[Guest post by bagelmouse]
You know those new, unexpected, 2,300 unemployment benefits claimants in August?
I was one of them. I have worked in web content for ten years and have contracted for the last two – except, since the start of May, I have had precisely 19 days' paid employment. I have a mortgage. I have bills. I have a rapidly dwindling savings account. I need every penny I can get. So yes, I started claiming Job Seeker's Allowance.
How did I get into this mess? Allow me to introduce the coalition government. The contracting market is largely fuelled by the public sector, seeing us as often the only way to get work done when restricted by permanent headcounts. (Before you get into a lather about expensive rates of pay, you should also remember that employers don't have to fund benefits, holiday or sick pay with contractors and have the added advantage of not paying long notice periods or redundancy when they want to get rid of us.)
Since the emergency budget and public sector recruitment freeze, the contracting market has fallen off a cliff. I have also been told by a recruiter that the government is shedding all of its existing contractors by the end of September, ahead of the emergency spending review. Private companies, seeing this, are also wary of recruiting anyone at the moment – the MPC isn't wrong when it doubts the ability of the private sector to fill the gap left by the public sector, as Osborne insisted it would.
The result of this is a glut of highly qualified people suddenly turned onto the job market – a job market without many jobs, temporary or permanent. Where, in the past, I could apply for positions with 75% crossover with my experience, now I am being told there's no point since there are three or four other people on the agency's books with the exact job titles and sector experience the employer is looking for. I have a good CV. I have some impressive companies in my employment history. I have had one interview in five months. In the depths of the credit crunch, my longest time out of work was two months. Recruitment agencies tell me they've never experienced anything like this. So when I hear Nick Clegg saying welfare should be an "engine of mobility... rather than a giant cheque written by the State to compensate the poor for their predicament" I fume.
The £80 a week I get – less than a quarter of the money I need to cover my bills, never mind do crazy things like eat – is compensation for a “predicament” caused by him and his government alone. It might not be much but, thanks to the coalition, it's all I have. Before making any more comments about benefits and lifestyle choices, Ministers might want to take a look at some of the wider causes pushing people into welfare before seeking to demonise the entire structure.