I am a single mum. Tomorrow I start the government’s ‘Launchpad’ programme for single parents. It will last for four weeks and if I do not attend I will lose my JSA. After this I will be referred to the ‘Workfare’ programme, the Orwellian sounding work scheme that I will also have to attend if I don’t want to lose my benefits. I have been told that my placement will probably be in a charity shop or possibly Poundland, if I get really lucky. The fact that this is unpaid work and does not necessarily lead to a job is also problematic, some (http://www.boycottworkfare.org/) would say hugely unfair.
On paper, it seems like a good idea to get people out of the house to improve their skills and confidence, and for some it possibly works. The problem is however, that if you are already doing an Internship or voluntary work in an area that you actually want to go into (not Retail) then you will have to give this up to go on their course/placement. Similarly if you are training to do something you want to do then you have to stop that too.
In the referral letter the Job Centre claim that I have ‘not worked’ for seven years. I've been on Job Seeker’s Allowance for six months and before this I was on Income Support while looking after my child. It’s old fashioned but I consider this ‘working’- though maybe not in the conventional paid (therefore ‘worth something’) sense.
During this time I also volunteered in a school, did an Internship, taught poetry classes and had a book published. I have also done two gardening courses and volunteered at a plant nursery with a view to perhaps becoming a gardener. I wanted to pursue this but didn’t continue as I was told at some point I would have to go on the Launchpad course.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m sure that the course will be helpful for some people and I’m not saying I will not get something from it too- the problem is that it assumes that you are not trying to help yourself. At no point have I felt ‘unemployed’, I am a resourceful person and use my time well. Since being on JSA I have applied for many jobs but the fact is there really are not enough jobs to go around.
Admittedly, I was sceptical about this to begin with, but having searched for a job that fits in around my other responsibilities, with a view to not paying loads of money for childcare (the after-school clubs generally have massive waiting lists), I am beginning to think that this is the case. David Cameron’s drive to get everyone back to work, no matter what their circumstances is causing a kind of employment pile-up.
If I want to be a cleaner or similar, I can- I admit it. Maybe there's something wrong with not wanting to do this kind of work- beggars can’t be choosers etc, and I have worked as a cleaner in the past. But the fact is that to have any kind of quality of life- to do a job I am even a little bit happy in- I’d like to do something that I’m interested in. Perhaps nowadays that really is for the privileged few, I don’t know.
That is the reason I’ve taken it upon myself to look for opportunities. I told the Job Centre that the nursery where I did my gardening courses would be pleased to offer me a work placement, while I took the second part of my Diploma, but I was told that I ‘had to do the Workfare placement, the same as everyone else’. There are also a hundred Internships I could apply for that I would really enjoy and that would help me get into a field that I'm interested in. The fact is that by trying to get me back to work, the government are actually stopping me getting a job.
I see that something has to be done to get people working again, however this one size fits all approach is unhelpful. Sometimes coming back from the Job Centre I feel totally disempowered, as if I have done something wrong. Making people feel like this is not going to help the economy at all- wouldn't it be better to try and understand each person’s unique circumstances, stop treating them like children and go from there?