Two Fridays ago I went down to the jobcentre. Not because I fear a snap general election and losing my job, although given the febrile state of global politics – who knows?
It was part of the regular set of visits MPs make to most kinds of organisations in our localities, especially ones serving the public sector. I had not visited for ten years at least and what a difference! Previously a rather intimidating atmosphere in which to seek help – now well trained user-friendly with welcoming staff on hand to guide people to the right place. Most visits are by appointment so there is a sense of order and quiet efficiency about the place.
It was encouraging to learn that despite the bad press, the new benefit – Universal Credit – which is now being rolled out in our area, is doing well, with most claimants receiving their money on time. The recent changes that government made to allow for a financial advance for those who cannot wait five weeks (most people) has helped to iron out the early wrinklesand make the system fairer. Hopefully this simple benefit, designed to encourage people to return to work, will slowly bed in and replace the existing complex web of historic benefits and make life much easier for claimants and those who administer the system alike.
It was good to witness the tailored advice that each claimant receives from their allocated jobcentre advisor. This both supports job-seeking activity as well as occasionally applying pressure, if necessary. As we have known for some time, withunemployment at 4% and falling, we are approaching full employment in this country. Now we have to make sure that people who are finding it hard to secure meaningful work, receive the right support to enable them to do so. That is what I witnessed so impressively last week.
Disabled people, the vast majority of whom are keen to work and have so much to offer, are a group that require more specialist attention. The government is backing a scheme to encourage more employers to become “disability confident” – ie open to employing disabled people and learning that the barriers to employing them can be far less than imagined.
I will be doing my best in the next few months to encourage local employers to sign up to the government scheme. Intimes of full employment, we must make sure we help realise the potential of everyone in our community.