The controversial Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street has its detractors, and rightly so. It feeds into the stereotypes many people have about benefits claimants and misrepresents true conditions. However, in the third episode of the series it showed young father Mark reluctantly going to a work readiness club held at the local church. Albeit briefly, it gave a small glimpse into how those who have had very few jobs or have been long-term unemployed might feel.
Mark’s behaviour seemed indicative of many people in his situation: low self-esteem, a fear of being different to those in his community, assumptions that there were no jobs and that he would be instantly rejected, and a near inability to think of any life-achievements to put down on a CV. His frustration is evident when a volunteer, looking for work himself, tries to push him to consider his skills. And Mark, though he has plenty of pressures, is not homeless, at least.
So, imagine the bigger picture for a moment: the challenges that face even confident job-seekers, people who completed secondary or even higher education. Then take into account how difficult it must be for someone who has had little or no experience of work to jump through all the hoops required for securing a job these days: searching for vacancies, writing a cover letter and CV, filling out applications, passing tests, interviews and assessment days. Furthermore, think about trying to find work while having no fixed abode or living in temporary accommodation.
It’s for that reason that Mustard Tree runs our Ready for Work Club. Founded in September 2011 and run in partnership with Business in the Community, this weekly club teaches current volunteers skills ranging from good interview techniques and CV writing to basic IT skills and online application help. It brings together job-hunters so they can build contacts and share experiences. Mustard Tree and BITC staff, as well as our dedicated skills mentors, aim to improve our clients’ employability in an environment that helps to foster feelings of self-worth. It also helps to prevent job-seeking from becoming the isolating experience it can frequently feel like.
We also realise that just improving someone’s ability to look for and secure a job is only part of the challenge. That’s why we also run plenty of schemes that are designed to encourage a sense of community and help people to develop more than just work skills. Whether it’s our Electronic Music Production Course or our art workshops, our clients have opportunities to be creative and discover unrealised potential.
As John Studzinski, former chairman of Business Action on Homelessness, says about homeless people dropping out of work after six months. “They had a job, they were reasonably integrated into their working environment, but they were living alone in bedsits, which they found as socially disconnected as the earlier environment in shared hostels.”
At Mustard Tree we provide the foundations so that, hopefully, this doesn’t happen. To find out more about how we support the homeless and try to rebuild lives, take a look round our site where, if you feel moved to, you can also make a donation. If you’re a business, perhaps you can donate some time or skills to those looking for work as part of our Corporate Support program?
Written by Jamie Faulkner, FireCask