By Victoria STERMAN, Chief Executive of Resource.

Victoria Sterman

Victoria Sterman

JAMES WAS made redundant five months ago. After nine years it happened suddenly and with- out warning; the first time in 15 years he’d been out of work.

It was a bitter blow.

At the end of December, the government announced the latest jobless figures covering the three months to October. Unemployment had dropped dramatically by 99,000 to 2.39 million, or 7.4 percent of the population.

For the first time ever, more than 30m of us were now in work. But for James and others in a similar situation, those uplifting statistics are of little comfort and tell only one part of the story. Behind them often lies real hardship and heartache, something perhaps we tend not to give much thought to – until it happens to us, to a family member or a friend.

James, a financial analyst and father of a seven- year-old girl and a four-year-old boy, is worried about how he’ll pay his mortgage, feed his family, manage the household bills …as well as find a new job.

Redundancy was a huge shock and he’s struggling to cope with his new, reduced, circumstances. Like many clients we meet at Resource, James couldn’t bring himself to mention his employment loss to family and friends. It was his job to provide for his wife and children, and he felt a deep sense of shame and embarrassment that somehow he had let them down.

As a community we like to kvell about our success in business. Conversely, there is a tendency to hide what we think will be perceived as ‘failures’. Many in James’ situation feel a loss of status within their social circle. It is often a severe blow to their self-confidence – which, in turn can affect their ability to face up to their situation and take the steps necessary to deal with it.

James came to Resource after weeks of applying for dozens of jobs and writing to every relevant company he could think of or find online.

Resource is a Finchley-based outplacement charity that provides advice and support, completely free, to unemployed Jewish people looking to get back into their chosen job or profession – or to move into something new.

Contrary to the general fall in unemployment, we continue to see an increase in client numbers – 50 percent more in the last quarter of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. James is one person who we’ve helped pick up the pieces of his life, helping to re-build his confidence, offering guidance and mentoring towards achieving re-employment and finding job opportunities through our networking department. Last month, he began work at a major accountancy firm.

Resource has provided this kind of expertise and practical help to the Jewish community for more than 20 years, all of it at no cost to clients. Time and again clients tell us it’s only because they were able to call on us for our advice and range of training programmes that they’ve been able to pick themselves up and steer themselves back into the workplace.

Many had begun to despair of finding work again and, consequently, depression is a common problem for our clients. So it begs the question: why doesn’t the government, through its back-to-work programmes and unemployment agencies provide similar advice and training support? The support and advice Resource provides is a microcosm of the needs of the wider community.

We enable people to improve their prospects of new employment and to find it. It means life on the dole can be shorter, and the cost to the country reduced. Yet the Jobcentre Plus service provided by the Government is woefully inadequate at delivering reliable advice and training support. The Centre for Social Justice examined the effectiveness of Jobcentre Plus in July last year and concluded that this country’s unemployed people are being let down badly by the facilities on offer.

Specific criticisms included that meetings between jobseekers and their advisers are often short, and tend to focus primarily on processing benefits rather than delivering employment support. Individuals writing on online forums such as Mumsnet and Netmums endorse these frustrations, revealing that jobseekers often receive confusing advice, speak to bored or disinterested advisors, and sensitive meetings are often held in a fairly public or open setting.

Jobcentre advisors can be ill-equipped to advise those who have professional qualifications. Many described the experience of visiting a Jobcentre as demeaning or demoralising.

For some in the Jewish community, the perceived stigma of going to a Jobcentre and asking for benefits may be too much. It isn’t uncommon for them to re-mortgage their homes, sell their cars, take their children out of private schools and make other sacrifices before succumbing to the shame of “signing on”.

The type of services Resource offers unemployed Jewish people doesn’t exist within the state system, yet it helps get them back into work more quickly and more effectively.