For the last three months The Young Foundation has been working with Mind to develop a programme targeting the mental health of older men who are out of work. Our goal was to work with them to discover the best ways to help build their resilience and reduce their risk of mental problems.
As part of this work we have been talking to men about their experiences in trying to find work, and how being unemployed affects their life and wellbeing. Our report, ‘Who is going to employ me?’ shares the stories and experiences of men in Darlington, Hackney, Merthyr Tydfil, Newham and York, as well as making practical recommendations about designing resilience interventions.
We want to introduce you to some of the men we met along the way. These profiles are composite portraits based around the men who shared their lives and opinions with us. The sentiments shared in quotes are direct quotations from real individuals.
“At first you are optimistic, you try to up-skill, and apply for loads of jobs, then comes the depression. You’ve done it all, know it all, and nothing has happened. Thirteen weeks in, the job centre phones you up and puts you on a course, then another course. Finally comes the aggression: you get worked up. You have the skills! But nothing is happening.”
Herbert Wilson is 58 and lives in Homerton, Hackney. Although originally from Trinidad, Herbert has been living in Hackney for 15 years. He’s a multi-skilled builder but he has been out of work for over 18 months. He thought this was a ‘career for life’ but since the economic downturn he has struggled to get work in the construction industry.
“[When you lose your job] it’s a smack in the teeth. I mean when you’ve been in a job for long…”
He has managed to find the odd job here and there (he worked for a few weeks during the Olympics) but nothing has lasted more than a few weeks. Initially he was hopeful that he would be able to find secure work through the job centre, however as time passes he has become more sceptical.
Herbert’s personal relationships are also suffering as a result of his circumstances. His wife has moved out and he rarely gets to see his baby son anymore. When he was first laid off, his friends were often around. However in recent months he’s been drinking quite heavily and he’s been seeing much less of them: “people were trying to talk to me and I weren’t listening you know I was doing my own thing.” He has made a New Year’s resolution to try and stop drinking and focus on looking for a job, but he is finding it difficult and doesn’t feel the job centre is helping.
“In the past you would go to the job centre, pick a card, and they would ring for you and an interview was arranged immediately. It was personal. Now it’s all on the screen, there’s no feedback.”
He is now having real trouble making ends meet and his bills are piling up. He now calls it the Brown Envelope Syndrome, when an envelope arrives to tell him his Job Seeker’s Allowance has been frozen because he has not been applying for enough jobs:
“They question why you only applied for 9 jobs this week, not 10!”
He was sanctioned for 13 weeks in the past, and describes it as one of the worst periods of his life. Herbert now feels that he is being punished for not being in work and this makes him frustrated and annoyed. He has worked hard all his life and really wants to work, it’s just that he can’t find anything permanent.
“You feel as though you are being victimised for not having a job. The system is designed to break the human spirit.”
To find out more about the challenges faced by men like Herbert and how we can support their resilience and wellbeing, read our report “Who is going to me employ me?”