THE BLOG

Jobseekers are People, Not Just Statistics

05/03/2015 22:43 GMT | Updated 05/05/2015 10:59 BST

Every month, the Government publishes the latest figures on UK un-employment.

In January there was good news.

Dropping by 5.8% in three months, statistics showed that the unemployment rate had fallen to its lowest level for more that six years with less that two million people being described as unemployed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

That means 30.5 million Britons are now in work. That there are 29,700 fewer Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) or Universal Credit claimants than in 2014. That the total claimant figure is down to 867,000. Wages have also gone up by 1.7%. And inflation has fallen by 0.5%.

In February, the good news continued. Each headline and story gave us good, strong, solid facts. Yet few reports, if any, spent long on who the facts referred to. They referred to jobseekers, gave definitions of 'unemployment', made predictions about how economic trends might continue for 2015. Giving us these insights is interesting and important, especially to politicians. But there seemed to be something crucial missing: the people.

Unemployment as defined as a claimant of JSA also means more than simply being 'out of work', but also 'actively looking for work and available to start work within a fortnight.'

I believe that now the economy is back on track and the statistics consistently tell a positive story, perhaps it is time to remember that people are people, and to really think about what is holding back those who remain unemployed and what we all can do to help them.

Everyday, in our delivery of the government's Work Programme, I meet people who have complex barriers to employment. Far from the media image of claimants as scroungers, these people want to work, but are struggling to overcome issues such as low self-esteem, depression, learning difficulties, physical illness, lack of education or skills, responsibilities as a carer or having dependents that mean they need more flexible work opportunities.

Take one of our customer's Louise as an example. Louise has been tormented by depression throughout her childhood, even though she was an A* student at school. In her twenties it became acute and left her feeling like she was in 'limbo', unable to work, unable to even visit crowded spaces like the town centre. Depression is an illness which 40% of the unemployed people I work with suffer from.

Another example is Robert. Despite securing and regularly attending interviews, Robert's severe and very apparent learning difficulties held him back from securing a job. Nearly a million adults in England have a learning disability.

And then there's Chris, whose criminal record and fifteen year gap in his CV meant there was little to no response to his applications. With a son and a dependent mother, he needed to turn his life around. Sadly, 75% of ex-offenders have no job to go to upon their release.

Overcoming these kind of barriers doesn't happen overnight. The people we work with, need support, training and in many cases specialized help to find jobs that will work for them. We can't look at our customers as mere statistics, but as complicated individuals who need to be understood and supported in a holistic way.

Each statistic represents a hard won personal triumph. The overcoming of barriers and the end of an often long and difficult process.

Louise, now 33, is launching her own business, believing that self-employment offers autonomy and allows her to manage her health issues alongside practical work.

Robert is now coming off benefits after a work placement gave him the opportunity to prove himself and led to an offer of permanent employment. His tenacity in the face of rejection has proven to all of us, to himself, his family and to employers that if you want something in life, you can achieve it.

Chris, who desperately needed that second chance went through both the Blue Sky Development and Regeneration Programmes to find one. He is now in full time work delivering a council service.

All three are now looking forward to a successful future.

Over focusing on the numbers and not the people, trivializes the real challenges of unemployment and the help those who have been without a job for a long period of time really need to prepare for and get back to work.

So, next month, when the employment stats are published let's think about the individuals, not the numbers.