Society

A ‘Cobdenian’ Solution to Seeking Work

It was Richard Cobden’s view that “Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less.

Cobden said this in the context of International relations but the same sentiment is relevant when applied to an overbearing meddlesome state that attempts to mollycoddle its citizens from cradle to grave. The result is that people are emasculated, not empowered — just look at Britain’s high levels of unemployment. The poorest in society have become entrenched in economic dependency, rather than set free from the shackles of poverty. Worklessness is at the very heart of Britain’s problems, we have an ever widening gap between rich and poor, and no amount of complex benefit provision has served to reduce the gap. Quite the opposite is true; the Centre for Social Justice report “Dynamic Benefits” flags benefit withdrawal rates as a key disincentive to work:

The swift withdrawal of benefits, offsetting earnings from work, creates a deeply regressive system that punishes low earners who are trying to earn more. Today’s complex benefits arrangements often result in a participation tax rate of more than 75% for low earners – which means that their increased income from working is less than 25% of their earnings. The first steps into the world of work for many in a low hours/low pay job are all but pointless.

The ONS Labour Market statistics report from August 2009 showed that there are 10.4 million working-age people not working in the UK. Of these, 5.9 million are claiming out-of-work benefits.

Alistair Darling said in his pre election Budget this year that income tax had contributed £146bn to the exchequer and a few breaths later mentioned that welfare had cost £196bn!!

What can we do about it?

Well, clearly paying our taxes and expecting that Government will take care of all of society’s ills on our behalf hasn’t worked. We cannot just pay and expect that this abrogates us from community involvement. Cobden was absolutely right when he said that we need to have more to do with each other — the “haves” helping the “have nots” is just as important as paying taxes, and should have a profound effect on reducing the overall tax burden.

A ‘Cobdenian’ Solution

On the 15th July 2009 I opened a job club in my local town. This small club has just celebrated its first birthday with its 33rd member finding work out of a group of 41 participants. I now run three Job Clubs, am in the process of opening three more, and now network with thirty plus Job Clubs nationwide. I am extremely grateful for the encouragement received from Cobden Centre colleagues in setting up the charity GB Job Clubs, particularly from Steve Baker MP  who serves as a Trustee, and Toby Baxendale  who has kindly agreed to Chair our Advisory Board. Here is an overview and progress report:

What is a Job Club?

A Job Club is a group of individuals who get together on a regular basis to support each other through the job hunting process. No two Job Clubs are alike – run by volunteers, they are local groups, run in, by and for the Community.

The Job Club enables members to expand their network of contacts whilst acting as a support group. A Job Club nurtures confidence, self esteem and optimism all of which are essential in the job search process.

Job Clubs can improve people’s chances of finding a job. Their efforts are strengthened by the sense of belonging to a group and job searches tend to be shorter. 30 percent of people who lose their jobs find another one through friends, family or social networks. Only 10 percent acquire new jobs through Job Centre Plus. ‘Who you know’ still counts for a lot.

Job Club also helps members keep work ready by arranging voluntary work. Volunteering not only provides valuable help to local organisations and charities; it brings purpose, raises self esteem and speaks volumes to a potential employer about the drive, tenacity and potential of the volunteer / job seeker.

Why do Job Clubs work?

“Empowerment” – pure and simple instead of a top down prescribed state solution people are empowered to help themselves. Taking responsibility for their own job seeking in the safe environs of a Job Club works on several levels:

  1. Individual responsibility brings purpose and serves to raise self esteem
  2. Helping one another expands networks, allows rejection/failures to be shared and successes celebrated. The spin off is that it improves social cohesion within the community.
  3. Engaging with the community to help find work is also good for social cohesion everyone shares in the process. It is important therefore that  Job Clubs foster good relationships with local Chambers of Commerce, major employers, Job Centre Plus, CAB, Local Councils and other relevant organisations.

What has been achieved in the past year?

The network of clubs numbers 36 with more in development. Job Clubs have a high success rate for members finding work within six months and often much sooner.

At one stage the Conservative Party’s “Get Britain Working” campaign was responsible for around fifty job club initiatives. Most notable are Banbury and Bicester; Towcester and Warrington founded by MPs Tony Baldry, Andrea Leadsom, and David Mowat.  The very transient nature of Job Club membership suggests that clubs will come and go; however we are delighted at the take-up of the concept by other community groups particularly Churches. It is our objective to support any inclusive voluntary Job Clubs which are free to attend, and not affiliated politically or otherwise.

There is absolutely no doubt as to the effectiveness of the Job Club self help ethos in enhancing the path back to work. Some clubs report success rates in excess of 80% of members finding work (this must be taken in context as they are served by JC+ and often DWP contractors simultaneously) but a number of barriers exist that prevent Job Clubs from truly gaining traction:

Apathy

Many jobseekers are trapped in economic dependency and will not take a low paid job as they do not consider it worth their while and would rather remain on benefits.

Funding and infrastructure

GB Job Clubs has founded a support network for voluntary job clubs and will help access basic start-up funding where possible, often from Local Authorities and most recently with the support of The Church Urban Fund. Most Job Clubs cost very little and require only a few volunteers and a venue.  Some Job Clubs have attracted donations in kind from local businesses.

A start-up budget of £500 buys a wireless-enabled laptop, which we load with Microsoft’s donated software and their digital literacy curriculum, 5000 A5 flyers, and GB Job Clubs “How to run a Job Club” guide.

Our development team also visits new and prospective Job Clubs to help new leaders and provide hands-on advice. The objective is to provide ongoing support and resources such as expert guest speakers on subjects including CV writing, interview techniques, presentation, job-seeking on the internet, well-being, understanding benefits and debt advice.

The cost of setting up the charity and serving the existing network has thus far been met from within. Apart from myself I have one other volunteer Jane Gould who has joined me as full time Development Director. Our ‘not for profit’ company was registered at the beginning of July 2010 and our charity application is now awaiting approval by the Charity Commission. Once granted we will fundraise in order to recruit, resource and maintain a regional development team plus core administrative staff. Where possible we will look at pro bono input.  The charity will also administer ‘The Jericho Programme’, our start-up business finance and mentoring project.

The Jericho Programme

This business incubator has been established to allow Job Club members to set up their own ventures by providing simple access to community help. Often the barrier to a good idea coming to fruition is a small amount of capital and mentoring to demystify basic business disciplines such as bookkeeping, marketing and compliance. ‘Jericho’ provides both by recruiting a mentor from the local business community and providing a start-up loan.

I am pleased to report that our first pilot project is now underway. CK Garden Maintenance has been given a loan of £1200 for equipment and marketing. The remaining barrier for our two intrepid Edenbridge Job Club members is for one of them to pass a driving test. Thankfully, funding has been received for an intensive driving course which assuming a successful outcome will allow the business to flourish.

Two other entrepreneurs are now in the process of having their projects evaluated:

  • A ‘mosaic parties for kids’ concept from a Richmond Borough Job Club member.
  • A cleaning business proposed by an ex-offender introduced to us by our friends at Alpha for Prisons and soon we hope to be a member of the Job Club initiative we are backing on the Isle of Wight.

In both cases suitable local volunteer mentors have been identified and recruited and funds are available for both businesses to launch.

What Next?

We have come a long way in twelve months and look forward to a bright future. The work achieved by colleagues in Job Clubs up and down the country has been inspirational but all agree that we are barely scratching the surface. The new Government, in particular Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions, has an excellent understanding of the issues facing the unemployed and the overbearing complexities of the existing welfare system.

We look forward to innovative community-led solutions that encourage people presently entrenched in economic dependency to take their place in the workforce, knowing that they will benefit both economically and through enhanced well being. We look forward to playing our part and continuing to support “Big Society” solutions.

At time of writing and having recently addressed the Welfare to Work Convention in Liverpool, I am aware of the ‘enthusiasm’ of many DWP contractors to set up and run Job Clubs.  I would strongly warn against this. I believe that Job Clubs are best left in the hands of the people who use them, i.e. the unemployed who are discovering the empowerment that comes from helping themselves and one another. Imposing an overarching structure and prescriptive methodology delivered by the state or their chosen contractors will only serve to further emasculate these determined job seekers and is contrary to the Coalition Government’s stated localist aim for a Big Society.

Chris Neal
Executive Director
GB Job Clubs
01732 866201 direct
07855 421530 mobile
chris@cjneal.com

1 comment to A ‘Cobdenian’ Solution to Seeking Work

  • Ironic that I should read this piece the day before a job interview that I’m sure to secure. Regardless, I commend this community oriented approach and as usual TCC never fails to innovate through this silly interventionist mechanism.