In this article, Andrew Dunn presents research which finds that many unemployed people prefer living on benefits to undertaking jobs which would increase their income, but which they consider unattractive.
Recent Labour and Coalition governments have increased both the number of conditions attached to receiving unemployment benefits (Jobseeker’s Allowance / JSA, soon to be Universal Credit) and the severity of financial penalties for those who do not comply. These developments are underpinned by a view, expressed by both Labour and the Conservatives social security ministers, that voluntary unemployment is widespread in the UK.
Yet mainstream Social Policy academics insist that the tougher policies are unnecessary, as research repeatedly finds that an overwhelming majority of claimants want employment and actively seek it. In my book, Rethinking Unemployment and the Work Ethic, I look critically at existing evidence about the extent to which claimants are unemployed through choice, before presenting my own research findings and concluding that the politicians are right.
It is already firmly established that the vast majority of UK social policy academics are left-of-centre politically. What Alan Deacon called the ‘Quasi-Titmuss school’, with its heavily structural explanations of social problems including poverty and unemployment, and its strong links to ‘poverty lobby’ organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group, has long dominated UK social policy (see also John Welshman’s work).
In this climate, authors who focus significantly on cultural or individual characteristics when explaining poverty and unemployment have been misrepresented, treated dismissively and castigated for ‘blaming the victim’. In my view, the key consideration is that, with hardly any conservative academics around, a particular portrayal of people on benefits is allowed to prevail unhindered. Research findings which might appear surprising to outside observers, but which please left-wing people (for example, the unemployed being more strongly committed to employment than the employed) go unscrutinised, and researchers have not addressed the sort of questions a Conservative might ask (for example, ‘why didn’t those long-term unemployed people apply for more low status jobs?’).
Mainstream UK social policy authors have not only overlooked the fact that conservative authors, including former Thatcher aide David Marsland and Larry Mead, the guru of 1990s US welfare reform, have only ever claimed that unemployed people sometimes choose to avoid the least attractive category of jobs (i.e. badly paid, dead-end, boring jobs) in favour of benefits, but also that these conservatives tend to consider benefit claimants’ testimonies a poor guide to their actual behaviour. These authors instead tend to base their conclusions on the views of people in the welfare-to-work industry and on policies’ employment effects.
With these considerations in mind, all of my four research projects looked at ‘choosiness’ (by which I mean being selective in the jobs one is willing to do to avoid living on benefits). One project consisted of interviews with people in welfare-to-work organisations contracted by the DWP to help long-term JSA claimants into employment.
Two of my interview projects (one in 2001/2 with 20 employees and 30 unemployed JSA claimants, the other in 2011 with 30 employees and 40 unemployed JSA claimants) found that all unemployed JSA claimant respondents had been employed at some point, and that all were willing to undertake some jobs at present. However, my interviews’ focus on respondents’ attitudes towards (and actual choices between) the less attractive jobs and claiming JSA exposed not only widespread reluctance to undertake less attractive jobs, but also a dramatic difference between determined job searchers or employees who saw employment as an imperative and others who strongly favoured living on benefits over undertaking jobs they considered uninteresting or unpleasant. Until now, social policy authors have been able to say that this often-supposed dramatic difference is a tabloid myth that would be dispelled easily if only their scientific evidence was afforded the attention it deserves.
All of the 40 employees of welfare-to-work organisations I interviewed in 2011 said that many of their long-term (i.e. over 6 months, often several years) JSA claimant clients remained unemployed because they were very ‘choosy’ in the jobs they were willing to do; most of the 40 said they believed that a majority of these clients would enter employment within two months if they applied for a range of relatively unattractive jobs; some said they were shocked by their clients’ apparent preference for benefits over unattractive jobs which, they said, had led them to abandon the more favourable attitudes towards the long-term unemployed they held prior to entering the industry.
The only other UK study of welfare-to-work industry employees to focus specifically upon their clients’ employment attitudes is Shildrick et al.’s ‘Poverty and Insecurity’, which also includes interviews with unemployed and employed people about their own employment attitudes. Shildrick et al. drew their firm conclusion that people ‘love’ being employed (p.8, 136) and ‘loathe’ claiming benefits (p.194) based on what unemployed and employed people told them; they argued that their 13 welfare-to-work industry respondents’ comments (which were very similar to what my 40 said) were biased.
Shildrick et al.’s favouring of one form of interview research over the other is remarkable, as both clearly have strengths and limitations. After all, the professionals have vast experience of their clients’ job search activity (my 40 had spent a combined estimated total of 147,000 hours in the presence of their long-term unemployed clients), while some unemployed people might not want to risk losing their income by telling a stranger they do not want a job, even if they believe their chances of being reported to the benefit authorities are tiny. Yet because conclusions like Shildrick et al.’s please left-wing people’s ears they receive virtually no critical scrutiny from other social policy academics.
My other project (with Clare Saunders and Maria T. Grasso) analysed attitude survey data. Previous quantitative studies have used questions which, I believe, are inappropriate for studying attitudes towards unemployment and employment because they do not offer respondents a choice between the two.
Studies have tended to use the ‘lottery question’ (‘would you work if you had no financial need to?’) or Protestant Work Ethic scales (featuring agree/disagree statements such as ‘our society would have fewer problems if people had less leisure time’). These studies have concluded that unemployed people’s commitment to employment is at least as strong as employed people’s, and with these findings serving as a rebuttal to tabloids’ and politicians’ negative portrayal of benefit claimants, there has been no clamour to scrutinise how they came about.
To give respondents a choice between an unattractive job and unemployment we used the agree/disagree statement ‘having almost any job is better than being unemployed’ from the British Cohort Study (BCS) and National Child Development Study (NCDS), which each have large samples of about 10,000. Being ‘unemployed and seeking work’ associated strongly with ‘disagreeing’ with the statement in all four surveys we analysed (the most recent waves of the BCS [1996 and 2000] and NCDS [2000 and 2008]) even when relevant variables were controlled for.
So all of my four research projects delivered findings consistent with the view that many unemployed people prefer living on benefits to undertaking jobs which would increase their income, but which they consider unattractive. This has not emerged to anything like the same extent before in social policy empirical literature, and this, I think, is because the vast majority of authors are left-of-centre.
Of course, I also think that if the vast majority were Conservatives, the extent of voluntary unemployment would be exaggerated. Indeed, my book could be accused of right-wing bias, and while I certainly do not claim to be fully objective, I would stress that my book makes arguments which do not sit comfortably with a Conservative position; for example, I argue that nothing like genuine equality of opportunity can exist in a society as unequal as the UK, that graduates (and not the supposed ‘underclass’) are among the least committed to employment, and I praise authors who have proven some leading Conservatives wrong by establishing that there are virtually no families in the UK in which all three adult generations have never experienced employment.
While my book has been called ‘controversial’ (for example, by Times Higher Education), its main assertion is, oddly, even supported by some left-wing social scientists, albeit only those whose topic is migration not unemployment. In this context, the finding that many UK-born citizens are unwilling to undertake the less attractive jobs is politically acceptable and therefore proudly proclaimed (see, for example, Gary Craig), as it serves to enhance the reputation of economic migrants for being more strongly committed to low status employment than their UK-born counterparts.
But because social policy academics usually insist that voluntary unemployment is rare (or that people should have the right to avoid unattractive jobs), they have had little to say on what should be done about habitually unemployed people who refuse to undertake these jobs. While I agree with the politicians about the need to do more to tackle voluntary unemployment (and, more specifically, about the need to satisfy the general public that people who choose to not work are not treated too leniently), I think that imposing severe financial penalties for claimants who, for example, fail to attend several job centre appointments (as current policy does), pushes them further into the mire, reducing their employment chances still more.
I would always give sanctioned claimants a chance to join a ‘workfare’ scheme that would strictly enforce work requirements and provide opportunities to improve their employability, while ensuring that they received significantly more for participating than their usual benefit income. Doing this kills the two birds of claimants’ relative poverty and their voluntary unemployment with one stone. However, Conservative governments tend to be less enthusiastic about such policies than they are about benefit cuts, perhaps seeing them as an expensive, ‘big government’ solution. But while I differ from some mainstream politicians about policy, I am in full agreement with them on the main question of my book – that voluntary unemployment is a serious, widespread problem in the UK.
Andrew Dunn is Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Lincoln.
Watching a job seeker in my household go through months of failed applications for jobs she was capable of (but there were so many applicants) and a couple of short term engagements with employers who were just taking advantage of people, I can see how a less determined person would soon become disheartened by the process.
Not particularly wanting to work in retail she finally landed a position with a local shop that ended up only giving her a couple of hours work a week. Getting away from this as quickly possible she she finally found a job 30miles away training to run a shop. A few months later after having been appointed manager and doing a great job for a business that I can only describe as having 2nd (maybe 3rd) rate management they tried to changed all the staff’s hours to a level so low that it would no longer be economical to continue. (all staff have since left )
She immediately looked for another job in the same area and with her few months experience in retail landed a salaried job running a high end specialist store. If she’d been willing to take some menial job just to get off JSA she would not be on the salaried career path that she was capable of and is now enjoying.
Are people looking for work in this very competitive job market no longer allowed to be aspirational or do they just have to accept any minimum wage job they are unsuited to.
She would have been willing to not claim JSA as she was living with us rent free, but the system no longer seems willing to leave you alone if you don’t need them.All they seem to do is try and bully you into unsuitable jobs so that they can hit their quotas.
I think you make some really good points, none of which are contradicted in my work. Choosiness is important as it facilitates a mutually beneficial match between employer and employee. Furthermore, what people consider TOO choosy is a matter of opinion – an opinion which usually reflects their ideological position. I leave this for readers to decide. Quantitative research by Schmelzer found that the least employable are better off finding a job quickly, whereas the more employable, such as the more educationally qualified, are better off biding their time and holding out for something better. My point is that many people (or rather, many more than social policy authors usually imply is the case) who are often on benefits could find a job if they were willing to undertake one of the less attractive and less well paid jobs.
My experience says, no experience in a particular field, then no job.
Maybe for the younger end of the unemployed job market there may be openings into other fields of work from which they are accustomed; but for the older job seeking population, experience in a particular field is crucial.
Many unemployed people would try different jobs but never get that chance.
Most jobs don’t make you much richer than being on the dole especially if you’re a single mum with a high rent but I work for self respect, friendship, routine and if I was unemployed when my kids left home I would be a very poor older woman with no CV. I have a reasonable education and do a job that sort of suits my skills so I’m lucky.
I do see the mentality of not working especially as a mum, my hours are very anti social and I’m still skint, I worry my kids see little difference in income from when I was unemployed, I just hope this observation makes them more ambitious.
The time spent with younger kids may just be more valuable to a mum than time spent at work, retail jobs are expecting people to work very unsocial hours and who wants to pay a child-minder to take your kids to the park on a summer Saturday when you would rather do it yourself?
While looking for work I have always done voluntary work, I’ve worked in a community centre , made community art, publicised my local Green Party and worked in a Youth Club, I feel these jobs were better suited to me, more satisfying and more useful to the world than my job in customer services, we need to be less obsessed with how much money people make and look at what people do and other values, we have armies of carers and volunteers who are horribly undervalued and so more for society than people In paid employment.
I worked for the Manpower Services Commission created by the Heath Government. A conservative government. It worked with trade unions and employers to provide training and work placement opportunities through Jobcenters . It frequently had programs (such as the community program) that where oversubscribed and had waiting lists. These programs were voluntary and paid an “extra” bonus of between £10-£20 (from memory) over the benefit amount, which the participant continued to receive as well as travel expenses. Such a program would typically involve some element of training as well as access to a job center coach who would assist the participant in applying for jobs.
The attitude in Jobcenters now seems to have moved from assisting people into work by giving them practical help to locate and apply for suitable work (as I experienced as a casual worker in my teens and 20’s- papers, writing materials, stamps and access to a phone) to belaboring people with targets and obligations. I remember the first ever question asked by my first ever Job center adviser – “What are you going to do with your first pay envelope?”
With so many low paid jobs around a pay cheque goes no where.
Actually, All this speculation about people ‘choosing’ or not ‘choosing’ jobs is a bit ‘hypothetical’.
Any job offered has be applied for through a CV, and if the CV does not match the job being sought (for example) an office worker applying for a cleaning job) the applicant will be turned down for that job on the basis that they do not have the experience or skills set to do a different type of work.
People cannot always ‘choose’ to take low or menial jobs even if they wanted to because their employment background will not allow this.
This would apply the ‘other way around too’, a cleaner looking for a clerical job in an office.
The CV would be rejected out of hand by the employer.
Yes, that’s a good point, but I do take that kind of thing into account in my longer pieces of writing. Choosiness is about what people are willing to do to avoid living on benefits – if their CV is rejected that is obviously down to the employer.
Yes………Gone are the days when a person can be a ‘Jack Of All Trades’.
Employers are looking for ‘specialised’ roles whether it be cleaning or Clerical work in an office.
I would love to escape call centre work and have the challenge of doing something different but my chance never comes, I’ve applied for all sorts of jobs that need people skills that I use all the time in work but nobody will give me a chance so I’m stuck on a phone.
“To give respondents a choice between an unattractive job and unemployment we used the agree/disagree statement ‘having almost any job is better than being unemployed’ ”
This question – if taken on its face – and used to inform the research alone could be highly misleading.
For example – carers of children or the disabled may answer ‘no’ – because they cannot take some jobs due to their responsibilities. Similarly, costs of travel to work or other work-related expenses may mean a significant income cut – sometimes to the point where basic needs cannot be met nomatter how willing to work.
Secondly – how were the above interviewed claimants selected?
The difference between two unrepresentative groups of – for example – people unemployed following high paid employment who have a working partner, or a ‘sink estate’ is stark.
Conclusions about the JSA experience will not be in any way valid for jobseekers as a whole if the selection is not representative.
Agreed, and I find it significant that Dunn has not engaged with these salient points frankly.
In reply to these two comments. The BCS & NCDS are cohort studies, which interview a high percentage of all UK citizens born in a particular week of 1970 & 1958 respectively, and hence they have very large samples that are representative of UK people of that age. The comparison of ‘unemployed and seeking work’ with ’employed’ relies on a survey question that asks what people’s main activity is; people who have full-time childcare responsibilities or are registered disabled are not in either category. In my book, a multivariate analysis tests the ‘almost any job’ question against many relevant variables, such as number of children in the person’s family and social class, and the association between employment status and answers to the ‘almost any job’ question still exists when these other relevant variables are held constant.
Oh, and I particularly liked your observation that the same points about work motivation w.r.t. unappealing jobs is denied when discussing UK unemployment but celebrated when discussing migration.
Back in the early 1990s there was a policy introduced that people on long-term unemployment benefits would at some point be invited to come in for a chat about their job-seeking strategy. And shock-horror – if they failed to attend after several goes without some kind of explanation they could be docked a few days benefit.
On first receipt of such an invitation, a fairly common reason for declining the suggestion was that they had just recently got a job so would be going off benefit.
I compared the overall rate at which the long-term unemployed came off benefits and the rate at which the letter recipients were coming off benefits to estimate the impact of the letters. Charitably the letters produced an amazing boost in motivation. More cynically they were working already or unqualified in some other way, and didn’t fancy any kind of interview with the authorities. I forget the figures, but we were looking at 25%+.
It does depend upon the kind of work. Some people are just not suited to some careers.
Unrealistic expectations can be part of the problem.
I didn’t mention anything about motivations. I am sure if the immigrants who left, would’ve stayed if they enjoyed it or tolerated it. Sadly, I never watched the programme so I don’t know if they were interviewed by the BBC or the Jobcentre. Jim might know as he was the one who mentioned it.
To be honest, I always get nervous when I have an appointment with the Jobcentre when I get sent on a course or something or other. The 1990s was probably different compared to now when there are plenty of candidates!
Its hardly a state secret, even the BBC managed to admit it. They did a documentary about 5 years ago in Wisbech, which had experienced high Eastern European immigration into local low paid employment. They placed 7 unemployed native locals into jobs, and followed their progress. I think off the top of my head about 1 of the 7 ended up staying in the job, or finding another. The rest went straight back to benefits. One didn’t manage more than a day of work before giving up I think.
These people are inadequate in many ways and would need coaches, psychologists and lots of education before they could hold down a job. Personally I would like to see these people get proper help and enough to eat while they get it. Yes there will always be scroungers who wont change but if we had better paid jobs and bought in more tax we could feed them.
A very interesting piece. Thank you for it. It somewhat irks me when people respond with knee jerk criticism when they have apparently not read the article. For example, Innocent Abroad asks when the research had been conducted, something clearly sated at the start of the article.
How many people in work are claiming in work benefits, is it because they prefer them. When pay for even the most low pay work was much more than benefits there was no choice you’d have to be mad to choose unemployment but you fail to mention that wages have stagnated and make terrible generalisations from tiny study numbers you yourself undertook. Your basically saying that most unemployed people are out of work through choice and ignore basic maths whereby one million job vacancies will be more than enough for the well over one million people unemployed.
Very interesting article Andrew. My son has just completed a degree in primary education. I have been amazed at the left wing bias of his teaching staff, the course content and project assignments – it appears that the Cuban education system is held up as a model to be copied in the UK. An interesting research/PhD subject would be to investigate/record the extent of this biast. If there is indeed a left wing tendency in academia then another subject would be why has academia been so unsuccessful in influencing the political colour of its students. You would expect that if students are taught by left leaning teachers that the students themselves would be left leaning – clearly this is not the case.
Thanks for the comments, Gareth. Yes, I suspect the answer lies in the left-bias only applying to certain subjects, Sociology and Social Policy being the main ones. I’m pretty sure that in Economics, for example, with its interest in economic growth, markets, efficiency etc. many academics are right-of-centre.
My son graduated from a Russell group uni 6 years ago with a first in Economics. He enjoyed his time there and had a good set of fellow students, most of whom (according to him) were politically middle of the road or to the right. However, my son said that every single lecturer on his course was politically very left wing!
Mary, I hear you loud and clear.
The example you make, as you highlight your own experiences with a work programme policy and practice, is shared by many.
What has been the Biggest failure amid a work program with its narrow remit of support and connection towards a diversity of its service users, is that the language and tone of discussion and debate has been disabled by the political elite, a news media who has failed to harness your Voice… and the voices of others whilst holding government to account on the seriousness of policy failure and its redevelopment.
I feel that many of the public believe that the work program ONLY is there to serve those who are unskilled, lazy… or dare I say “slackers” and “skivers” – this is the perception that has been allowed to filter through the BBC news media, newspapers and the political language. How shameful!!
Just to give an example, we had a recession that was the causation for failing viable small business people. Yes, these are people like you and me who “got on to their bikes… and went out to fight to improving their professional and economic lives”. WHO FOUGHT FOR THOSE PEOPLE??
Also, those whose homes were taken from them, at the peak of the bank failings. WHO FOUGHT FOR THEM?
With this, and so many other failings, an assort of ailments were born – homelessness, mental health challenges… and all sorts of vulnerabilities that still remain. Amid this diverse range of people, proactive job seekers remain FIGHTING and resilient towards getting back on their feet and achieving employment goals. WHY IS THERE A PERCEPTION THAT THE SKILLS AND PERCEPTION OF SUCH PEOPLE SHOULD TAKE OR ACCECPT ANY JOB THE GOVERNMENT THROWS AT THEM??
I truly believe that we have to get this debate and discussion right in order to understand their complexities that job seekers are facing amid a dense market place. Without the right sort of localised employment service that connect with those people I mention above, how on earth can we even start to progress towards the right pathway?
Finally, many believe that the Jobcentre Plus offices have FAILED a long time ago to be the HUB of our communities. With security guards posed at its entrances, one has to wonder whether this is a reflection of how badly the DWP politicians have got policy wrong, or whether it is simply easy to blame the “effect” of aggression by some service users as the reason for the perception these offices have.
A GREAT BRITAIN is strong enough to confront ALL of the above, and use the valuable of diversity to develop and innovate new strategies towards helping a diversity of job seekers to achieve goals – NOT simply settle for any job thrown at them!!!
So, they should be allowed to just fester along at public expense while we continue to import thousands upon thousands from all over the world to do these jobs that they think are beneath them?
Having goals is a great thing and people should chase them wherever possible. Having said that, a lot of these goals require personal sacrifices, require dogged determination to make them happen and even amongst the employed there are thousands upon thousands who do jobs that they hate or at least bear no relation to their goals – indeed their personal and professional goals may be put on hold – because its what they’re good at and its what their profession is.
If you’re living at public expense, if you have no profession, you should be compelled to take paid work if it is available and needs to be done. Why should the state pay you to sit on your tail and wait for the perfect job/opportunity to come along for you, if you yourself are not prepared to make the personal and professional sacrifices to make it happen and at least swim out to meet your ship instead of waiting for it to come in?
JCP and other public sector organisations like it have long since ceased to be relevant and are merely reasons for their own public sector existence. With the outsourcing of so many HR functions to agencies stuffed with sales kids set impossible targets by hiring managers who constantly change their minds as to what they want, it can seem apparent that jobseekers are up against it.
But with two periods of unemployment behind me – one nearly 18 months and the other 4 months, and in both cases where I didnt claim anything from the state – it is plain that waiting for the state to do it for you and deliver a future to you gift wrapped to your aspirations is a fallacy, it is never going to happen.
The world doesnt owe you a living. I personally would rather take anything thrown at me so long as it kept a roof over my head.
Every person’s situation is different. I have applied for jobs in sectors other than my preferred one but I presume that most recruiters realise this through my CV and concentrates on other candidates with a more structured employment history. Yes, I would like not to rely upon benefits, especially if I had the finances to rely on for a long period of time, as in your situation. I continue ploughing through my applications, volunteer to keep my CV active, attend training courses when I can as well as participate in any govt programmes which caters for people of all backgrounds. I remain committed to finding work which will hopefully lead me to employment which is sustainable and does not involve reliance upon benefits in between periods. I am doing what any other focused person does.
The answer surely is to remove unemployment as an option and have welfare working instead.
We have just had a “clean up for the Queen” weekend, why can’t we have a system where footpaths are hand swept, gullies cleaned out (they aren’t around here) and litter is picked up in the streets. We currently have a situation where the bin men in my area are Polish.
I would also point out that the tax credits make it uneconomic for a lot of women to form stable relationships so we have single women with children working 16 hours in Sainsburys and Tesco. When 44% of women are in part time work someone needs to research why?
Or we could pay people a proper wage to do these jobs and not just clean up for a woman who gets too many benefits and has no relevance in the modern world.
There doesn’t appear to be any research in the formal, academic sense – just a book. The requirements for publication of a book are rather different to an academic paper.
I’m also more than a little disturbed at Andrew Dunn’s ability to be objective given his complaint about the lack of “conservative” academics. Any academic who approaches their subject with a strong ideological viewpoint can’t really call themselves an academic at all.
Noel, the book presents findings from 120 interviews (70 unemployed people, 50 employed) about their lives in the labour market; 40 interviews with people who work in the welfare-to-work industry, and an analysis of British Cohort Study and National Child Development Study data, which each have samples of about 10,000 people. I’ve done articles in good academic journals based on these projects… http://wes.sagepub.com/content/28/6/904.abstract http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/9188/1/DUNN%20JSP%202013.pdf
Noel – if you think social sciences academics shouldn’t t have strong political views that are reflected in their research then I am afraid you will be disappointed. Of course people who have a life-long interest in the details of social and economic policy will have political opinions.
Quite legitimately it will be reflected in the subject areas and research programs they choose to follow; it very likely also brings in unconscious biases in all sorts of subtle ways, but hopefully good quality research and peer review helps control this.
But that is why having a mix of agendas, political or otherwise, around a discipline is important – otherwise these comfortable biases are less likely to be challenged and can flourish to create into a closed worldview.
That’s interesting, thank you for presenting your research. I have a couple of questions, and I would really appreciate if you can find the time to answer.
1. Did you consider the personal involvement of employees of welfare-to-work organisations? I am definitely not an expert on the topic, so I’m genuinely asking for clarification. Did you consider that any refusals they receive can be frustrating because a. they have to find a new match for both the job and the person b. they could have some performance related pay? If that is the case, a bias could be identified in their attitude as well.
2. We know that the point of entering in the labour market have an impact on future earnings and career perspectives. Moreover, sometimes contract duration and other conditions can be so miserable that it makes much more economic sense to stay on benefits until something more suitable shows up (instead, for example, of working for a month and then having to claim benefits again, with all the hassle and slowness that this entails). Are unemployed people required to be less rational than others when making an economic choice?
Thanks for reading the comments.
You make some good points I think.
Q1 – Yes, I agree that their accounts might reflect their frustrations and, in my book, I talk at length about the possible biases in their accounts. For example, these workers might want to deflect possible criticism of their own performance on to their clients. However, it is also true that the workers I interviewed sometimes expressed a concern that they might get into trouble with their organisation if they were honest about their clients’ negative traits.
Q2 – I leave it to readers to decide what level of ‘choosiness’ they think the unemployed benefit claimants should be entitled to, and I never intend to sound moralistic about this. It is well established in the research literature that people can be reluctant to take a job if they fear it won’t last and then they will have to make a fresh benefit claim which might be unsuccessful, and then there is the problem of having to wait for the first pay/benefits cheques to come through. I sympathise with people in those situations, although I must stress that my research shows that many choose to avoid low-status employment when these kind of particularly difficult circumstances do not apply to them. Also, I accept that it is true that sometimes people are best advised to stay on benefits and wait for a good job than to take the first available job they can find. Schmelzer’s research shows that the more educationally qualified are often best advised to bide their time, whereas those with fewer educational credentials are usually best off getting back into work as soon as they can.
Thanks for replying!
With regards to the comment about those better qualified should bide their time. It is known amongst most working people that if not working, one should only try and stay unemployed for 6 months. If one stays unemployed for longer, the person is viewed as being seen as not wanting to work and not enthusiastic in doing so. The CV becomes inactive and reflects poorly on candidates. I am working in a sector which appreciates volunteering so I use this type of work to keep my CV active but it doesn’t hide the fact that I haven’t had a regular paid job for 8 years despite my enthusiasm and commitment shown through my voluntary work. REsearchers should be careful about making such generalised statements, especially when trying to balance evidence between employers’ expectations and candidates frustrations.
You should also consider the need for Jobcentre Plus to provide good advice. One told me that being single, part-time salaries will not help and as a result, single people are better off staying on benefits. Is that bad advice or good?
Yes, good point I think, Mary. Yes, I was making a broad generalisation based on Schmelzer’s research and my own, and I possibly should have been more aware that people could view that as concrete advice that applies to them. All individuals and the circumstances they face are obviously unique, but the point Schmelzer and I make is that, often, if people who are highly educated jump back into employment via a low status job at an early stage of their unemployed spell, there’s a good chance that they will be missing out on a better job that they would have got if they had been more choosy for a few more months. In my longer pieces of writing I talk a bit about how staying on benefits damages people’s C.V.s. and this is a view supported by the welfare-to-work industry. RE: the second point you make: they certainly do need to give good advice. Again, it depends on the exact circumstances of the person – but maybe the JCP mean that single people in rented accommodation have tended to face a big financial disincentive problem regarding entering employment, due to losing Housing Benefit and having to pay all the rent themselves.
That’s bad advice in my opinion.
Any part-time salary is in all probability bound to pay more than the weekly JSA amount. And if you are single and paying rent, housing benefits would have to make up the shortfall in housing benefit.
I have been in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance since 2008. I have done participated in all govt programmes since then which included doing a placement (which was at at training provided funded by the govt to undertake the programme I was on). This never led to me getting paid work. I have also volunteered during my time as a Jobseeker. I have volunteered in the museums sector because I want to work in this sector and which I have said so to all my DWP advisers. After 5 years, I have just had one temporary contract where staff were abusing each other and am currently on a zero hours contract for a heritage site who have only used me for holiday sessions. I have supplied my payslips/evidence of payment to Jobcentre plus as well as the council. I have received a deduction to my JSA even though it is not weekly regular paid work. I have also applied for jobs outside the sector and have even applied for positions below my experience and skills since 2008 and no replies have ever been made. When I contacted all the recruitment agencies, based upon the advice of an adviser from a govt funded training provider, all I was told that i will only be considered for positions whose requirements are a match for my experience. However, even when I did through agencies for jobs which matched my experience, I still wasn’t put through because my experience was quite what their candidates were looking for and I did too many temporary contracts.
I would like a regular paid job because I want to work and I want to be able to use the salary given to pay for rent, living costs and leisure activities and not rely on benefits. I have always refused to have children if I know I will be on benefits. Even if I had children before going on benefits and had a full-paid job which paid well, I still wouldn’t apply for benefits. This is beause more taxes should be used for education and heath as well as for other departments. I am not a scrounger. My Mum received child benefits for me but she was a care worker and towards the end of my teenage years, my father had been unemployed but paid his NI credits so my Mum could receive his pension after his death. I am more educated than her and have had better paid positions. I might have ruined my life but I can still get paid employment. My brothers are all in paid employment but I don’t ask for money unless I really need it. perhaps, you could ask letting agents why they demand deposits from DSS people who can’t afford it. My family will no longer give me funds though, because of my rental experiences which have been poor since being on benefits. SO, please employ me on a full-time wage which covers my costs and I will pay my way.
instead of looking for jobs that may not exist why not become self-employed? Look at your interests and hobbies and you will find a possible way of making money on a self-employed basis
A couple of years ago I was working for an important IT firm. Last year, for various reasons and having left to try other things, I ended up working in a factory out of need for quick cash.
It was awful. Bad management, incredibly dull and unsociable hours, all for a temp’ s minimum wage (about £2-3 an hour less than permanent staff) and bad terms.
Clearly that time spent getting a degree (and all that time spent being told that I needed a degree to avoid pointless jobs) was well worth it.
I’m not surprised students don’t have commitment to bottom rung jobs and would prefer to work for something better (what did they study for?), especially as my understanding is that people who fall down wage ladders generally don’t make it back up.
Well what does it tell you about the jobs on offer if people are prepared to live off less money rather than take one of them? Boredom, feelings of being exploited? The fact that for many people the capitalist ethos of our society is a malignant and destructive one. I have always worked but have had to use JSA as a safety net for up to a year at times … you want to try it … it’s no fun and there is no limit to the supply of useful idiots with an undeserved sense of entitlement sitting behind the desks of the Jobcentre + judging you and making you jump through meaningless hoops … you should try it some time.
Government is focused on “business” and establishing a confidence between working relationships with outside investors to encourage new investment in the UK. But, does this mean that policy failings should not be scrutinised by BBC news 24? Should this mean that amid the force of “jobs” on job seekers that the career aspirations should continue to go unnoticed? I think not.
If productivity is so important to pockets of local economies, and national strategies are keen to rebuild good financial foundations and secure an enhancement of tax receipts to the exchequer, then why does the work program remain unchallenged, and the Labour party opposition to any of these challenges remain weak and fail to be countered with inspirational social mobility policies?
To be honest, I would rather than work for my money then rely on benefits. However, I can only get a zero hours contract and despite receiving a good hourly rate, I haven’t been able to work regularly. Furthermore, the bureaucratic nature of JSA means they alter my allowance later then when I have received my monthly salary from my employer. Therefore, when I receive my lower allowance amount, it is when I haven’t worked during the previous month. I don’t like zero hour contracts but I accepted it as I thought it would help me to get other employment as well as helping my self-confidence which It did but then I took a nose-dive after not receiving any work during last month. If the Govt wants zero hours to work then they should improve the benefits system to be more responsive and work more like a business.
Andrew, this is a great piece that understands the reason why more has to be done to improve employment productivity by not simply forcing people into “jobs”, but by connecting with them and understanding aspirations and getting job seekers into fulfilling roles!! I have ben saying this for a long time now.
As a graduate and NEET mentor, I have acknowledged this problem for a long time now. I have always asked “why it is that one expects University graduates or skilled job seekers with aspirations to undertake FULL-TIME “jobs” instead of seeking fulfilling career goals?”
The fact that the governments reaction to unemployment is to inject private sector roles into the system, remains clear that this is not a solution for all job seekers. Hence, the market is filled with part-time workers and zero-hour worker. You can’t simply force people into any job without consequences!! This recent rise in unemployment is yet to be scrutinised by the BBC in an approach to politicians.
The reality on the ground always differs from the failure to scrutinise policy and practice. Shameful!!
Couple of thoughts.
First, was your research completed before or after IDS threw a lot of disabled people onto the labour market?
Second, have you tried asking the long-term unemployed their views of the honesty of employers? I would expect them to equate power with dishonesty to a greater degree than the population as a whole.
1. The interviews took place in 2011.
2. Long-term unemployed people sometimes had harsh views of welfare-to-work organisations and also, to a lesser extent, employers, but the interviews didn’t focus much on the latter issue.