Despite the fact that the Jobcentre Plus mainly exists to support unemployed people and help them back into work, for many of us it’s the last place we’d seek help. But are we overlooking a valuable resource? TAMSIN COCKS spoke to Peter Davidson, from Peterborough Jobcentre Plus, to find out
In April 2013 Peterborough faced a record level of unemployment, with 7,143 people out of work. It’s grim proof that the recession is still raging on, with more of us than ever facing the terrifying prospect of having to support our families without an income. In this situation, surely the first port of call should be the Jobcentre. Yet for many people, particularly highly-skilled professionals, there is some serious doubt about the usefulness of such an endeavour. Both the national press and the word on the street reveal common criticisms of unhelpful staff or menial jobs, which don’t particularly inspire confidence. A large proportion of people also admit that they really don’t have a clue what the Jobcentre can offer. So it might surprise people to learn, for example, that there is a scheme dedicated to helping unemployed people start a business.
‘Once a participant has had their business plan approved, ended their benefit claim and started trading, they will also receive financial support to tide them over the first six months of trading’
The New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) scheme is available to over 18s claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) from the first day that they sign on. Advisory Team Manager, Peter Davidson, explains: ‘What the NEA does is it gives people access to a business mentor who provides guidance and support as they develop their business plan and through the early months of trading. Once a participant has had their business plan approved, ended their benefit claim and started trading, they will also receive financial support to tide them over the first six months of trading when the business profits are likely to be quite low, so this is £65 a week for three months, and then £33 a week for three months. There is also potential access to a loan to help with start up costs.’
Despite being launched in August 2011, and already helping to create more than 26,000 businesses, most people still don’t know this scheme exists and the government has recently launched a new campaign featuring Dragon’s Den star, Levi Roots, in an attempt to promote this resource. So perhaps the negative reports in the media filtering into the general psyche are clouding the good resources that exist. After all, for every bad experience or mistake reported in the media, there are plenty of successful, unsung cases.
‘We’ve got a brand new online system, the Universal Job Match, where we have a whole spectrum of jobs right across the UK’
Peter admits that the Jobcentre hasn’t always enjoyed the best reputation, but was keen to set the record straight: ‘In terms of the bad old days when you used to come into the Jobcentre, you just had cards on boards that were limited to local jobs and were often out of date – but that was many moons ago. Now we’ve got a brand new online system, the Universal Job Match, where we have a whole spectrum of jobs right across the UK. It’s a much smarter system than we had before. Employers can look at people’s CVs and contact them with respective jobs, plus you’ll get things like email alerts when new jobs are posted, you can search by region and so on, and we’ve had some really good feedback from it.’
Another common criticism is that the Jobcentre staff don’t care and don’t have the skills to help more senior professionals, a notion Peter adamantly refutes: ‘Our advisors are very highly skilled in helping people back into work and we’ve have great success in helping people right across from senior managers to the other end of the spectrum. And if you look at the figures, unemployment in Peterborough has dropped by over 1,000 since April, down to 6,116 now, which is heading in the right direction as far as I’m concerned. Of course people are encouraged to look for the same sort of work and a similar salary they’ve been used to – for a fixed period of 13 weeks. We wouldn’t just say from day one: “Right we’ve got an HR manager from the biggest business in Britain – we’re now going to send you to work in a burger bar…