I have known him for a number of years now. As far as I know he has been unemployed for at least 3 years. I bumped into him today in a cafÃƒ© I use in Leek. He moved to sit next to me. I will admit to a sense of dread. Inevitably I asked him how things were. He is waiting to go on a course, yet another course. This seems to be his fate, which he accepts without complaint. He will again be temporary removed from the unemployment register. He tells me – he always tells me how pleased the job centre is with him. He seems to have an almost puppy like desire willingness to please. I suspect the staff at the Job Centre is close to patting him on the head when he tells them of another certificate he has collected. I suppose it’s that aspect of his approach to unemployment that I find grating. That is despite his obvious efforts- he told me 300 job applications- he remains so passive and compliant with an authority which ought to be helping him
I was angry with him and for him. I said if I were him would just refuse to go another course. The courses seemed to be primarily designed to offer employment to the people employed to run them and precious little else. He will not heed my advice. I also told him to try volunteering as the Salvation Army had volunteer vacancies who knows which might lead somewhere. He told me that he wanted to use his IT skills. It might be that they could give him a stock control role where database skills might be used. I doubt whether he will do anything with that piece of unsolicited advice. He is in his late 50s and spends a great deal of his time applying for jobs for which he rarely gets a response.
I would say that the future is bleak for him. He obviously lacks confidence and has some underlying health problem. His only chance is retail work and perhaps if he gains some experience and support from the Job Centre, but that is not likely to happen. No doubt when I see him again we will go through the same script of how happy the Job Centre are with his progress.
The other element in this is how much I recognise how close we are in potential fates. He is a few years older than me but I can both see our future employment lives being a constant battle for recognition, status and earning a living when the prospect of people on the fringes of work have never been bleaker but I have not given up.
Clare White published a report from NESTA on the future of local governance and services on the Regenerating Stoke facebook site that I created. I looked through it this afternoon and I was mostly drawn to a case study of a programme designed to tackle worklessness in Sunderland. NESTA advance the project as an example of best practice in an area that equally has resonaces in Stoke as it does in the North East. In 2007 25% of the work force in Sunderland were economically inactive which is as near as damn it is the experience in Stoke. Sunderland like Stoke have been much exercised by this problem and all the conventional approaches to turning the tide on unemployment had failed. Sunderland therefore attempted a new approach. The organisation Livework did not win the contract by saying they had all the solutions refreshingly they said they needed to clearly understand the barriers to work faced by the unemployed. By asking people they quickly concluded that the reasons why people are unemployed for long periods is complex a fact not readily understood by jobcentres.
This was particularly true about hard to reach groups were the connection and involvement that they made with community organisations was often very strong. Stronger, in fact than the statutory organisations. I experienced this with the metal health organisation I worked with in Manchester. They also found that there was a lack of communication and co-ordination between community groups and statutory bodies. The importance of collaboration between the agencies especially those engaged most consistently and at an earlier stage was the key.
Livework convened a number of workshops between the long-term unemployed; employers, community groups and the council included how to deliver the long-term support that the workless required.
Lifework was able to pool the various offers from community groups into a single brochure. The community groups supported the unemployed person through and supported them in their efforts to be work ready and in this goal they were supported by Sunderland Council services. More people were able to contact the job centre because they received the support of the organisation that they were most familiar with in the community, which they lived. The community groups did the outreach and support work.
I can quite see something like this working in an area like Stoke. Over the weekend I was reading about the positive impact that Chell Heath Resident Group was having especially around sports initiative and I have heard other good things about resident group operating in Blurton.
Locally based initiatives seem to have worked in Sunderland.
In its first stage Make It Work supported over 1,000 people, with 238 finding work. The success of the project owed something to the risk that the Council were prepared to take in handing control over to community groups funding it properly and giving it the opportunity to grow.
(Contrast this with a project of getting work experience run by Wolverhampton Social Services improving the work chances with people with learning difficulties. In the end the team only placed one person. A vacancy as a cleaner working in the teams office)
The total cost of running the project in Sunderland was £180,000. An economist for the council estimated the cost avoidance for the Council was £435,000 through people entering sustained work.
The early return on investment is dwarfed by the long-term savings, which has been estimated in savings from the cost of unemployment. The average cost of each participant in Make it Work was £5,000. The DWP consider it economically rational to spend £62,000 to support a person returning to work. This figure represents a 90% saving on the DWP’s own figure.
How could this arrangement work for a person such as the one outlined at the beginning of this piece? He is well known in the community, he probably needs mentoring and support and opportunities do exist at least to get him work ready such as the volunteering at one of the many charity shops in Leek.
Some weeks ago I wrote to the local MP in Leek with my idea for a community based opportunity centre, which originally dated from March 2009
I wrote in March 09
“I often work on the library computers in the Civic Centre and the problems that people are having are sometimes audible as many grapple with the implications of worklessness in discussions with the Council advisors. Many people in the town have never been in this situation before and they loathe the situation they are in and the agencies that are supposed to assist. The problems that they have in getting through to the Job Centre in Haley is another cause for complaint. There is a feeling of hopelessness abroad in the town
My idea derives from the experience of the recession of the 80s. In many towns such as Stoke and Liverpool Unemployed Workers Centres sprang up where support and training where often provided. A number still exists although none in North Staffs- the nearest is Cannock. Perhaps the time has come to revisit the concept but to give the idea of a centre a more positive spin.
During the Leek East by election I put forward the idea of enterprise centres where ideas could be allowed to develop. I still think the idea is a worthy one but now think that the model could be developed to include advice and help with job search while this facility does not exist in Leek.
What I had in mind was an opportunity centre which escapes the negative impression of “unemployment centres” by concentrating on rebuilding the individual life chances by offering advice, for example, of how to set up a business, offering training and advice as well as job hunting facilities and welfare advice through an agency like the CAB, it is a centre that is run by a non statutory organisation as a form of social enterprise.
I have also thought of the organisation that could assist in setting up such a centre and I think the churches could have a key role in this enterprise perhaps through an organisation like “Churches Together in Leek”.
As for as location for the centre, it is important that the Centre should be centrally placed so that people who use the centre are in the best place to access local support from the College or SMDC as well as finding local jobs. The soon to be vacated “Your Leek Paper” offices in Getliffes Yard seem to be ideal to me although I gather the owner would like another retailer to move in.
Initially the Centre could be run wholly by volunteers, or at least have a strong volunteer presence, and that the exercise could be seen as providing localised mutual aid just when the hard pressed members of the community in Leek need it”.