Job losses cause PR headache

Unemployment Local authorities set to take responsibility for informing public about out-of-work benefits.

Councils are expected to play a key role in helping the Government communicate to the public in the face of growing unemployment.

With unemployment expected to top two million when figures are released this week, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) PR machine is going into overdrive to handle messaging.

But Ian Mulheirn, director of economic and social policy think-tank Social Market Foundation, said: 'The Government has a difficult line to tread between reassuring the people who have jobs and are not likely to lose them, while not sounding too positive to the rest of the country. It is a very difficult balancing act.

'In terms of communicating benefits, the DWP's resources are very stretched, as they are geared for a time when people were claiming a lot less.'

With the Government potentially ill-prepared to handle growing unemployment, much of the work communicating with the public could fall to local government.

Local Government Association head of news Richard Stokoe added: 'Central government does not have many arms that would deliver, except for DWP. It will always be down to those in a local area - such as councils and the voluntary sector - to help local people.'

However, a spokesman for DWP said: 'Supporting the Government's efforts to provide help for people and businesses affected by the recession is a key priority for DWP comms.

'Our approach has been to complement the service individuals receive from Jobcentre Plus - "helping people to help themselves" - with information, practical advice and signposting.'

The priority of DWP's press office is to raise awareness of the services provided by Jobcentre Plus, highlight sectors where jobs are available, promote a 'flexible and positive approach' to adapting skills, offer advice and provide information on benefits, vacancies and training. It is supported by Blue Rubicon and Fishburn Hedges for campaigns.

The Conservative Party has hit out at the Government's 'PR-driven' Real Help Now strategy.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May said: 'The problem is Labour's whole strategy to tackle the unemployment crisis is PR-driven with policy taking a backseat. Labour is more interested in headline-grabbing initiatives rather than concrete solutions. They talk about offering help yet they closed a job centre every week in 2008. How is that help?'

How I see it

Paul Inglefield, Head of comms, Camden Borough Council

The recession is the single biggest challenge to face councils for decades. Working closely with partners - such as Jobcentre Plus and Citizens Advice - has never been more important. Up-to-date information about how the recession is affecting local communities is vital for shaping messages.

For people losing their jobs the message must be one of reassurance. There is help available about benefits, but more importantly how to pick yourself up and look for new work or retrain. Part of a council's leadership role is to remain optimistic and plan for recovery.

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