SEEKING work since finishing college has been a continued struggle for 19-year-old Ben McEachern as red tape has forced him to pass up promising training opportunities for fear of losing his Jobseekers Allowance each step of the way, he has claimed.
Ben, of Wroughton, has been receiving unemployment benefits for six months. In order to earn his twice-monthly £114 allowance, the teenager has had to demonstrate each week at sign-on meetings with an advisor that he has been actively applying for jobs.
Through the Job Centre Plus, nearly four months ago he enrolled in a 12-week programme run by the Prince’s Trust to boost his skills.
During his training, he was encouraged to sign up to attend a course at Talent Express in Swindon, at the end of which he would be given a job or apprenticeship, he said.
Later, he says, he was told by by Job Centre Plus that he would forfeit his right to benefits if he signed up to the course.
The 19-year-old gave up his place and instead began volunteering two weeks ago with Street Games, a community sports project in Swindon, and was invited to attend a training day in London this Friday. Yet, as this falls on his weekly sign-on day, when he was due to receive his benefits, he was told he would have to fill in a special holiday form and that his payment would be delayed.
“It seems that when you go and find a course yourself, and do that hard work, they put a block in front of you, and say you will lose your benefits,” said Ben.
“On the Prince’s Trust course, we had a few people come round to discuss things to help us get into work. One of them was Talent Express. When I went to sign on with my advisor at the Job Centre he said if I went ahead with it my money would be stopped.
“I can’t not have any money for 17 weeks, so I had to say no to Talent Express. But I would have had a job or apprenticeship with them or one of their partners at the end of it. The Job Centre didn’t have a problem with me going on the Prince’s Trust course for 12 weeks. I don’t want to be on Jobseekers Allowance, I want to work.”
The youngster, who studied ICT, maths and English at college, said he felt penalised for seeking training and job opportunities outside of the Job Centre’s pool.
“These people say they are there to help but they put barriers up against you,” he said. “It’s like they don’t want you to find a job. I went out and found one and they didn’t help.”
A Job Centre spokesman said: “Jobseeker’s Allowance is available only to help people during a time when they are looking for their next job.
“Under the conditions for claiming JSA we don’t allow for people to go on courses lasting such a long time as they wouldn’t be able to apply for, and accept, any work that may arise during that period. For that reason we wouldn’t refer claimants to such a course.
“An appointment has been arranged for Mr McEachern on the Monday after his voluntary work with Street Games in London.”