On the front line: Iain Duncan Smith & the job hunters

By Norman Smith
Chief political correspondent, BBC Radio 4

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Iain Duncan Smith, pictured here during a by-election visit to the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow, is spearheading a huge welfare shake-up

Iain Duncan Smith describes welfare reform as his "mission". But it is a mission which he is now having to pursue in the teeth of an economic blizzard blowing the other way.

The problem is the lack of jobs for people to take up. A situation only likely to get worse as public sector job cuts begin to bite and more graduates come on to the labour market.

So to find out just how just tough it is to find work, I went with the work and pensions secretary on a visit to the Walthamstow Jobcentre Plus, in north-east London.

What quickly became clear was that the people here were hardly the workshy or unemployable.

Many were skilled workers, with good employment records, decent CVs and little, if any, previous experience of unemployment.

Robert, a carpenter, tells Mr Duncan Smith, that in 25 years he has never known it so difficult to find work, vacancies, he says, are often filled before he has even been able to apply for them.

He is also scathing about the lack of work created locally as a result of the Olympics. (Something Mr Duncan Smith promises to look into).

Diane, who lost her job with a housing association in October, tells us she has applied for more than 20 jobs without success - even though she has worked most of her life.

She is now worried that she and her husband risk losing their home because they can no longer keep up with their mortgage payments.

Mr Duncan Smith listens sympathetically and acknowledges that the lack of work for people like Diane and Robert is a serious concern.

"It's a real issue," he says "that people with skills can't find a job when we say there is a skills shortage out there. We need to create the jobs."

But Mr Duncan Smith is hopeful that with economic recovery, jobs will return. He points out that nationwide there are about half a million vacancies.

The figures at the Walthamstow Jobcentre are nevertheless daunting.

There are around 6,700 claimants registered at the centre, but on average only about 250 vacancies available each day.

The Jobcentre District Manager Graham Houghton believes that in many ways the job market now is tougher than following the recession of the 1980s.

"I think it is tough," he says. "The labour market has changed; the nature of jobs has changed. A lot of people in east London worked in manufacturing and are now having to look at careers in customer service and security. That is a big, tough change."

The problem is - even if economic recovery and welfare reform do in time make it easier to find work - in the short term the future looks extremely hard even for those with good skills and a strong work ethos.

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