Saturday, 21 July 2012

Young, elected and jobless

The following article, by Cllr Roxanne Ellis - a fantastic young councillor in Gedling, was first published in the LGA First Magazine on 5 July 2012.

It's a thought provoking insight into the challenges facing many people dedicated to serving their community but dealing with the practicalities of doing so in a worsening economy.

My thanks to Roxanne and LGA for allowing reproduction of the article.

Councillor Roxanne Ellis"Would you give up being a councillor to make yourself more available for work?"

I sat in the Jobcentre in shock, unable to believe what the clerk had just said, and mumbled something about resigning from a few committees.

Sounds extreme, doesn't it? However this is a situation many young councillors are facing.

Councillors have the attributes that employers say they want – teamworking, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. However, responses to my call for young councillors to describe their experiences of job-seeking were overwhelmingly negative.

With rocketing unemployment, being in public service is seen as a hindrance. It is obvious after a few interviews that as soon as you mention the word councillor you aren't going to be considered. Common advice is: "Don't tell them until after you've been offered the job."

The LGA claims that "anyone can be a councillor" but when it comes to the young and unemployed this isn't true. The 2010 Councillor Census shows that the average age of councillors is 60 and that young people are under-represented.

No disrespect to our colleagues, but as young people are bearing the brunt of the recession, an unrepresentative local democracy adds to their disillusionment and disenfranchisement.

Most councillors receive their allowance on top of any other earnings. Unemployed councillors have it deducted from their benefits and are considered not to be available for work when doing their council duties. Unless you have someone willing to support you financially, it is virtually impossible to survive as an unemployed councillor.

I'm still looking for work but I don't know whether to stand for a second term. Not because I don't enjoy being a councillor, I really do, but because I can't afford to. At 24 I may be putting my future career prospects at risk by wanting to serve my community.

Acting on the advice of the LGA, I put in a complaint about being asked if I would be willing to give up being a councillor. A month later and I am still waiting for a reply.

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