Targets set by ministers for agencies trying to get Scotland’s long-term unemployed off benefits are making the problem worse, not better.
That is the finding of a highly-critical report, carried out on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by the Training and Employment Research Unit at Glasgow University.
The report’s authors said that the targets being set ensure large numbers of unemployed people join temporary schemes – but very few people actually end up in permanent jobs.
The Scottish Executive, responded to the research, saying: ‘Our economic strategy, “A Smart Successful Scotland’’, directs the enterprise networks to work with other agencies to ensure that everything that can be done is done to help people into employment.’
The Scottish Executive said it intended to help 30,000 unemployed people in Glasgow find work by 2010.
Around 109,000 Glaswegians – 28 per cent of the city’s workforce – are unemployed.
But many do not feature in the government’s official figures of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance.
Professor Alan McGregor, who headed the Glasgow University research team, warned that too much funding was going to agencies ‘just on the basis of the number of people they have inside the organisation.’
The Glasgow University study says there are no proper records to establish if the temporary ‘training’ programmes the unemployed are pushed onto actually lead to real jobs.
The study found that after decades of industrial decline and factory closures in Scotland there are no longer the permanent jobs available.
Its authors were reduced to pleading with the government to give more funding to those agencies moving people ‘not necessarily into work in the first instance, but towards the labour market.’
The vice-chairman of Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, the Reverend John Matthews, was reported to say: ‘There are outputs and outcomes and targets and people just follow those targets.
‘When you target like that, it turns people round to meet the target.
‘You almost forget what the object of the exercise is, which is to get people into sustainable employment.
‘What happens to them after we’ve finished with them?
‘What happens to the person that goes on the training programme or the New Deal, or the modern apprenticeship and so on?
‘Do they actually get into jobs?’
The Glasgow University study says that people in Scotland who were young and unemployed in the 1990s are still struggling to find work today.
The researchers pinpointed the worst affected as those who were out of work for more than a year after leaving school.
In the 1990s the last vestiges of heavy industry in Scotland disappeared with the closure of places like the Ravenscraig steelworks near Motherwell.
The study said many school leavers in the last decade had become ‘trapped in a series of casual short-term jobs’.
And they said the trend was towards more casual work, rather than stable employment.
The researchers interviewed young men they first contacted in 1996 as part of their study of unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds.
One man, Dale, now aged 27, said: ‘I had just done two years of a college course and wanted to do something useful, but you are sitting in the house.
‘All you’re doing is writing to job adverts and you’re getting a small forest of “thank you, but we will keep your letter under review blah, blah, blah” letters.’
Young men who found themselves out of work for more than a year after they left school in the nineties said they were still struggling to find steady, long-term employment more than five years later.
Despite the government’s ‘New Deal for Youth’ and falling levels of official unemployment claimants, many had found themselves trapped in a series of short-term, cheap labour jobs.
Most of the unemployed youth the Glasgow University researchers had first interviewed in 1996 had left school with few qualifications and spent time on Youth Training Schemes – mostly for an occupation that held little interest for them.
Since then, they had experienced long-term unemployment, typically followed by a wide range of low-skilled/unskilled jobs and further periods without work.
The opportunities available tended to be temporary, with few opportunities for further training, they said.
Redundancy was usually the result of changes in their employer’s demand for labour rather than any dissatisfaction with their work.
Yet, in spite of having spent extensive periods out of work, most of the 32 men interviewed remained committed to finding employment.
This was apparent in their willingness to go on accepting temporary jobs, even when the financial benefits of leaving the unemployment register were negligible and the work involved unsocial hours, inconvenient journeys or poor working conditions.
The research also highlighted the importance of family and friends in surviving unemployment and finding work.
The minority of young men who had established fairly secure careers not only tended to have stronger qualifications, but also came from families that had been able to help them financially or with contacts among potential employers.
Fred Cartmel, co-author of the report with Professor Furlong, said: ‘The family was crucial to these young men’s experiences of unemployment and to the prevention of social exclusion.
‘The support and encouragement they received from other family members helped to prevent despondency and keep them actively looking for work.
‘However, the parents of many of the young men we spoke to were relatively unskilled themselves and, therefore, poorly placed to help their sons to move into more secure sectors of the labour market.’
Professor Furlong added: ‘Although most of the young men had experienced long and frequent periods without work, their main problem was not finding jobs, but keeping them.
‘Their job insecurity was not a consequence of negative attitudes to work or even lack of skills so much as the temporary or “flexible’’ nature of much low-skilled work available in modern Britain.
‘These jobs rarely provided training beyond the immediate demands of the tasks to be performed, making it even harder to break free of the vicious cycle of short-term work followed by unemployment.
‘The message for government is that the trend towards more casual employment may need to be thrown into reverse before disadvantaged young people can escape from the trap in which they currently find themselves.
•‘Vulnerable young men in fragile labour markets: Employment, unemployment and the search for long-term security’ by Andy Furlong and Fred Cartmel is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and available from York Publishing Services, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ (01904 430033), price £11.95 plus £2 p&p.