17 year unemployment high – how local action can help

The announcement today that unemployment has reached a 17 year high has led me to thinking about one of the universe’s age old questions. You’ll be pleased to know that (for today), I am giving the people vs. pipes issue a rest, and instead I’m thinking about what comes first. Rather than chickens and eggs, I’m thinking about getting people online and whether it’s the people or the policy that comes first…

I started thinking about this a few weeks ago after talking to Gabrielle, who has joined my team from a Jobcentre Plus office in Rotherham. At UK online centres, we’ve been working closely with Jobcentre Plus for a number of years, encouraging referral relationships to help people onto the web and into work. In fact, almost 1 in 4 of our referrals now come from Jobcentre Plus, and every Jobcentre Plus now has a Digital Champion whose role is to promote take-up of computers and the internet.  I know the policies are in place to help jobseekers get online but how does it really work on the ground?

Gabrielle says: “Working as an adviser for the Jobcentre, we saw quite a number of customers who didn’t have digital skills. We know that most jobs are advertised online, and not having an email address or being able to apply for jobs over the internet is a real barrier for people.

“Luckily, we had a great Digital Champion – Karl – in our office. He was really proactive, and was always sending emails about UK online centres and new places people could go to get online. He got everyone in the office enthused about what getting online could do for people – not just to help them find jobs but to help them do all sorts of things like keep in touch with family and friends, do their shopping, sell things on ebay, anything they were interested in.

“It’s great that Jobcentre Plus nationally are supporting this and I’m pleased to hear that Rotherham was a good example of how it actually worked. Of course it wasn’t perfect but most of the Advisers knew that helping people to get online was essential to getting them back into work.”

The policy may have come from JCP on high, but it’s the people on the ground making it work. Or maybe it’s these pockets of great practice that have driven the national picture? What’s clear is that people are at the heart of digital take-up.

When we’re encouraging large national organisations to commit to getting people online, it can often feel like a lot of empty promises – all well meaning but easily forgotten. This is why it’s great to hear how it’s really happening, when all the elements come together to create a committed local team who understand how important being online is.

Kim Sweeney, the Digital Champion at Blackpool’s Jobcentre Plus, says, “Since we’ve been working with UK online centres, there hasn’t been a single person who’s failed to get the hang of the computers. It’s rewarding seeing people go from being apprehensive of turning one on to being confident IT users, not only to support their job search but to contact old friends, find out about public services online and organise their social lives. That instant connection and empowerment can make all the difference to people, and to their job search.”

The figures today show that unemployment is at a 17 year high, with more than 2.5 million people out of work in the UK.  I’m sure stats nerds like me will find the BBC’s ‘the economy in graphics’ map very interesting for looking at how unemployment is affecting different regions. Jobcentre Plus and the Department for Work and Pensions are both under a lot of pressure to move mountains, inspire change and ultimately get these figures down – especially in the areas which are hardest hit.  I want to encourage DWP policy makers to look at our example – of a partnership that works, of grassroots action, local expertise and enthusiasm, and ultimately of real change.   The relationship between UK online centres and Jobcentre Plus really works – Gabrielle’s first hand knowledge of what’s happening, day in day out, on the ground proves this.



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