Update: This article was first published on the 11th December 2010. Since then the Welsh Assembly Government have responded. Scroll down for their response!
Today I felt was time to actually get around to being a more active member of TheSprout.
I wanted to share my story on my battle with ‘The System.’
I am currently unemployed, a thing which can be highly stigmatized. Now to face this stigma is difficult in itself, without fighting to prosper yourself. I hope to become a social worker. Now for those not familiar with the requirements to be a social worker, you must now have a degree in social work. Now the obvious idea would be to go to college get a relevant qualification and apply for the degree.
Here comes the dilemma.
I am living independently, with bills and rent to pay, as it stands now I am supported by the government with Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). I have attended college once before, but I was made homeless and this caused me to have difficulty to continue studying, although I did attain an A-level in mathematics as I was a swat in high school.
When I was made homeless in January 2009 I was financially supported with Income Support (IS) due to my age and estrangement from family and in full-time education. When I return to college now I will be 19, this means the rules that allowed IS to support me last time are no longer relevant as you had to be under-19. The benefit I have to claim now is JSA because I am not in education right now.
But there is a grey area as the course is 16 hours a week, which is registered as part-time with the job centre if it is work, but the learning agreement would state the course is full time. If I am doing anything as full-time I am no longer entitled to JSA. I have to provide this learning agreement to the Job Centre as I am legally obliged to whilst claiming JSA.
Now if the Job centre decides that they’ll ignore the full-time statement and only look at the hours then I may remain on JSA. JSA requires me to be actively looking for full-time work, even if I am at college, which I am required to provide proof I am looking for it. When offered a job I am also obliged to take it or I would be sanctioned by the benefits agency with them taking financial support away from me.
I can imagine some people will say get a job and do college. The course is called ‘access to social welfare’ and is the equivalent of 3 A-levels in one year not two. It may require only 16 hours class time a week but I am told to match every hour in class with an hour self-study totalling 32 hours. So now add a Job. One that the job centre classes as full-time on top of my 32 week, which is 17 hours. That is 49 hours of work.
I would be no better off financially either; the benefit system allows you to keep the first 5 earned and then take 1 off for every 1 earned. The benefits cover my 70 per week rent also, so in theory I would have to earn 120 a week to pay for my current living expenses of 50 a week for food and utility bills, and then the rent on top. I haven’t even mentioned the cost of council tax.
So is working 49 hours to live on 50-odd really fair? Oh and for those suggesting EMA (Education Maintenance Grant) or ALG (Assembly Learning Grant), I would not be entitled to either as I am too old for EMA at the start of my course and I have a level 3 qualification (my A-level) which means I am not eligible for ALG.
TheSprout got in touch with Leighton Andrews, the Assembly Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning and this was his response:
It was disappointing to read about the challenges you’re facing in getting the job you aspire to.
As we emerge from challenging economic times, we must do everything in our power to protect our fragile economic recovery. Tackling youth unemployment in Wales is a key part of this.
Policy relating to employment issues is not devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government; it is the responsibility of the UK Government through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). There are however a number of programmes that operate in Wales, through the Department for Work and Pensions and its delivery agent, Jobcentre Plus which can help you.
The Assembly Government does fund an all age impartial information, advice and guidance service through Careers Wales. Careers advice and guidance on routes into social work and any possibilities for funding is available through the Careers Advice helpline on 0800 100 900 run by Careers Wales which provides an all age guidance service.
Careers Information, advice and access to the Learning Choices database is also available online at CareersWales.com. If you need further support an Adult Guidance officer can be made available at your local Careers office.
I wish you all the best and hope you achieve your goals.
Leighton Andrews AM Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning