As we referred to in our last post, the recent Parliamentary debate led by Chloe Smith MP (on young jobseekers and the role of the DWP and Jobcentre Plus in supporting them) not only addressed our own research but also considered some important recent research from YMCA England in a report called “Safety Net or Springboard?”. This report examined how social security and benefits systems could be transformed to better enable young people into employment and fulfill their potential.
The YMCA conducted a series of focus groups across England with young people in summer 2015 and the young people they spoke to identified six areas they believed Jobcentre Plus could improve on to increase their prospects of finding employment:
- Understanding young people’s circumstances
- Listening to young people’s aspirations
- Supporting young people to look for work
- Getting young people the right skills and qualifications
- Securing young people with meaningful work experience
- Retaining support for young people transitioning into employment
The YMCA report found, in summary, that:
“The overwhelming feelings expressed by the young people participating in the research were ones of frustration and dismay towards job centres and the support they currently provide in helping to find employment.
More than nine in 10 of individuals taking part in the focus groups believed the support they were currently or previously receiving from their job centre was not helping them find employment…”
In turn, the YMCA concluded that:
“Contrary to much of the rhetoric surrounding those young people accessing the social security system, the reality is that most young people who find themselves out of work desperately want to find employment.
However, rather than preparing and helping young people find work, in many cases the existing job centre arrangements merely dehumanise those who access its services, damaging their confidence and in some cases even setting back their journey into employment.
Despite a range of well-intentioned schemes being put in place by successive governments, many young people are continuing to be prescribed the same generic support, regardless of their circumstances and aspirations. This is creating a significant discordance between how young people view the service being provided and what governments believe they offer.
While examples of good practice do exist, the research illustrates that these are few and far between and that job centres across the country are not currently providing young people with the employment support they need.
It is clear that in their current from job centres are failing to fulfil one of their two key roles – providing public employment services. The research shows that young people are not seeing their local job centre as a place they can go to get support finding a job, but simply as a benefit processing office.
Significant reforms are needed to transform job centres from a safety net that simply provides financial support into a springboard that helps young people find employment.”
These quotes highlight to us what a crucial piece of research it is, and we are pleased that it has been highlighted so strongly in Parliament by Chloe Smith MP. When 9 out of 10 of the young people questioned believed that Jobcentre Plus – the organisation which is supposed to help them find employment – does not help them and has not helped them find employment, there is something very seriously wrong.
We previously addressed the many issues with Jobcentre Plus in our Manifesto on Youth Employment and this research tallies with much of the evidence already available. For example, in our Manifesto we highlighted a 2013 poll of unemployed 16-24 year olds for the Local Government Association which found that a majority of young people feel that Jobcentre Plus does not tell them anything new (65%), does not provide skills or experience relevant for a job (52%), and does not understand or support their personal circumstances (50%). We also proposed an extensive, detailed programme for reforming and fixing the problems that we and others have identified and there have since been increasing calls for reform of Jobcentre Plus – for example on the influential ConservativeHome website.
However, the YMCA research clearly strengthens the case and need for those measures and highlights how urgently they are needed, especially as their own recommendations for reform are very similar to our own.
Yet the Government has not done enough to fix these problems and has allowed many of them to continue. This is nothing less than a national scandal. The Government cannot continue to sit back and do nothing when Jobcentre Plus is so clearly failing to achieve one of its key purposes, especially when it is failing to the extent that young people feel that Jobcentre Plus dehumanises them, damages their confidence and in some cases even sets back their journey to employment rather than moving it forward – which is the precise opposite of what it is supposed to be doing and what it is funded by taxpayers’ money to do.