I’ve been out of a job for two months now, but haven’t been claiming any benefits in that time. I felt depressed enough about not having a means to provide for my family – being patronised and treated like someone trying to cheat the system was something I didn’t need. I’ve been working incredibly hard to find an appropriate new job and didn’t want to jump through endless hoops only to be treated like a scrounger, so that was that. We’ve felt the pinch a little, of course, but we’ve always been sensible with our money and happiness has to come first. Recently, however, I found myself starting to wonder whether my decision not to sign on for Jobseeker’s Allowance was a mistake. Until today.
The Help to Work (sic) scheme has introduced new measures which dictate that the unemployed will have to sign on every day or commit to six months of voluntary work or be stripped of their benefits. I can’t see how any of this is going to achieve anything other than making the politicians who created the scheme – who, having been born into wealthy families, have never had to worry about income or, indeed, do what the rest of us would perceive as a normal day’s work – look smug, another box ticked.
As far as the signing on every day bit is concerned, it’s not going to do much for jobseekers’ self esteem is it? But maybe a well adjusted workforce in waiting isn’t important to the future productivity of the nation? I’m also reminded of the scene in League of Gentlemen in which vindictive restart officer, Pauline, won’t let Mickey go to a job interview as it would mean missing a session at the job centre. And what if signing on means having to travel to another town? Petrol isn’t cheap and neither is public transport and it all adds up. Maybe the cost of getting to the centres will be subsidised somehow, but it’s still needless expenditure that could be used much more effectively elsewhere.
Then there’s the issue of forcing people to do voluntary work. If they’re not doing it of their own free will, it’s not volunteering. It will only cause unrest and division. Having been employed by a couple of charities myself, I know how much enthusiasm and drive volunteers bring and they willingly give their time and skills because they have a passion for the cause. They’re amazing people who do it not because they’re being made to, but because they want to. I think it’s incredibly disrespectful to charities and those who support them – as well as to those who are being unfairly thrust into a situation where they can’t win. It’s as if the Tories think unemployment is a crime and volunteering is community service.
So no thank you, Iain Duncan Smith. I’ll take my chances with what I’ve saved. Unemployed I may be, but I’m an honest and hard working human being too and won’t be made to feel like a criminal simply because I don’t have a job.