17 August 2015

Back to Boot Camp for critics of new jobseekers plan


The Government has announced a new plan to get unemployed youngsters into jobs and off the dole.

All well and good, you might be forgiven for thinking. Who could possibly disagree with that? Quite a lot of people, it turns out.

Within hours of the scheme being announced today, Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock was forced to “defend” – in the Guardian’s words – measures aimed at getting jobless 18 to 21 year olds into work. The Minister had to deny, during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, that his plan to send young unemployed people to “boot camps” to prepare them for work was a form of “punishment”.

Yes, punishment. So what will happen in these horrible boot camps? Will young people be flogged for not having a job? Are they going to be beaten and starved? Or perhaps forced to dig holes while wearing orange Guantanamo-style jumpsuits for 18 hours a day?

No, it’s worse. Much worse. Under this evil Tory regime, young people aged 18 to 21 who sign on the dole are going to be – and I can barely bring myself to write these terrible words – taught how to write a CV, fill in job applications and how to perform well at a job interview.

Yes, really. That is the full horror of what the Government is planning from 2017. No flogging, no jumpsuits, no starvation. Just, you know, teaching people without a job how to get a job.

The mandatory programme will start within weeks of the young person signing on, rather than waiting for them to waste six months or a year on the dole first. The training will last for 71 hours over three weeks, with dedicated work coaches and intensive support. Anyone who refuses to go on the scheme will lose their entitlement to Job Seekers’ Allowance, which will no doubt seem fair enough to most taxpayers.

Yet the criticisms came thick and fast. The Guardian oh-so-casually threw this line into its news article on the subject: “[Labour] candidates are unlikely to endorse a government scheme involving rhetoric that suggests some young people are workshy and making excuses not to get jobs.”

Meanwhile the children’s charity Barnardo’s criticised the plans in a tweet, saying that young people needed to feel “supported, not punished”. Because of course telling a young person what they’re doing wrong is just being nasty, isn’t it?

The icing on the cake came from a campaign spokesman for leading Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn, who said: “This is another punitive turn by this Conservative government that is failing young people… This government is blaming young people rather than addressing the real problems.”

Now, there have been plenty of failed Government schemes to get jobless youths into work over the years, but the fact that anyone could possibly think that a plan to teach young jobless men and women how they can get a job is punitive, or in some way blames them rather than helps them, is utterly absurd.

The truth is that, for many young jobless Brits who have never worked, their problem is not that they’re unemployed, it’s that they are unemployable. They are not just “between jobs” or trying to “find themselves”. They aren’t jobless because there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around – ask any Eastern European immigrant – but because no employer in his or her right mind would touch them with a bargepole.

They want a job, but not on minimum wage (despite having next to no qualifications and even less experience to offer an employer) and not if they deem that job, like cleaning or working in a care home, to be “beneath them”. They want a job, but not if they have to get up too early. They are youngsters who have been failed by parents who think work is for “mugs” and by schools who don’t think that teaching youngsters how to behave in a job interview is a vital life skill.

As Iain Duncan Smith once told me during his years in the political wilderness, shaking his head in despair, most jobless young people don’t need fancy programmes teaching them the latest IT skills; they need to be shown how to set an alarm clock.

Yet there remain critics on the Left who would rather see hundreds of thousands of young people rotting on the welfare scrap heap for years than admit for one moment that a Tory scheme to help them get jobs might actually work. Maybe it’s them we should be sending to boot camp – they might learn something.

Julia Hartley-Brewer is a journalist and broadcaster. A former political editor and LBC Radio presenter, she is a regular on TV shows such as Question Time and Have I Got News For You, and on Radio 4’s Any Questions.