YMCA Norfolk demands big job centre changes
YMCA Norfolk is calling for an overhaul of job centres after new research uncovered evidence of a ‘dehumanising and demoralising’ service for young people that is damaging their confidence and, in some cases, even setting back their long-term employment prospects.
The local youth charity, which between April to June this year helped 106 young people in Norfolk enter education, employment or volunteering, is speaking out on the back of YMCA England’s ‘Safety Net or Springboard?’ report, released today.
This research highlights the huge divide that exists between the help young people need to get them into long-term employment and what job centres are currently offering. As a result, YMCA is now calling on job centres to be targeted with a new service obligation to match the Youth Obligation being placed on young people from April 2017.
This would see job centres providing each young person with a single work coach specifically trained to support their needs, the option to participate in relevant training for more than 16 hours a week without losing benefits and the option to access in-work support once they have found employment, among other recommendations.
Dale Starbuck, aged 23, is a former resident at YMCA Norfolk and now a volunteer with the charity’s Life Ready project. He has been looking for work for nearly a year.
Dale said: “I want to work, and I'm willing to do almost anything. I've got some experience as a labourer but I need a CSCS card to continue; if the Job Centre had been able to offer training for this or put me in touch with someone who could that would have been helpful to me. Instead of offering support and advice, I felt like all they wanted to know is how many jobs I'd applied for - I was just a statistic, not a person.
“We only had 10 minutes for each appointment so there's not a lot staff can do to help you in that time. It caused me a lot of stress and anxiety, worrying about being sanctioned and whether I'd done enough to keep them happy. They also had really unrealistic expectations of me – they sent me an email telling me about vacancies for HGV drivers, but I've never even driven a car let alone a lorry. It's not just me who has had these experiences, I have a lot of friends in the same position who feel the same way."
Tim Sweeting, Chief Executive of YMCA Norfolk, said: “It is clear from the views expressed in this research that job centres are failing to fulfil one of their two primary roles, namely to provide young people with effective public employment services.
“Rather than help them to find work, young people are telling us that they feel dehumanised and demoralised by the service they are being offered by job centres, with little or no consideration given to their circumstances and aspirations.
“The changes young people feel are needed to help them into employment are not elaborate and expensive back-to-work schemes, but rather getting back to a situation where they are treated like people not numbers.”
‘Safety Net or Springboard?’ has been put together by YMCA England following a series of focus groups with young people across the country.
Other recommendations to improve job centre support includes:
A more detailed initial assessment exploring a young person’s personal circumstances and aspirations, which is then used to inform their claimant commitment.
More comprehensive regular sign-on sessions with their work coach.
Regular opportunities to meet with their work coach at informal drop-in sessions.
Opportunities to have relevant training and work experience incorporated within their claimant commitment.
The option to discuss how available funding is utilised to enable them to participate in training.
For more information on YMCA Norfolk, visit www.ymcanorfolk.org
Pictured above is former YMCA Norfolk resident Dale Starbuck.