New breed of benefit busters

The government is attempting to revolutionise the benefits system. On Thursday night Channel 4 aired the first of a documentary series that follows people on both sides of the new welfare state. Two of the programmes show A4e helping single mothers in Doncaster and long-term unemployed people in Hull.

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The idea is that the government rewards private sector companies and charities for getting claimants into work.

“At the moment anyone unemployed for more than six months is mandated to attend 30 hour programmes for 13 weeks to update their job skills. For some this is not nearly enough – they need help with literacy, improving their confidence and often tackling serious problems such as alcohol abuse.  For others, they have hit a patch of bad luck and may only need a few hours of direction and encouragement to find a good job.”

Emma Harrison is the chairman of A4e and features in the series – describing the new program as a ‘together thing’ rather than a ‘we are going to do this to you / for you’ thing. The way Emma described her approach really struck a chord with me, echoing that of service design practitioners :

“We want to work alongside people who want our help and together we find a way forward.By absolutely listening to everyone on the front and coming back and telling all the people at the top ( the people who make the big decisions ) what I have heard, what I have smelled, what I have touched, who I have had a chat with…that’s how I do what I do.”

As an avid blogger Emma recently invited her readers to “make a movie about your day – a customers day – something uplifting that will inspire others – something that shows something good happening. Use your phone, a camera – frankly it does not have to be fancy!” I love this idea – connecting with real people living their day to day life. Hopefully, some of the entries will be on their site soon!

Emma also facilitates regular informal meetings with her staff every month; ‘Tea with Emma’. I am excited and inspired my her approach – using her people skills to tackle a social problem.

I believe that nobody should live in poverty and claimants should get help with essentials like food, clothes, electricity and heat. Cash should not be handed out the way it is. No one should be wealthier claiming benefits than out in the workplace. It is clear that our current benefit system isn’t working.

Watch the next episode on Thursday.