employment, they would rather have me sitting at home than doing something worthwhile.

As it was I just ignored my JSA assistant and went on to volunteer with the charity, who in turn put me into an unpaid placement at my local authority, which in turn gave me the experience required to get the job I hold today. Had I listened to my JSA advisor and followed the system as it was then, I have no idea where I would be today; but I do wonder whether it would have been in employment.

For someone out of work, particularly if it has been for a long time, a spell of voluntary work or a voluntary placement can do the world of good. It needn’t be just litter picking as some papers have suggested but something that allows them to gain some transferable skills, and providing it’s not putting anyone else out of work it’s doing no harm. And removing or reducing benefits for those who refuse to better their chances and themselves is hardly unreasonable either.

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