Viewpoints: How should long-term unemployment be tackled?

People in a queue outside a job centre highlighting youth unemployment

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The long-term unemployed may have to undertake work placements in return for their benefits, under changes being unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne.

From April 2014, people who are jobless after being on the work programme for two years will face three options - a community work placement; taking part in training; or visiting a job centre every day - or face losing benefits.

Although the UK unemployment rate has fallen in recent months, the number of long-term unemployed has not fallen.

How should long-term unemployment be tackled?

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Chris Goulden

Forcing people into jobs... risks pushing them out of the system entirely”

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Chris Goulden, head of poverty at social policy charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Most would agree that people with the misfortune to be long-term unemployed need intensive, personalised help to get back into a job.

International evidence shows that a full package of support and the right kind of work experience - ideally with pay and the prospect of a proper job at the end of it - is crucial.

Forcing people into jobs at threat of financial sanction risks pushing them out of the system entirely and doesn't help them get a real job, which is not cost-effective.

Neither can we ignore the extent of poor-quality jobs in the UK labour market. Getting on the ladder is vital but we need better and wider routes upwards out of poverty.

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Graeme Cooke

The government should guarantee a real job, created by the charitable sector and paid at the minimum wage”

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Graeme Cooke, research director at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)

There is nothing wrong with expecting the long-term unemployed to undertake work experience or an intensive job search, in fact it can really help.

When done right, they give people the work habits and employability skills that employers are looking for.

What's crucial is that schemes are designed to make people more likely to get a job, not less.

Today's announcement builds on an earlier "mandatory work activity" pilot, which was found to have had no impact on future job prospects, only short-term breaks in JSA claims, and increased the numbers on disability benefit.

Instead, drawing on the successful Future Jobs Fund, the government should guarantee a real job, created by the charitable sector and paid at the minimum wage, to anyone who has been out of work for a year.

And insist that they take the job or lose their benefits - limiting the time someone can be unemployed.

A man holding a sign saying "2 million unemployed - don't make us a statistic"

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Becci Newton

There is a need to recognise... the uneven geographic dispersion of work”

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Becci Newton, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES)

The social and economic consequences of long-term unemployment are well known.

For individuals, it can mean detachment from the norms of work, skills losing currency and loss of confidence due to multiple knock-backs.

Mechanisms that re-build labour market attachment are valuable but there is a need to recognise the multiple barriers faced, including the uneven geographic dispersion of work, which poses the challenge of economic regeneration.

Long-term unemployment among young people is particularly problematic, and it is crucial that they receive interventions that help them to achieve traction in the labour market, which may include skills development as well as workplace experience.

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Kevin Green

Specialist help should kick in quickly but currently [help] is targeted at people unemployed for a full 12 months”

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Kevin Green, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation

The longer someone is out of work the more challenging it becomes to find a job.

Their skills and experience become out of date and their confidence is dented.

Specialist help should kick in quickly, but currently the Work Programme is targeted at people who have been unemployed for a full 12 months.

The benefits trap is also a real problem.

People can be reluctant to take a temporary or part-time job even though it would be a great first step back into the workforce because they are worried that when it ends they might lose their benefits.

Welfare reforms must tackle this perceived barrier.

The government should tap into the expertise of professional recruiters.

It's their job to have good relationships with employers and to understand their local labour markets.

This can make them better placed than Jobcentre staff to provide advice about local opportunities.

They can also give free, personal advice to jobseekers about how to perform well in interviews and how to make the most of themselves on their CVs.

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Paul Gregg

The net effect of many [work placement] programmes, including work for the dole, has often been little or even negative”

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Prof Paul Gregg, director of the Centre for Analysis and Social Policy at the University of Bath

Very long-term unemployment (2+ years) is strongly cyclical, almost disappearing from 1998 to 2009, but has returned with the protracted period of poor economic performance.

It is thus not a new phenomenon and a large range of policies have been tried before. We have a very good idea of what does and does not work.

The effect of requiring people to go into work placements depends a lot on the quality of the work experience offered.

They have three elements: first, some people leave benefits ahead of the required employment.

This is called the deterrent effect and is stronger the more unpleasant and low paid (eg work for the dole) the placement is.

Then, whilst on the placement, job search and job entry tend to fall off as the person's time is absorbed by working.

Finally, the gaining of work experience raises job search success.

This is stronger for high-quality job placement in terms of the experience gained and being with a regular employer who can give a good reference if the person has worked well.

The net effect of many such programmes, including work for the dole, has often been little or even negative.

But the best effects come where job search is actively required and supported when on a work placement, where the placement is with a regular employer rather than a "make work" scheme and where the placement provider is incentivised to care about the employment outcomes of the unemployed person after the work placement ends.

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John Salt

The most important thing for those out of work is the development of new skills and experience”

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John Salt, website director of

Long-term unemployment is a major problem for many jobseekers, as those who have been out of work for a long time can lose confidence and feel that they have become unattractive to employers.

George Osborne does sound as though he is unfairly trying to shift the onus onto the unemployed, when the government aren't really doing enough to generate new jobs.

Despite this, the work placements outlined should help the long-term unemployed in theory, by giving them the chance to develop work-related skills and so on.

The most important thing for those out of work is the development of new skills and experience, whether this is through work placements, free courses or taking on new responsibilities, along with maintaining their confidence and believing in their ability to get a job.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    There aren't enough jobs there for everyone. The government must create jobs. Cleaning the street using unemployed people is not going to do anything for the majority like myself who had 25 years experience in IT. My skills would be wasted and would be irrelevant. How would I support my family. The Politicians are out of touch..... I think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    A skills gap isn’t the same as a skills absence. So lets also adapt to have real jobs that use the skills that ARE on the market and give back some long overdue dignity in the process. Or does that sound too much like hard work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    I think this is the kind of economy you get if all you have is leaders that never had a proper job. A study economy where nobody get's the jobs they studied for. More people just have to take on people with no qualification an give them a chance to have a go an develop a skill with-out a qualification. everything takes practice but nobody has time to waste they want to earn an live life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    Needs to be better communication between people who employ and the job center. If the is a shortage of qualified anything. Direct them to paid work while learning the job. All this messing around having to be qualified is the under lying problem. before this they just learned on the job. now it's get qualified for everything sometimes it not necessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    The UK is moving to a services industry. We are not the major manufacturing force we once were and our skills need to adapt. I have too many people coming through the door for office based work that can't spell, write or even speak coherently. But you can only train those that want to learn. The problem is too many people expect money to fall into their laps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    @612Connor you also are probably unaware that when I'm working (in a proper job) I pay umpteen times the JSA in taxes, and it would be one hell of a long time before I could be accused of taking out more than I put in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    The government at present don't have a clue, the BBC should do a documentary on the job centers as there just filled with staff who are just box tickers with no skills to assist in the job search for skilled individuals or talented individuals just forcing doll dosers into low paid monkey work. I was unemployed 4 weeks and they forced me into compulsory presentations for things I didn't need

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    Last time that was tried, the woman won the case: illegal to force work: it is called slavery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    Separation of state and economy. Look up the Austrian theory of the business cycle for an alternate explanation. Attempt to start a business and see how hard it is, you naturally face a 44% (3yr) failure rate, pile on all the overbearing regulations you have to comply with, coupled with state spending and manipulation of the interest rates, tax and you should be in awe that anyone is employed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    Stop funding only SIA and Forklift Licenses and give me £40 to do my CSCS card. I'm sorry, the offer of paying for the course once I've got a job offer is a 'chicken and the egg' scenario. Offer FREE college courses from Days-6 Months' duration.Get People up to speed on their computer skills and H&S. The lack of Transport is prohibitive for jobs in some areas. Don't waste our time litter picking!

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    By more long term jobs for the UK people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    Actually its stunningly easy to deal with unemployment, you simply give the unemployed a job, minimum wage of course, near impossible to save on minimum wage so all the money they're paid will go straight back into the economy & they have an incentive to get another job. the increase in aggregate demand stimulates the private sector to create more jobs, its only ideology that stops this

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    "How should long-term unemployment be tackled".

    Too much industrial automation - can't be stopped.
    BUT we could control:
    Too many People / Babties / Immigrants.
    Too many imported goods.

    Cut those and Buy British.
    There is NO other alternative...

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    1) Get in debt spending money on those that can't support themselves.
    2) Look to foreigners, don't invest in training the native population.
    3) ???
    4) Profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    “Employers should just take anybody” is implied when politicians say people “should just take any job”. Are defamatory generalisations about the real victims of the recession really intended to improve the chances of an employer giving them a job?

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    Phil and Connor,

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    I have been using embedded Ada (83 & 95) and tested embedded c and c++. I'll try to hang in here (near London) and will go where the job takes me and my salary expectations now seem reasonable (£40k to £50k p.a.) .

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    @612Connor 'tis NOTHING to do with being "too good for a cleaning job", see previous posts. I did a variety of low grade jobs and they harmed my CV. If I'm out of work in future I won't be doing them again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    @507. Sagacity
    The problem with a job "guarantee" scheme is you get people doing non jobs - a bit like the expansion of the Public Sector dependency espoused by Gordon Brown

    If you read the article you would have seen that its still possible to cut public spending if you so desire & have a job guarantee

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.


    If no well paid work near you, move.

    Throughout history it is more common to move to work than for work to come to front door.

    Some people need to lower their aspirations & living standards & stop pretending that a previous easier life is gonna reincarnate itself.

    If you own a home, mortgage it or borrow on it & start own business, but too cowardly to risk own wealth

  • rate this

    Comment number 613. your ref the quote from Samuel hasn't stopped Cameron and his mates opening their mouths has it ?????


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