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Another reported failure within the coalition government has emerged this week, only this time it concerns what is at most students’ hearts – employment. Introduced in June last year, the government’s ‘Welfare-to-Work’ programme aimed to get as many long-term unemployed of all ages off benefits and into employment for at least six months. Their target was to achieve this for 5.5% of the people placed on the scheme; the figures stumbled in at 3.53%, meaning that only around 200,000 people managed to secure employment for at least six months. Although Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan has defended the programme, saying that they ‘are on track’, it is clear that not enough is being done to get the employment market moving again. Labour’s Shadow Secretary Liam Byrne declared the scheme as being ‘worse than doing nothing’ and pointed out that the government has potentially created even more deficit by not getting enough people off benefits.
It’s certainly worrying that the scheme has not worked. The government is clearly either not doing enough or not doing the right things to get people back into work. One of the aims of the ‘Welfare-to-Work’ programme was to get people aged between sixteen and twenty-four into work experience and then hope that they will find a job. Unfortunately for us, it doesn’t work like that. For one thing, a lot of the major companies, for example Sainsbury’s, Waterstone’s and TK Maxx, have refused to take part, and other companies are reviewing their involvement. Straight away this closes off opportunities for young people. Perhaps the government is not the only guilty party in the failure of the scheme – if more companies were prepared to get involved, surely more people would get into work? I’m disappointed that the private sector has not done more to get involved with what initially looked like a promising programme.
Then there’s the issue of what one participant called ‘slave labour’. The companies involved are essentially getting paid for giving a few weeks’ free work experience to young people. Although calling this ‘slave labour’ is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, it does express the futility of this aspect of the ‘Welfare-to-Work’ programme. Only ASDA has openly said that its work placements under the scheme are directly linked to a job. Although gaining any work experience, even without a direct link to a job puts people in a slightly more advantageous position, it still leaves young people with the issue of finding a job relevant to the work experience that they have gained.
It seems that the government’s attempts to improve the job market have only made things worse. Despite the economy being officially out of recession, we are still facing major problems, whether it’s low interest rates for savers, an ever-increasing inflation rate, or consistently high unemployment. So where does this leave students, the next generation of workers? In a dark situation for sure. The ‘Welfare-to-Work’ programme has done nothing except create more deficit and only through students of today finding well-paid work can help to boost the suffering economy. Unfortunately we have to try and make this happen ourselves, by applying speculatively or to highly competitive work placements, and then hope that there is a job at the end of it. Things are definitely looking bleak.
There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Unemployment is usually the last aspect of the economy to improve after a recession. Having only just officially coming out of a double-dip recession, it’s perhaps not time to worry just yet that the job market has remained unchanged. With determination and persistence, I’m sure that today’s students will turn out to have highly successful careers, in a future that won’t contain a double-dip recession. Let’s just hope that the government doesn’t plan to construct any more schemes that will make things worse again.