The latest proposal from Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, suggests a major shake-up of the welfare system. He proposes that unemployed people may lose all benefits for as long as three years if they refuse to undertake community work or the offer of a job or fail to apply for a job (if advised). He outlines a number of reasons of what this will achieve, including a reduction in poverty and the prevention of a dependency culture. In other words the new system will make it ‘worthwhile’ to go to work.
The problem that some people forecast is that unemployed people may be forced into degrading jobs to avoid losing their benefits. His plans have been criticised in particular by Bob Holman, an academic and community worker from Glasgow:
“He seems to be regarding them with disrespect and saying you’re not really a part of society. We’re going to force you to do these, what are really degrading jobs, which won’t equip them for anything, but in a way are punishing them for not working and in a climate in which jobs are hard to get.”
So how do we tackle this? If we are looking at a new system that is designed to get people into employment but want to avoid the criticism of them being forced into ‘degrading’ jobs, the most important aspect will be guidance. Supporting unemployed people in their job choices and finding out what they are good at or what they would like to do will undoubtedly help them find a suitable job rather than a ‘degrading’ one.
Matching systems such as Adult Directions can help adults to find suitable employment and identify the types of jobs that suit their skills, interests and occupational level. If more guidance is offered in the job hunting process, it will help prevent unemployed people from taking just any job to avoid losing their benefits. If they are suited to a job it is more likely to result in sustainable employment.
It would seem that the coalition government is serious about changing the culture of the benefits system and, therefore, those in supporting roles are best to offer good guidance and where appropriate, use careers matching tools that help place people appropriately in suitable employment.