Any opinions represented within this blog are the authors and do not represent the views of ERSA.

At the start of the 2015 General Election campaign, The Salvation Army is putting those we seek to serve at the heart of our campaign, by giving them a chance to share their story and then ask politicians the questions they think are important. In the six weeks leading up to the 2015 General Election, The Salvation Army will release two videos each week on topics ranging from Homelessness and Debt to Addictions and Families.

The first set of videos features Joe, who was unemployed for a while but now has a secure full-time job. Joe came to us as a Work Programme participant and in his case the programme turned his life around. We offered Joe the opportunity to come up to Westminster and talk to MPs about his experience. His questions focussed on the support available to jobseekers and the use of zero-hour contracts.  The MPs answering his questions were Esther McVey (Minister of State for Employment, Conservative), Rachel Reeves (Shadow Secretary of State for Employment, Labour), and Steve Webb (Minister of State for Pensions, Liberal Democrat). Rachel kindly gave us an early insight into Labour’s plan to ban exploitative zero hours contracts, while Esther and Steve highlighted all that has already been done in this area and their respective plans for the future.

Joe was working in a fast food restaurant when his partner, Maria, unexpectedly fell ill. With Maria too unwell to care for her little daughter Jessica, Joe felt that he had no choice but to temporarily give up his job and care for his young family. When Maria’s situation improved, he started looking for work again but really struggled to make any progress on his own. Joe turned to his local Jobcentre Plus for help, but was disappointed by the support he received. ‘It seemed to me that I was just another face. I felt let down by the system.’

For Joe the turnaround came when he was referred to the Work Programme run by The Salvation Army Employment Plus. ‘At first I didn’t think they were going to be any different,’ he remembers.  ‘But it was the personal, one-to-one support I got from The Salvation Army that made the difference. They sit down and talk to you about what you want and what support you need.’ 

After talking to Joe about his ambitions, we helped him gain his CSCS card and find a job with a local removals company. Unfortunately this was a zero hour contract. ‘I was really grateful for the chance to work,’ says Joe, ‘but the hours could vary from seven days a week to one day every couple of weeks. It was hard to budget because I never knew what my pay would be.’

We knew Joe would need to move on from this job to a more regular position and kept an eye out for suitable opportunities. Over the years we have built up a strong relationship of trust with many local employers.  They respect us for our professional approach and they know the candidates we put forward for jobs are of a good quality. So when we put Joe forward to a local firm called Lighthouse Vending for a job as a driver, they were interested to meet him and see what he could do. Joe was successful at his interview and in August 2014 he started his new full-time job.  The regular hours and pay are just what Joe needed to offer his young family a stable future.

You can watch both videos here . The Salvation Army believes that it is important that civil society organisations help citizens engage with the democratic process. This informative series aims to give people a real insight into what the main political parties think about the things that matter.

Dr Sylvia Tijmstra
Policy Analyst (Unemployment and Benefits), The Salvation Army