I’ve had a trip out. I washed my hair, put my interview outfit on and got a bus to a different Jobcentre Plus. I’m used to glamour, as you know, so was able to behave accordingly and not become over-excited.
I was also quickly brought down to earth by a conversation I heard on my arrival.
“How about a job cleaning cars?” An advisor was asking a man who looked very weary indeed.
He said nothing. Perhaps the idea of a job cleaning cars – as winter approaches – was so exciting he was dumbstruck.
“Well, you don’t look very enamoured,” she said, loudly. “I need a bit of pizzazz from you! I know you’re fed up but, come on!”
Her tough love approach struck me as unnecessary. I can’t see how public humiliation for an unemployed man in his 30s is going to help him cheer up and get a job. As I understand it her job is to advise but she seemed to have developed her own take on the idea of “the job you want, the help you need”.
“You need to get out there,” she continued. “You need to help yourself rather than coming to see me every fortnight.”
Finally he spoke, trying to explain himself or silence her, perhaps. “I’m sorry. I’m just a bit tired.”
“Why are you tired? You don’t do anything.”
By this point I was ready to shout at her so was glad when we were called for our Enterprise Club introduction. Not anyone can join this club. Membership is exclusive and, once you make it to the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme, you need to prove you’ve been unemployed for 26 weeks. It’s like The Groucho Club, I suppose, but with less money, no food or drinks (not even a brew) and the clientele looking a bit fed up and unconvinced: The Grouchy Club, if you will.
It is, though, for unemployed people who would like to go freelance or, ultimately, into business. Twenty people attended today and the majority seemed to have an idea of what they wanted to do, if little idea of how this Big Society trick was going to work in reality.
The deliverers of the scheme in my area tell me that around 2000 businesses have started up, of which between 60 and 70 per cent were started by unemployed people. We’re told it’s “a journey” and I hoped the X Factor lingo would stop as quickly as it started.
We’re offered advice on writing a business plan, access to advice from professionals in banking, law and tax, and a mentor to help us along. We also get a weekly allowance worth £1,274 over 26 weeks: this is paid at £65 a week for the first 13 weeks and £33 a week for a further 13 weeks. It is assumed your business will be functioning and will make up the £2.50 a week loss of benefits at the start and the £34.50 a week loss later on.
If you need start-up capital, you could also get an unsecured loan up to £1,000. The total package of support could be worth up to £2,274.
Now, I’m no Alan Sugar but it doesn’t seem like enough money to me and I suspect it is a way to get people off benefits – albeit temporarily – and fudge the statistics. I also hope that the reduction to just more than 50% of benefits after 13 weeks doesn’t lead to people needing hand-outs from charities, now that Jobcentres are making history by sending the needy to charity-run food banks.
I have a business idea, even the start of a business plan, so I will go along to the next session and see what comes of it. I do, though, suspect that after putting in the effort to build up a business – while still looking for work, of course – I won’t be buying an attaché case, flying first class and joining one of the country’s exclusive private members’ clubs.
I just hope I’m not in a queue for a food parcel.
Good news: I have a job interview on Friday
Bad news: This means delivering another 10-minute presentation leaving me looking as startled as a mouse in Chaplin’s mouth