This article on UnemployedNet, about how unemployment services across Europe work, caught my eye:
Among the interesting information on how each country supports jobseekers, the following sentence stood out:
‘The [UK] government has cut staff in jobcentres from 45,000 two years ago to 35,000 today’
At a time when unemployment has been rising sharply, and the likelihood is that it will carry on increasing for a few years yet, such drastic cuts are surely a bad idea. Sympathy from unemployed people for those staff who have lost their jobs may be in short supply given the bad relationships that sometimes exist, but Jobcentres have an important role in our lives.
Where Jobcentre Plus offices work well they provide benefits advice and support with the search for work, as well as guidance on training and development. Jobcentre Plus was established by joining the work functions of Jobcentres with the benefits functions of the Benefits Agency, in the belief that customers would be better served by receiving both together.
A loss of staff is likely to give those who are left in their jobs less time to make their more valuable contributions, with the supervision of signing on taking up most of their available time. Those who have been jobseekers over a long period report that the signing-on process is more onerous and can take longer that it used to, and this is also likely to take away from the time available to support unemployed customers.
The work experience programme has been in the news recently, with some jobseekers reporting that they have been told by their Jobcentres that it is compulsory when it is not. This may be because some Jobcentre staff believe that jobseekers need pushing hard, but it may be because they do not understand the rules themselves due to lack of training and support or because they are not being supervised properly. This could be a problem of a lack of staff and money rather than deliberate misleading.
UnemployedNet provides an opportunity for all users to rate their Jobcentre Plus offices. The power that those offices have in the lives of unemployed people is huge, and it is in our interests to hold them to account and ensure they meet our needs.
What might not be so obvious is that these ratings may be to the advantage of Jobcentre Plus in their negotiations with the government. The service may not be suffering because staff are uncommitted or anti-unemployed people, but because they don’t have the resources to do their jobs properly.