Sometimes we can learn from old television programs. The 1970s sitcom Some Mother’s Do’Ave Em stands out in a golden era of British television comedy, and it can also help us find solutions to modern problems. There is an episode which features the manager of the employment exchange attempting to find a job for the hapless Frank Spencer. Contemporary viewers may find it difficult to understand the concept of a jobcentre that helped people find work. Today’s jobseekers, many of whom are poorly educated, lacking in confidence or have English as a second language, are expected to manage via call-centres and computers. The jobcentre exists as a place to check entitlements to benefits with increasingly demoralised employees ticking boxes.
Twenty years ago, I experienced this in a short period between degrees. To qualify for a payment, I had to return every fortnight with a booklet detailing my attempts to find work. The minimum requirement was three attempted contacts in a week. An unanswered phone call counted as a contact and nobody ever checked the contents of the booklet. One woman claimed to have written about drug taking and watching television.
Somehow this vital branch of the Civil Service has forgotten that it is there to provide a service. Why not run jobcentres like recruitment agencies? Give staff a portfolio of clients and targets for getting those clients into work. This would provide the unemployed with the help they desperately need, motivate and empower staff, build trust between the community and the government and make it easier to detect the minority who attempt to cheat the system.
This simple initiative didn’t help Frank but millions of others could easily benefit.