Thursday, 30 May 2013

Turning the corner on unemployment

Unemployment has been in the press a great deal recently, with new figures showing a slight rise nationally. However, in Camborne and Redruth, where I'm still often struck by the culture of hard work, we have actually bucked the trend, with an increase in employment over the last couple of months. The most recent statistics also show that fewer people have been claiming jobseeker's benefits, especially younger people where there has been a dramatic reduction and this is encouraging news.

One of the reasons I have always prioritised economic regeneration in this area is that there is nothing more demoralising to a community than worklessness. It undermines people's self confidence and can lead to welfare dependency and a poverty trap. So first we need to create more jobs and better paid jobs but then we need to ensure that people who live in Camborne and Redruth take the jobs that are created.

A few weeks ago I visited the Job Centre at Redruth to discuss their role in this and to try to understand what works and what doesn't because I am of the view that no system can ever be perfect and we must constantly strive to develop and improve things. When it comes to youth unemployment, it is clear that the most powerful tool to help young people get their first job is work experience. Work is learnt young and, in the past, it used to be much easier for teenagers of school age to take weekend jobs on farms or in shops. Changes in the law have now made that much harder which is a backward step. However, the new Work Experience programme which has been introduced allows young people to gain experience of work for around a month which is then an important first step to getting paid employment. There have been many examples of employers being so impressed by the young people doing work experience in their business that they go out of their way to try to find a paid position for them.

However, it does require everyone to have the right attitude. While at the job centre I heard one very depressing story of a young lad who had never had a job and lacked motivation. The one thing he was really passionate about was mountain biking so the Job Centre arranged for him to have work experience at a bike shop so his work could be something he was passionate about. He was really keen on the idea but then, to the surprise of everyone, never turned up for work. When they contacted him to ask why, he revealed that his father had stopped him from going saying, "my son is not going to work for nothing.". It is a missed opportunity and that young man's father has done him no favours at all.

For those who have been unemployed for a long time and who need support that the Job Centres are unable to provide, the government introduced the Work Programme which is an intensive back to work programme to equip people with the skills to find work. One of the key features of the scheme is that the companies who provide the support only get paid if they are successful and actually get people into work. In the past, there was often a problem of firms going through the motions to collect their fee but not really helping at the end of the process. Payment by results focuses minds on getting an outcome.

A couple of months ago, I caught up with Prospects, one of the companies contracted to implement the programme in the South West. The Work Programme was criticised by some when it was first launched but it is now starting to show real results. Since the start of the programme Prospects have helped over 16,000 people and around a third of those have got back into work. We have further to go, but there are signs that we may have turned the corner on unemployment

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.