I visited a charity called Community Links towards the end of last year, to find out what it does. I saw two of its various activities.
The first was helping people get back into work. This is done on behalf of the government and the charity is paid for it. But it claims to be more successful than commercial companies at the job. Perhaps it is because its starting point is the desire to be sympathetic and helpful. I talked to two of the advisers who tend to be local and some of whom have been unemployed themselves. The point that came across to me most strongly was that those who they are trying to help – people who are long-term unemployed – have a range of problems that stop them getting work. Some may have drug addictions. Some may have personality problems and be seriously lacking in self-confidence. Some may be poor at interview technique. Some have completely lost the idea of getting somewhere on time, dressed appropriately and having the kind of willing, helpful attitude that is needed in the workplace. Some may have trouble reading or writing. Whatever the problem or combination of problems may be, the charity tries to find a way to help the individual with that problem. It has sessions to be improve interview technique and so on. It seemed to me that the advisers were kind, practical people who were doing a tricky job.
The second place I saw was a school for excluded school children. I met a head who was truly impressive. The school is, by definition, taking some of the most difficult, troubled young people who have a record of causing trouble or playing truant. A key part of the way the school tries to bring them back into the fold is by giving them a lot of individual attention – the family as well as the child. A staff member of the school will visit the parent and child where they live. The child already understands that he or she is in a kind of last-chance saloon. The school is patient, personal and persistent. If there is a child who is not willing to go to school, it will encourage him or her to come just for an hour. And then it will try to build on that. Of course this kind of personal education is expensive. But it is a last-chance for the public as well as for the child. If that child becomes a drugged-up criminal, that will be both unpleasant for the rest of society and much more expensive. The school gets money from local councils but not enough to cover its costs. It also needs charitable support. I came away thinking that this school was an extremely worthwhile cause for anyone who wants to give to a good charity.
One comment of the head was striking. She referred to how people from different postcodes would be enemies with each other. Some children had to travel from a different postcode to get to the school and that could cause problems. She mentioned a time when there was a group outside the school and a child inside from a different postcode and they had to be careful there was not an incident.
How sad it is that people should give their energies to hating people from a different postcode. It is a form of tribalism. A miserable substitute for having genuine, hopeful ambition. Very sad.
One of the themes of those in the charity working on the side of public policy is that some people cheat with regard to benefits by ‘working and claiming’ because they feel they are obliged to in order to make ends meet. For more on this see the Need Not Greed campaign website. Part of the purpose of the proposed Universal Credit is to make working always result in a higher income than being just on benefits. This will not solve all such problems but it should help somewhat.