POLITICS

Budget 2014: How Will Osborne Help The Young Unemployed And Small Businesses?

18/03/2014 21:58 GMT | Updated 19/03/2014 10:59 GMT

When George Osborne delivers his Budget for 2014 he is expected to trumpet how his plans will ensure Britain's "long-term economic recovery".

But are the positive growth figures being felt on the ground? By people still looking for work, especially the young? And are small businesses - often described as "the backbone of the economy" - feeling the benefit of Osborne's recovery?

THE YOUNG JOBSEEKER

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The pressure, in particular, is being felt by young people looking for jobs. Glaswegian Roisin Caird, aged 21, has been hunting for full-time employment for several months. Her only break from the dole was working as a charity fundraiser for a few weeks.

Since graduating from York with a 2:1 degree, Caird has been applying for around 15 posts a week, as her jobcentre requires, but with little success. She has already racked up plenty of internships and worked in customer service jobs while a student, yet her applications to work full-time, even in a low-skilled, low-pay job such as a call centre operator, have had little response.

"It's not been turning out that much... it has been pretty difficult," she says. "When I first went to the jobcentre, I thought - hopefully I won't be here in three months but it's not worked out that way."

Caird and her mother have had to make some painful decisions to save money, cutting back on food, heating and new clothes. She has been getting by thanks to savings from her educational maintenance allowance, which the coalition abolished in 2010, and donations from well-wishers after her father passed away.

"Without the savings, we'd be a bit screwed," she says. "We've probably only been able to avoid that through the help of friends and family. Most people don't have that luxury. There was even a point where I thought I was going to have to drop out of uni to support my mum. Luckily that didn't have to happen thanks to family friends."

In her job search, Caird has the boost of being potentially worth £2,200 to an employer who'd take her on full time as she qualifies for the government's wage incentive scheme, which is meant to get young people into work.

Despite this extra help, Caird is finding herself forced to consider giving up hope on stable employment and go freelance, potentially aiming for marketing work linked to the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

"It's at the point now where i'm looking into going freelance and self-employed. I'm giving up on the idea of regular wages and looking for people just to give me short jobs."

Perversely, her own initiatives to try and find work - for example, by fixing a marketing internship for herself - didn't go down well with staff at her local jobcentre. "They weren't really too happy with me setting it up as they worried that it'd interfere with my job search."

Caird was even warned that any travel expenses offered by the internship would see her losing that amount in jobseekers' allowance.

Other positions that she applied for ended up turning out to be scams. Caird's experience isn't unique - the Department for Work and Pensions recently admitted that over a third of a million jobs on the government's universal job match could potentially be bogus

Osborne confirmed last December that he would scrap national insurance payments for employers who take on people under the age of 21, but such a move would be of little help to the 21-year old Caird. She wants the chancellor to be more active in helping young people into work, offering the simple message: "Invest more money in creating jobs, invest more money where it's actually needed."

THE UNDEREMPLOYED WORKER

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Other young people have been luckier than Caird and secured work, but with it lasting only a few months at best, they're constantly having to look out for where their next pay cheque will come from.

Inara Khan, a 25-year old law graduate from Kings' College London, has abandoned her hope of entering the legal profession and is now working on a WW1 commemoration project. However, the two-month contract means she is still nervous.

"It's so difficult to live not knowing whether I will have money to pay for living after the end of this month and I'm worried that there might not be immediate jobs for the skills I have developed."

Khan previously told HuffPostUK in September about how she had applied for over 50 legal jobs. Now with a touch of gallows humour, she admits: "I had to give up on that dream, if only for my mental state of being!"

"I'm competing backlogs of more and more undergraduates who have the benefit of being able to attend university job fairs and make use of things like careers services."

Khan exhausted her savings looking for jobs in London and had to move back with her family in Manchester to continue the search. "I had a rather hairy few months there. You are constantly bombarded by job openings only in London and when are you are removed from the capital, it is harder."

During that period, Khan commuted to London and slept on friends' couches for job interviews. "It's very difficult to work out a living situation."

“It did feel quite dejecting to think that I’ve had my degree, I’ve had my masters, and my GDL, and to sustain myself, I had to do that."

She had a three-month stint working in October for a Qatari production company, but this again found her in the same position of having to start the job search again for the next step.

Khan, however, helps boost the employment figures as, from the point of view of the authorities, she is counted as being in work - even if it is only for a few months, after which she has to leapfrog in and out of employment again.

Her experience is shared by many of her peers. "Most people have ended up working in industries they have little or no interest in, and isn't at all related to their academic pursuits or work experience. Others are on an endless run of internships, some paid and some unpaid."

"If you've invested £30,000-plus in your education you don't want to be forced into a job that's paying minimum way just so the government can say unemployment figures are down. You want to be on the career ladder and there's little to no provision for that."

Khan suggests that the chancellor should offer financial incentives for employers who invest in graduates. "Apprentices are all well and good, but they don't help people in my situation."

THE MANUFACTURER

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David Waterman, who runs a cardboard box manufacturers in London, has little faith in the chancellor's message that the UK's economy would soar on the back of the "march of the makers".

Waterman, whose family have run the East End firm since 1897, fears that times are so tough that he may have to move his business out of London in order to keep things going.

"Cash flow appears to becoming much tighter. It's been really tough over the last few years... London isn't a place for manufacturers," he says.

"The general core of manufacturing is actually being decimated," he adds. Waterman used to be in the East End in the 80s when manufacturing was a "powerhouse", but now he notes grimly: 'There's just one shoe manufacturer left."

Waterman blames the heavy burden of business rates, a property tax hitting companies with physical premises, for placing so much strain on his firm and for driving many other manufacturers elsewhere. His firm, which employs 15 people, is just managing to stay profitable.

"There needs to be a balanced approach to the way rates are applied comparing factory premises with other commercial uses in our area.

"It is not about winging bosses crying over high rates, it is about keeping local jobs where they are needed offering a cross section of low and high skill job opportunities."

The financial pressure has limited Waterman's ability to invest in growing the business and he has had to cut costs. "Every year it has been getting harder," he says.

Waterman has managed to avoid having to let any of his staff go, but he has been working much harder to keep the business going. "Have I had to burn the midnight oil? Sadly yes," he says.

"There appears to be this agenda where large clunky manufacturing is not going to be possible in London, it's just unaffordable" Waterman says, urging the chancellor needs to sort out the "completely indiscriminate" rates in order to help firms thrive.

THE SMALL BUSINESSMAN

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Other business owners, like Julian Hurst, who runs a flooring and carpets company in Finchley, North London, have been left exasperated by the banks after their slowness to lend him money stopped him taking on a project to refurbish a nursing home that was potentially worth over £600,000.

Hurst was told he would need to pay to £5,000 to make an application and shoulder a second charge on his house as part of a six-week process, even though he had to get it sorted within 3 weeks in order to secure the deal. "That project went out of the window," he sighs, "they've got a long, long way to go before I can trust them with anything frankly".

The chancellor and his fellow ministers' insistence that the government is on the side of small firms and that the economic recovery is taking hold brings little cheer. Nor is their claim to have reformed the banking system since coming to office in 2010.

"They always say this and we always get disappointed at the end of the day. In the run up to either elections or budgets, they always contradict or renege on the promises they made in their manifestos or generally. Politicians like Osborne need to work hard to win back our trust and stick to their promises.

"I'm working exceedingly hard to hold things together for myself, my family and my employees. They keep on saying that the economy has been on the up and is turning a corner, but I don’t see this. I don’t know where they’re getting their figures from."

Tough trading over recent years has forced Hurst to make painful decisions to keep the business going by cutting the number of hours staff have been able to work in order to trim the wage bill. "I'm having to work three times as hard to make sure we get through." Fortunately, he has so far not had to let anyone go and the business is still moving forward.

Osborne warned on Sunday that businesses "don't export enough" and wants a Budget that "ensures that around the world, wherever you are, you can't help but see 'Made in Britain'". However, Hurst hasn't felt tempted to get into deals abroad as there are "too many hoops to jump through".

How could the chancellor help firms like his? Hurst wants VAT to be cut, which Osborne hiked to 20% in 2010 (in a move that has cost the average family £1,350 in extra tax).

The flooring boss also wants the chancellor to make business rates "proportional" as small firms like his are hit far harder than a supermarket giant would have to pay for an individual chain.

But he isn't only concerned about the fate of his business. "The poorest people need the greatest support," he adds, "[because] they are the people that are being put under the thumbscrews."

As Osborne stands up at the despatch box, to defend his austerity policies and lavish praise on the economic recovery, thousands of other Watermans, Hursts, Cairds and Khans will be watching to see if, and how, he can help them.

"I'm not left with a lot of faith in him," confesses the 21-year old Caird. "Not unless there's a total change of human being on the day."

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