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.
Last weekend I picked up a some collage paper collected together by artist Anthony Zinonos. I have bought one of these little collections of collage papers before (they are available to buy on his website) and found them to be quite inspiring and a good starting point for new projects. These little packs are good for if you don’t have the patience, or know where to start looking for interesting paper. Also good for seasoned creative types for whom this is the adult equivalent of a lucky dip, well deserving of irrational childhood excitement. From experience I know that once you start scrapbooking or creating collage art suddenly you start acquiring stamps and tickets and other interesting bits and pieces from everywhere, the materials start to breed and you stop being able to close your drawers.
I quite like the work of Anthony Zinonos, but my plans for the paper were quite different. The first thing I did was to lay out all the pieces on the floor to see what goodies I had and start thinking about how to use them.
I think if there had been a spare white wall going I would have been tempted to just stick everything up because I thought it all looked great already, that’s not really engaging my creativity though! What I actually ended up doing was using the graph paper and sewing up a fake graph:
I stuck this into a small Moleskine notebook with the idea of creating a scrapbook. The next page I created was a clear follow on colour/theme wise:
I actually went to buy a copy of the Financial Times specifically for this, to get the printed shares and the specific orange colour. Buying the Financial Times to turn into an project is exactly the sort of financial backwards that seems to follow me around! It looks great here though. I thought a bit of a theme was developing, so here is what I have created so far:
As you can see the collage papers were just a starting point and I had to go in search of specific things I wanted after a certain point. It’s always quite difficult to showcase a book as it can be quite laborious to photograph every page so I also made a video, but now I think this gallery works better. Books are difficult things to exhibit in galleries, they always seem to opt for turning a page every week or so (so you would have to visit a lot to see the whole thing!) The sort of scrapbook I’m working on is also quite a tactile object and I think that gets lost in the photographs, the best way to see it is really to flick through it so you can enjoy the different textures of the paper, thread, ink painting and especially the coin rubbings. If you have ever seen hand illuminated manuscripts in galleries or museums then you will know what I am talking about, the gilded scroll work always appears slightly raised, a delightful feature that you completely miss in photographs or prints.
I mentioned before that I managed to pick up a mixed bag of old stamps from an antiques fair last year. The same stall was also selling bags of outdated currency, and I really wish I had bought some now as the banknotes would have been great for this project. Ebay and Amazon do sell old banknotes, but they seem to specialise in rare expensive ones which aren’t really what I’m after.
I didn’t consciously develop a financial theme for my scrapbook, although it came about by accident I have no shortage of ideas for what else to do (currently I’m cutting out Monopoly money). I find craft projects and drawings to be very therapeutic, and I think something in my subconscious has definitely come out here. Like many of skills I seem to endowed with I have no idea how scrapbooking might be turned into profit, although I sure would like to have an epiphany on that one. If I could do this all day and make money out of it I would be a very happy person. For the time being it’s just an activity for evening stress busting, my own itchy fingers and sense of satisfaction. It’s a work in progress and I hope to fill all the pages but I’m very pleased with what I have created up to now.
And with that:
Freelance scrapbooker, embroiderer extraordinaire, and general creative person available for hire! Will work for tea, gratitude, interesting paper and modest amounts of actual money.