Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Figures hide joblessness - 12/2001


Official unemployment figures disguise the continued failure of government policies to cut joblessness among large numbers of working-age people says The Industrial Society.

Authors of a recent report say that narrow notions of work are limiting the chances of returning thousands of people to work. They warn that significant numbers of people in many parts of the country are still on the margins of the labour market and will be the first to suffer in a downturn. The report calls for changes to the welfare system ñ a ëbroad workí approach which would allow people without jobs to combine their personal development with ësocially usefulí work such as volunteering or community participation without jeopardising their benefit.

The report highlights almost 70 areas, including 19 in Wales, 14 in Scotland and 9 in Northern Ireland, where employment rates have remained below 70%.

The report says that flagship government policies such as the New Deal should be restructured to include broader definitions of work - such as community work, volunteering and time based activity:
Proposals in the paper build on successful projects already operating in the third sector. These include:

Intermediate labour markets (ILMs) - a mid-way point between voluntary work and paid employment which concentrates on socially useful work. ILMs also have the advantage of linking unemployed people to their communities and the local economy.

Time Banking ñ where individuals exchange time for services within communities is another option which has already been shown to revitalise local services.

The report argues that these ideas should be integrated within the benefit system as a whole. ëBroad workí policies would involve paying time credits to adults who are participating in a variety of ways - ie working, retired, unable to work through disability, caring for dependants, volunteering or unemployed. These credits could be cashed for training, education or employability provision ñ or spent on locally produced goods and services.