When I was working as a community worker last year I ran a ‘breakfast club’ for the residents of a group of high rise blocks in Nottingham. The aim of the club was to bring people together who would otherwise not have much of a chance to socialise and to advise these people with their benefits and their search for jobs.
One sunny autumn day saw a ‘mobile job shop’ come to visit the estate on which they lived and, with me being an enthusiastic and new community worker, I urged everyone from the breakfast club to come along and see what was on offer. What the posters sent through to my office didn’t tell me was that there weren’t many jobs left and the ones that remained were all on the other side of the city. Undeterred, some of the members of the breakfast club applied for positions at Tesco’s and Boots, travelled across the city to pick up forms, had interviews and still ended up unemployed. One of the regulars at the breakfast club was delighted when Boots offered him factory work but then let go after two weeks because there weren’t many orders coming through. Another man, who had been looking for work for years, was forced to work for his benefits and not offered a paid position at the end.
When Ed Miliband promised to tackle the “take what you can culture” from the “boardroom to the benefits system” I couldn’t help but think he must be joking. Comparing the boardroom- where salaries are set to rise to one hundred and forty five times national median earnings, to the benefits system, which barely supports the 2.5 million people who are scrambling for five hundred thousand jobs, many of which offer pay which wouldn’t push them above the poverty line- seems like a joke doesn’t it?
We have got to seriously look at the problem of long term unemployment in the UKbut we must not forget that the most serious problem we face is not the laziness of benefits claimants. As Adam Ramsay put it so eloquently over at Bright Green ‘Labour should tackle unemployment, not the unemployed.’