My relationship with the Job Centre in retrospect

20Oct09

Last Thursday I went to the Job Centre for the very last time. I was pleasantly surprised that I can keep claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance right up to the day before my new job starts. For everything I have said about the Job Centre regime, that’s a pretty decent little perk. After all, it is £50 a week more than one would be getting otherwise! As my mother would say:

“It’s better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick.”

Hmm, yes. But then many things are.

After everything we have gone through together, the Job Centre and me, we’ve had some good times. Getting my travel expenses back for unnecessary appointments regarding my ‘progress’ or ‘return to work seminars’ was definitely a high point as was having to repeat all of my close and personal details after they lost my file putting back my first payment by a week. The letter of apology after the fight with the two harpies who berated me for continuing to write irregardless of the fact I was neither part of an arrangement no would I have received payment was a fun note to read.

The rest of it was a nightmare.

Hoop-jumping and bureaucracy aside, there are still people sitting on those rough, navy sofas near the powered doors who go every week at the same time to collect their benefits and catch up with their buddies who have been going at the same time as them every two weeks for months or even longer.

How I shall miss listening in on the overweight woman, the gigantic teenage lad with hands like saddles, the older lady with the pram, the middle-aged man with long, greasy hair and uniform leather jacket… They are the ensemble cast of Job Centre which airs every fortnight on a Thursday afternoon and I see now that I was only ever going to have a cameo appearance.

Although the crowds are getting smaller, hopefully because all the University and school leavers have found work rather than been defeated by the ogres defending their precious system, one group remains. Stubbornly clinging on to the benefits system like the greasy stains cling to the inside of a china teapot, there are those who quite blatantly do  as much as possible in order to keep from joining the work-a-day majority.

Having gone through this tedious system for a quarter of a year, I have an understanding of the sorts of tests you are put to in order to deserve your allowance. The fortnightly guilt for having no interviews, the interrogation process which makes your story of tedium, rejection and disappointment sound incredible even though every word is the truth, the thankless effort, the little curve balls they throw in here and there, and the boxes you have to tick. Those who have no inclination to work and every intention to keep on receiving benefits certainly bust a gut to ensure that never changes.

Take last Monday, my 13 week review (thank you for my £4 travel expenses, Mr Government, it went towards some bubbly on Wednesday). Luckily for me I had a customer services job lined up before I got my media job offer because otherwise I sensed that I was going to be placed somewhere for minimum wage just to keep the books looking healthy. The man interviewing me had a list of job titles and phone numbers on the desk, ready to hand over with a little nudge of the telephone as if to spoon-feed me work like my efforts thusfar had been misguided and demonstrably unsuccessful as a result of lofty ideas and a haughty attitude.

Similarly, I was not treated like a Jobseeker, more a sponger and job-dodger. Thankfully the recession job-freeze is beginning to thaw, although it will take some time before things return to normal as unemployment is a lagging indicator. From my experience, the Jobcentre were completely unprepared for the flux of educated, disenfranchised young people with skills and ambition. The Jobcentre’s remit is to help and counsel people having difficulties in the job market and I saw very little advice geared towards those who already had the experience, skills and student debt who were merely caught up in this plague.

So I got a lot out of my relationship with the Job Centre, less than I had deducted for tax at my last job which is comforting to know because in theory I paid for myself. It was like a needy, sour relationship one inch away from Jeremy Kyle. Hopefully I won’t ever have to return, I never say never but hopefully.

All I know is that leaving that beige, carpeted office with the desks and the couches and the pictures of frighteningly normal-looking people smiling out of brushed steel frames on the walls, it felt exactly the same as graduating.

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3 Responses to “My relationship with the Job Centre in retrospect”

  1. Woah Rose you are so very beautiful!

    Interesting points but lets be fair, you didn’t have to undertake a 13 week New Deal course so you haven’t really understood the full ins and out of the system. It isn’t only until you become “long term unemployed” (6+ months) where the treatment becomes worse, how Employment Officers try harder to get you kicked off benefits and how certain people randomly have their claims terminated without notice.

  2. 2 bhoywonder

    Having been jobless for almost 7 months now.Recently i felt i had to make an official complaint against a member of staff.Reason for complaint was,the staff member had been verbally abusive towards myself(over the telephone).Complaint seemed to be taken seriously by jobcentre manager.With words of “your not the first to complain about his manner of talking to people ect ect.Now..2 weeks later i have to sign on again.I am made to wait 45 minutes over my appointed time.Only to see my usual jsp advisor has been replaced by the staff member who i had previously made a complaint about.So for 15 minutes of the so called civil servant snarling at me and trying to enrage and create a situation out of SOMETHING/ANYTHING REALY.,Starting by blaiming me for being late.which was comical with a security camera covering every inch of the room.Which i would have used if need be to show my arival time.Anyway.I wished him a good day and went on my way.Quite proud of myself for not biting to his provocation.I honestly dont understand why jsp staff will defend or even help out a fellow worker to get there so called 45 min waiting)revenge on the complainer.It only makes all the good jsp staff look just as bad .

    • 3 mediaimposter

      Mate, I’ve been there and not only is it incredibly frustrating when you return to the JC but the constant one-upmanship and bureaucratic point-scoring is humiliating. You feel helpless because if you don’t behave they can cut you off for a week or so – you’d get paid eventually but they know you live hand-to-mouth. Hang in there, remember, who wants careers advice from a careers adviser?


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