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Brandon Lewis MP: Community active - getting the unemployed active in the community to prepare for work

Lewis Brandon 2 Brandon Lewis is MP for Great Yarmouth.
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The Prime Minister was right when he referred to the ‘can’t do’ attitude of some people in this country during his conference speech. This attitude is clear in many parts of the welfare culture – something I am passionate about changing. Headed by Iain Duncan Smith, welfare reform is essential to deliver the key Government message that it will always pay to work and the end is nigh for the benefit culture. No longer will someone be able to look at benefits as a career path. Regardless of those who see it that way being in the vast minority it is unfortunately those who dominate the headlines.

There are those who hold the view that there are plenty of jobs and that people should relocate to find them. However the reality is that we have a sizeable group who are fit to work, want to work but cannot genuinely find work or relocate, at least in the short term. To leave this group with nothing to do is a waste of resource for our economy.  It will have a long term detrimental impact on them personally due to lowering self-esteem and a loss of work ethic and is ultimately depriving our economy of input from potentially very productive people. The longer they are out of work, the harder it will be for them to get back in, regardless of their skill set. This is an area we must be more progressive with. A return on the tax payer investment could be achieved. If someone is fit to work, yet no work is available in the job market, local job centres could be working with local authorities in the spirit of true localism, to help people get involved in community work – a ‘Community Active’ scheme. This would have a number of benefits for the community and the individual.

For the individual it can help raise self-esteem as they will have something to get up for each day. It can be flexible enough to allow them to continue to hunt for full-time paid employment.  The community work is work; as such it is an asset on curriculum vitae and in some cases, where it is required, will help an individual to build a work ethic again. In some cases people may have never worked (in my own constituency we have 3rdgeneration unemployed) or not worked for a substantial period of time. A work ethic is part of the skill set required to get back to work so would be invaluable along with the improved CV and improved self-esteem that comes from doing something productive.

For the community there is the benefit of people doing this type of work being able to take on roles that would otherwise not be done, or not done often enough, due to financial restrictions and priorities in an area. As such some areas could use people with gardening skills or interest, to help plant flower beds or clear waste ground. Some may well be helping to clean streets and yet others could be helping with community website administration or local voluntary groups, among other ideas. The liberal left will no doubt argue that this is unfair. That we should continue to train people and support them into work.  This is a view I do not disagree with, but we have to recognise that people need practical experience in addition to training to keep them motivated. They may argue that this is a form of slave labour and a return to the old style workhouses. This is simply scaremongering of the worst kind, partly because if we are doing all we can to help people back into work and get them training to get back to work then surely actually working would be a potentially vital part of this, for all the reasons set out above? Secondly, how much training can someone undertake? In some areas where we have large number of unemployed we must try something different.

For the community at large there is a bigger return. At a time when we are in difficult financial times, we are essentially all investors looking to get a good return on what we put in. What is our investment? Our taxes fund the benefits system. Our return would be the work output that community work would produce, from the practical clean streets to the savings made from the extra work being done with youth groups on the voluntary side or odd jobs for the elderly, IT support or any number of activities voluntary groups perform.

This is a real win-win. People get experience, training, self-esteem and the community gets a product and a return on the tax payers’ investment and providing significant relief to local authorities and community groups whose resources are under increased demand. It is progressive and profitable for our economy and a scheme I hope the Prime Minister will consider.


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