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The Reality of Being Young and Unemployed at Christmas

19/12/2013 17:36 GMT | Updated 18/02/2014 10:59 GMT

This time of year is meant to be fun, but the twinkling lights, shiny shop fronts, looped yuletide tunes and nights out can make a hole in your pocket seem enormous. It's a reminder for many that they are out of work and can't afford to have the Christmas on display on the high street.

Phil Taggart told me it was the time of year he used to dread most. Phil's a Radio 1 DJ, co-hosting the station's late night new music show most weeknights and he also presents a BBC Three documentary I directed about being young and unemployed at Christmas: Christmas on Benefits.

Just four years ago, Phil was unemployed, having left university and moved to Belfast, unable to get a job, signing on and struggling to make ends meet.

Not all the experiences he had were miserable - he and his mates managed nights out by being resourceful and creative, blagging their way into events - but Christmas was a struggle.

With around one in five young people currently unemployed in the UK*, and more than 300,000 under 25 year olds claiming Jobseekers' Allowance**, there are plenty of young people who find themselves in a similar position. Phil wanted to meet some of them, and help them find ways of having a good time at Christmas without destroying themselves financially.

JSA claimants under the age of 25 live on just £56.80 a week***, so it wasn't going to be easy.

We went to Bristol, gathered a group of young JSA claimants, and challenged them to put on their own Christmas party for as little money as possible. Most of my own journalism focusses on social affairs, and much of it on the UK welfare state. I rarely make films with happy endings, and the idea of making one in which benefit claimants weren't just the subject, but active participants, was too good to resist.

We ended up with a brilliant but motley crew - each of them unemployed for different reasons, with a different story to tell about what it's like to be young and jobless in Britain today.

Sammie and Shaun are a couple, both aged 20. Sammie was training to be a mechanic but gave it up when she turned 20 because of strict rules about how much you can study while claiming out of work benefits. Shaun hasn't had a job since he left school three and a half years ago.

Some estimates suggest there are around 640,000 young people in the UK in a similar position****. Don is 23 and, until 18 months ago worked in his local fish and chip shop with his mum. They lost their jobs when the shop changed hands, and since then have both struggled to find permanent work. Martin, 24, has just graduated and found himself living back home with mum and dad in a small village just outside Bristol, bored and desperately in need of a low budget social life.

We wanted to show them ways they could enjoy Christmas without breaking the bank, and along the way, help them learn some creative ways to make their money go further. They did everything from 'gleaning' for pumpkins, gathering vegetables which would otherwise go to waste and which became our somewhat alternative Christmas dinner; they attended a 'daytime disco', seeking inspiration for a cheap venue for their own Christmas party; and they learnt about 'upcycling', with Don making his mum a unique necklace as a Christmas present out of stuff lying around the house.

I'd love to say that taking part in the film transformed our jobseekers' lives and they're now in permanent employment but, of course, life doesn't work that way. They had fun. They got a chance to tell their story. We all learnt stuff. The party we had at the end probably wasn't as shiny and glamorous as most Christmas events happening around the country right now, but it was definitely a good one. They will continue to their job search in the new year. You'd have to be Scrooge not to wish each one of them the very best of luck.

Christmas on Benefits is on BBC Three, 9pm Thursday 19 December

FIGURES REFERENCED:

* International Labour Organisation, November 2013, Standard Note: SN/EP/5871 www.parliament.uk/Templates/.../BPPdfDownload.aspx?bp-id=sn05871

** Office for National Statistics, November 2013 https://www.nomisweb.co.uk/reports/lmp/gor/2092957698/report.aspx

*** https://www.gov.uk/jobseekers-allowance/what-youll-get

**** Institute for Public Policy Research, August 2013, http://www.ippr.org/press-releases/111/11127/half-of-all-out-of-work-young-people-have-never-had-a-job