This week I dropped in to the job centre to see what support is given to local residents who are looking for a job and also to find out how they were preparing for the change over to Universal Credit in July this year.
The first thing that struck me is how much job centres have changed over the years. Gone are the boards of vacancies replaced with individual appointments with work coaches who are there to help you find a job that matches your skills and capabilities. The centre has free Wi-Fi and computers for those who want support to apply for jobs online. They also provide CV and interview training plus other skills including digital skills. The ethos has changed with the focus on coaching people back to work initially focussed on finding a job then getting a better job and developing a career which may even be at the job centre as one recruit had just experienced.
There have been some concerns about Universal Credit and how people will cope with the change from a multi benefit system to a single monthly payment which is automatically adjusted to take account of earnings through work. The old job seekers allowance discouraged people from working more than 16 hours per week as this could impact other benefits, so the system was very inflexible. With Universal Credit, payments will be automatically calculated through HMRC and the DWP and paid monthly, like a salary top up. In Chichester we cutover to the new system on the 4th July and staff have been on intensive face to face training courses to make sure they are ready. They have also been piloting with a wide range of representative client claims to practice using the system.
One of the concerns about moving to monthly payments is that this can cause cash flow issues if you are used to being paid every two weeks and your outgoings are structured to be paid every two weeks. In this case it is possible to receive an advance to tide you over and allow time to adjust.
There are more than 32 million people employed in the UK, more than at any time since records began. The growth in employment is equivalent to more than 1000 jobs per day since 2010. This is good news and the UK has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developed economies at 4.2% and in Chichester it is only 1.4%. The introduction of Universal Credit should help support people in to jobs and then the low levels of unemployment will ensure those who work hard will be much in demand.