This is Cait Reilly. She is a 24 year old graduate (much like my good self) who took the government to court over claims that a mandatory unpaid work scheme ‘recommended’ to her by the Job Centre was unlawful. Today Ms. Reilly won her claim, with the court judge ruling that the work scheme was ‘unlawful’ as it breached laws on forced labour (not to mention minimum wage). In a speech outside the court Cait said:
“If someone gives their labour to a company, they should be paid for it. However well intentioned a workplace scheme may be, it is very dangerous to introduce compulsory unpaid labour into the UK employment market.”
It is totally inappropriate to put a graduate on a placement working in Poundland and thus preventing them from doing some degree related voluntary work in a museum. I’m not agreeing with the voluntary museum work either (that should be paid as well, I believe that all ‘big society’ volunteering and interminable internships are harming economic recovery not to mention a poor graduates chances of ever entering adult life) it’s just that the pill is not so bitter if you have arranged the work yourself and can clearly see how it will benefit your career goals.
I have long had the feeling that the Department of Work and Pensions does not know how to deal with unemployed graduates. In boom time a whole lot more of us would have had a job, perhaps to the extent that the DWP never bothered to come up with a scheme to help us – there was never any need to. Now in times of economic woe graduates end up under the same umbrella as a 16 year old school leaver, and obviously the same schemes that might help them are going to be an ill fit for us.
To help guide the DWP through their fog of incompetence and confusion I have a few suggestions for what they could do to help graduates:
- Find suitable placements for graduates. Graduates want work experience, we’re all dying for a good internship and it’s a cut throat world, the job centre could help by liaising with suitable companies to help hunt these internships down and make them more accessible. If we’re in the job centre it probably means that we’re the graduates who aren’t the well-connected ones with friends and family members sorting out our work experience, and we could do with a helping hand. Poundland won’t go down well with a student who spent four years studying economics (although the irony wouldn’t be lost on them), but they’d bite your hand off for a placement in a bank. Placements should be paid to ensure that bright but poor young things aren’t left out in the cold. If internships are unpaid then benefits should not be stopped, but rather topped up – a scheme like this exists in Ireland, and a lot of my friends ended up on this after finishing university. Currently if you are doing a full time internship, paid or not, you are not entitled to benefits as you are ‘unavailable for work’. Doesn’t exactly encourage us does it?
- Let us work for our benefits. Do you really want me to work in Poundland to gain some experience? No problem, but that will only be 9.08 hours a week (based on minimum wage of £6.19/hour up to the weekly benefit sum of £56.25)
- Make it easier to temp (this is one for all jobseeker’s, not just the graduates). I signed up with a recruitment agency or 3 that occasionally call me and give me some full time work for a few days/weeks. This makes me really happy, apart from how difficult the job centre is about temping. When my temp work is over I don’t want to go through the hassle and paperwork of starting an entirely new claim. It isn’t new; I was only gone for four days!
- Liaise with temp agencies. When I’m not temping, working in a shop or interning I’m usually trying pretty hard to find a job on my own. But times are hard, and I would appreciate some help. If a temp agency can find me a job for a week or two then it might be nice for the job centre to have a go at offering this service as well. This might suggest laziness on my part (why can’t I find my own job?) but I don’t mean it to come across that way, it just seems to me that a marriage between a temp agency and the job centre might be rather nice. A week’s work feels like a placement anyway, but with temping you actually get paid, and probably gain some experience too. Win.
- It’s the economy, stupid. Cait Reilly was unemployed because the economy is in a shambolic state no matter how you fudge the numbers, not because she had no experience on the shop floor. Young graduates are an intelligent and perceptive bunch; we worked hard to get to university and worked equally hard to get our degrees. We did not expect to be in this situation, and we certainly aren’t happy about it, so please don’t make things worse by patronising us and strangling any ambition we have left with bureaucratic red tape.