Benefits and Benefits.

A few months ago the UK Conservative Party minister, Iain Duncan Smith echoed the calls of Lord Tebbit by suggesting the unemployed should ‘get on a bus’ to look for work. The response to his calls unsurprisingly echoed the response to Lord Tebbits calls several decades ago, generally the echoes resonating with derision. However should IDS have rephrased his call by referencing volunteering rather than public transport? Whilst helping others may seem undesirable when no-one seems to be helping you – it is well recognised that volunteering is an excellent means to enhance employability. Aside from filling gaps on your CV, volunteering can also help someone to re-enter the job-market in other, less-obvious ways.

In an appropriate volunteering position you can maintain your job skills and, through exposure to unusual working environments, actually improve and expand your skills portfolio. Furthermore, helping out and socialising with a new group of people can act as a kind of ‘reset’ button, providing a refreshing environment away from the endless procession of searching, applying and disappointment that surrounds unemployment. Working on different jobs, with new people and in a new place can be inspirational, especially when its towards a common goal . All of this is important in creating and cultivating both a positive social attitude and self-confidence – both of which are vital attributes for successfully re-entering the job market.

One area that needs to be addressed is the confusion surrounding volunteering and accessing benefits; does it affect benefits claims? How much volunteering can you do? Can you still claim expenses? The Community Links Organisation has provided a helpful paper explaining the position in the UK .The Voluntary Skills Organisation has also published a short paper on volunteering whilst unemployed. It can be found here.

So, if you do find yourself unemployed, have a think about volunteering. When an interviewer asks what have you been doing since being made unemployed; replying with “I’ve been maintaining and improving my work skills by helping the homeless” sounds a whole lot better than “Ive been maintaining and improving my disgust for humanity by watching Jeremy Kyle”. At the very least you will make new friends, try new things and go to new places; at the very best these will inspire you to try new methods to approach your unemployment from a new angle; the value of the ‘new’ is, in my opinion, invaluable.

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