Young & Unemployed: Poor, Stressed, Abused and Suicidal?

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Young & Unem­ployed: Poor, Stressed, Abused and Sui­ci­dal?



We are told that being unem­ployed is one of the most stress­ful times of a person’s life, but what does that mean and what’s it like being young and unem­ployed in Britain today? I’ve seen first-hand exact­ly what it’s like for a few young peo­ple; my friends, my fam­i­ly and for­mer­ly myself. We are from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and the expe­ri­ence of being unem­ployed has affect­ed all of us dif­fer­ent­ly.


Britain’s unem­ploy­ment sys­tem; though bet­ter than a few oth­er coun­tries is still very odd, bureau­crat­ic, stress­ful and inef­fec­tu­al. Britain’s politician’s favourite game is to tam­per with it. Orig­i­nal­ly (Under midterm labour) the unem­ployed were left to get on with it, pro­duc­ing a job search every 2 weeks to prove they had been look­ing. Incen­tives and help was offered, such as a scheme where job­seek­ers could claim back the costs of trans­port after a job inter­view (Immense­ly help­ful), or would be giv­en help with CV’s, cours­es to raise the job­seek­ers edu­ca­tion qual­i­fi­ca­tions (Pro­vid­ing NVQ’S in things like first aid, health and safe­ty and food prepa­ra­tion, etc). They even assist­ed with find­ing inter­view clothes. Dur­ing the 2 week meet­ing the job­seek­er could talk to the advis­er who would make an hon­est attempt at pro­vid­ing help and sup­port.


Despite this help I and a fam­i­ly mem­ber found it hard to get a job, I had an under­grad­u­ate degree whilst the oth­er fam­i­ly mem­ber had D’s in their GCSE’s. It took me over 2 years to secure a part time role which I’m still in today; dur­ing that time I did a range a jobs includ­ing night work in a super­mar­ket (10 hours a night (2 hours trans­port) earn­ing 5p over min­i­mum wage), worked at the Olympics briefly but trav­el costs meant I could only break even, and a range of oth­er roles.


The fam­i­ly mem­ber has strug­gled ever since they left school over 7 years ago. Though they tried to get addi­tion­al edu­ca­tion they found it quite dif­fi­cult; though did com­plete a self-fund­ed course which unfor­tu­nate­ly has an expiry date mean­ing it must be renewed.  Though they have secured jobs they have nev­er earned much over the £53 pounds a week they would have got­ten on Job­seek­ers, addi­tion­al­ly they tried to go self-employed work­ing for a com­pa­ny but because of their sta­tus had to pay tax and earned very lit­tle. The job cen­tre pay­ments are also errat­ic and some­times Job­cen­tre staff find arbi­trary rea­sons not to pay the fam­i­ly mem­ber caus­ing more stress. the sys­tem left the young job­seek­er feel­ing com­plete­ly worth­less, with many of the roles pay­ing below min­i­mum wage and offer­ing very few if any rights due to the mas­sive gaps in the law that leave work­ers unpro­tect­ed.


The sit­u­a­tions got­ten worse, my fam­i­ly mem­ber was part of one of the pri­vate company’s unem­ploy­ment schemes that got 0.5% of job­seek­ers back into work. My fam­i­ly mem­ber is now required to attend the job cen­tre dai­ly or their mea­gre ben­e­fit will be cut for 2 weeks. Addi­tion­al­ly they are required to log onto the government’s (unhelp­ful) web­site dai­ly, using their 12 dig­it code and enter the steps they have tak­en to find work. They were also not paid 2 weeks income owing to hav­ing used the wrong bit of paper for job search­ing about a month ago.


The cur­rent job seek­ers rate is £56.80 a week, which sounds a lot but would buy you about 40 items in a super­mar­ket, or two trips to Lon­don, or the aver­age restau­rant bill — in short it’s not a lot of mon­ey to live on if you include a lot of expans­es and have bills to pay. Addi­tion­al­ly it’s extreme­ly stress­ful to not know if they will pay you this month or not.


My fam­i­ly member’s lat­est job was awful; for a start they were expect­ed to con­struct the shops inte­ri­or. They were ini­tial­ly required to work 12 hour shifts (7 days a week) and were not allowed breaks (the con­struc­tion involved heavy lift­ing). Addi­tion­al­ly the shop was pay­ing £6 an hour (below min­i­mum wage) and refused to offer its staff con­tracts. My fam­i­ly mem­ber was told they would be work­ing 12 hours a day 7 days a week – all with­out a con­tract and with­out a guar­an­tee of even being paid. Employ­ees were also required to use chairs as step lad­ders and were not allowed breaks despite the law say­ing they should have a 20 min break after 6 hours. One shift my fam­i­ly mem­ber was yelled at 3 times and was told “If you don’t like it quit, there are plen­ty more work­ers beg­ging for a job.” My fam­i­ly mem­ber hurt their back on the sec­ond 12 hour shift, went back 3 days lat­er and start­ed again for 4 more days before they, and oth­er staff left.


When the fam­i­ly mem­ber signed on again her “unpaid” wages were deduct­ed from their job­seek­ers allowance. It’s been over a month and the fam­i­ly mem­ber has not been paid for the time they worked. What can they do? –work­ing tri­bunals take years and require upfront costs, because there was no paper­work the police don’t care, There is nobody out there to pro­tect work­ers’ rights. It seems “99p” stores do have a hid­den cost.


I know what you’re think­ing; why doesn’t the fam­i­ly mem­ber get a job? Well recent­ly 250 peo­ple went for 1 unskilled job in a local shop. It’s real­ly not easy for peo­ple to find a job and the gov­ern­ment only seems to inflict more stress on peo­ple instead of offer­ing help. A num­ber of years ago unem­ploy­ment lead a friend I used to know to attempt sui­cide by tak­ing an over­dose. The over­whelm­ing feel­ings of worth­less­ness, unwont­ed­ness and stress lead them into attempt­ing sui­cide, and although they regret­ted the act (which didn’t suc­ceed) it just shows how dif­fi­cult it is for young NEETS in the UK. This friend even­tu­al­ly hooked up with an abu­sive part­ner and is now a full time moth­er, although I have lost con­tact with her due to the con­trol­ling nature of her rela­tion­ship.


To sum­marise; long term unem­ploy­ment is a hor­ren­dous thing to inflict on a per­son. No won­der so many peo­ple are turn­ing to crime, or drugs and alco­hol, or any­thing else to lessen the feel­ing of shame, of guilt, of unwont­ed­ness and of worth­less­ness that they feel. When they do find a work it’s often on a 10 hour a week con­tract where 100% of their earn­ings will be deduct­ed from their ben­e­fits. These jobs also don’t tend to last once the gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies dry up. This mea­sure does make the unem­ploy­ment rate seem bet­ter (which is the government’s goal.)

The long term unem­ployed feel like they are being pun­ished instead of being helped; if they do secure a very low paid role then they can find they are no bet­ter off. Work­ing is good, but when you’ve been liv­ing in near pover­ty every pound real­ly mat­ters to you and work­ing for free isn’t very reas­sur­ing.  Also after years with­out sta­ble employ­ment many peo­ple find work­ing to be ini­tial­ly stress­ful, and the 0% increase in income just adds to this stress. The gov­ern­ment is now talk­ing about forc­ing unem­ployed peo­ple to attend the job cen­tre for 8 hours a day; I sus­pect this is a ploy to intim­i­date peo­ple into work­ing, and to make their oth­er actions seem more mod­er­ate in com­par­i­son. Yet anoth­er psy­cho­log­i­cal weapon used against peo­ple seek­ing a place in soci­ety.


What’s the answer then? We’ll the numer­ous & crazy gov­ern­ment schemes have all but failed and have incurred huge costs in terms of mon­ey, eco­nom­ic growth, increased crime and despair. The iron fist approach, as well as fear and intim­i­da­tion tac­tics has only exac­er­bat­ed the sit­u­a­tion. What we need is a mul­ti­fac­eted approach with assis­tance offered on a per­son­al basis designed to help the indi­vid­ual. Prop­er skills train­ing for peo­ple of all ages would be use­ful for those that would ben­e­fit; Rein­tro­duc­tion of EMA or anoth­er fund­ing mech­a­nism (for all ages) would also help peo­ple look­ing to reskill. Prop­er gov­ern­ment fund­ed (guar­an­teed) work expe­ri­ence would also be very use­ful and the per­son work­ing should be paid for their time, prop­er­ly. Some peo­ple need some space: Not everybody’s suit­ed to being harassed con­tin­u­ous­ly (dai­ly atten­dance and job search­es… a 2 week basis is ade­quate). Also guar­an­teed income would also be use­ful; it’s hard to sur­vive when your income could be cut at any sec­ond for any rea­son. I would also like to see a scheme where unem­ployed peo­ple were guar­an­teed a prop­er­ly paid job after some time and would also like to see peo­ple who have got a job retain at least 60% of their ben­e­fit mean­ing they would always be bet­ter off work­ing even on a part time basis. These schemes would save mon­ey in the long run, sup­port; not penal­i­sa­tion is the answer.


I would also like to see option­al edu­ca­tion packs for every unem­ployed per­son; where they can under­take an edu­ca­tion­al course (like an Open Uni­ver­si­ty style course) and can leave at any time and still be grad­ed (1/4 com­plet­ed, ½ com­plet­ed, etc). This would give unem­ployed peo­ple some­thing to do that’s proac­tive and some­thing they can achieve that will boost their skills and con­fi­dence with­out cost­ing much – and have a real qual­i­fi­ca­tion to show after it. Most of the edu­ca­tion­al train­ing could be giv­en away on DVD, or via a web­site; and assign­ments com­plet­ed online or sent through the mail.


We will con­tin­ue to look for jobs: all most unem­ployed peo­ple ask is under­stand­ing and to know there is light at the end of the tun­nel. Last­ly the job cen­tre does seem to treat peo­ple with utter con­tempt and the num­ber of point­less bureau­crat­ic hoops seems to have mul­ti­plied over time and will prob­a­bly con­tin­ue to do so.


Writ­ten by David Beck –