Tag Archives: Seebohm Rowntree

Job Seekers and Rhetoric

If this is an economic recovery, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

Being young and applying for jobs at the moment is incredibly difficult, regardless of how well-qualified you are or what experience you have: so many other people are looking for jobs too, and there is always someone better than you.

Actually, for me, just finding a job for which I can consider myself is a challenge. Most posts ask for a lot of experience in that field. It’s understandable, but it does make it hard when you are a recent graduate and from a low-income household and from a rural area, because there are few good opportunities around here, and I could never afford to take up internships in London or to travel abroad.

When you do find an entry level job, you immediately are up against absolutely everyone else who is in the same position as you. I recently applied for an admin role with a charity in London. Their work looked really interesting; the people looked really nice. Unfortunately, 819 other people felt the same way. I kid you not.

We all need experience to get a job, but we need a job to get experience.  And getting a job feels impossible when other older people, who do have experience, are also applying for those same posts.¹

However, if you listened to the press and the government, you’d believe this was our fault. We, so the rhetoric goes, are lazy scroungers. If we fail to get a job, if we end up taking out Job Seeker’s Allowance, then it is our fault. We have airs above our station and think that having a degree entitles us to walk into a good role at a workplace.²

The government says the hard-working taxpayer should not have to support people like me.³

Honestly, I have tried to get a job. Lots of times.  And I am still trying. I am applying for literally anything that I think I might have a shot at. This ranges from jobs in the departments back at Oxford, to Christmas jobs, to admin roles, even to a part-time secretarial position at a primary school (and there, neither the hours nor the pay were good). And I’m not on JSA: I still have some savings left, enough for a couple more months, and I want to avoid being subject to all the changes the government are talking about making for as long as possible.

I have good grades, have taken part in lots of extracurricular activities and people say my CV is looking fine.

It’s still not good enough.

This isn’t just happening to me, though I’m writing about my experience because it’s my life at the moment, I can best describe what it’s like. Very few people I know have jobs – at last count, it was 6 out of everyone I have spoken to, and this includes some of the most educated and capable people I have ever met.

I’m grateful for what support there is for the unemployed, because so many people in the world don’t get any help at all. But
seriously, all people like me could get at the moment is £8 a day.⁴ Does anybody really think that we would choose to keep ourselves in a situation like this, where food shopping would be a struggle? And do people really think we’d choose to have nothing to do all day? I do not like being unemployed. It feels like my life is on hold.

I’m not saying that the system of the last few years is right – I really don’t have enough accurate knowledge about it all. However, to me, this rhetoric is concerning. It’s like we’re back in the Victorian times, where people believed that the poor were to blame for the fact they were poor.⁵ Furthermore, the rhetoric that people are deliberately scamming the system to get rich off benefits isn’t even accurate: back in August, the DWP statistics showed that only 0.7% of total benefit expenditure was due to actual benefit fraud.⁶

To me, this rhetoric is dangerous. It doesn’t take into account people’s lives and ability to get jobs, what jobs that they
can accept and what work is available, and it targets those who are already in difficult places. A more subtle and balanced picture is needed. ⁷

¹ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nearly-a-million-under25s-still-unemployed-despite-growth-8935723.html

² See, for example: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9095050/Iain-Duncan-Smith-its-better-to-be-a-shelf-stacker-than-a-job-snob.html

³ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24369514

⁴ For 16-24 year olds, JSA is £56.80 a week. It also assumes that people don’t get sanctioned and lose their JSA
payments altogether. See http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2013/08/sanctions-welfare-poverty and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24829866 and http://www.theguardian.com/society/the-northerner/2013/apr/18/benefits-cuts-welfare-jobseekers-allowance

⁵ Over 100 years ago, Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree examined poverty in London and York. They concluded that a lot of people were in desperate situations because of unemployment, underemployment or low wages, not because they were lazy. For more information on Booth and Rowntree, see the following: http://csiss.ncgia.ucsb.edu/classics/content/45/ and http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RErowntreeS.htm And for a neat little summary of their conclusions, see this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/history/liberal/motives_lib/revision/1/

http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/may/13/welfare-fraud-error-universal-credit

⁷ See also, http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2013/02/language-people-poverty
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/archives/29364  http://www.jrf.org.uk/topic/mis  http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2013/01/no-jobs-housing-young-people