Hayley is a Ghost

My experience with the Job Centre

Posted on: April 8, 2011

I’ve never really written much about the four months during which I was unemployed because there’s never been much to say. Until today that is when this article by The Guardian reports that:

The government has admitted that jobcentre staff around the country have been involved in a drive to kick people off benefits amid pressure to meet welfare targets set by their managers.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) initially dismissed revelations in the Guardian last weekend that Jobcentre Plus employees were tricking vulnerable claimants into losing their welfare entitlements. A whistleblower said staff at his jobcentre were given targets of three people a week to refer for sanctions, where benefits are removed for up to six months.

This doesn’t surprise me. My experience with the Job Centre was always a stressful one, mainly because my application for Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) was processed incorrectly and took weeks and weeks to be corrected. In that time I had no income, which meant no money to pay rent with, which means I’m still in arrears nearly a year later.

I can remember those weeks in which my application was being corrected well, because I spent most of the day every day on the phone trying to get it sorted out and being passed from pillar to post. This was while looking for jobs too, as well as going in to sign on for benefits I wasn’t even getting.

I knew more about my claim and the system through which is had been processed that the people who were meant to be processing it, and every phone call would see me, the claimant, having to explain the same information to different people over and over again.

In this time I applied for around fifty jobs.

Then I finally started to receive the money I was entitled to which meant my family and I could actually afford food (what a luxury).

I then spent week after week applying for dozens and dozens of jobs, which in itself was a tricky task because so many businesses offer jobs that have ‘zero hour contracts’ or are simply less than part-time (four-hour cleaning jobs that I was forced to apply for, despite never having had a cleaning job before. Or 8 hour retail assistant jobs that I was considered “over qualified” for because my training and knowledge lies in retail management and marketing).

Not only that but a lot of vacancies were advertised through agencies that made it impossible to apply properly. One job I applied for in the town I live in would have required me to travel over 30 minutes by train to Bristol to be interviewed. Hardly realistic for someone surviving on JSA…

Then I happened to see a different person one week when I visited my local job centre and she decided that I would qualify for something called ‘Future Jobs Fund’ vacancies. These were exclusive six-month vacancies designed for people who didn’t have work experience and a lot of work history and skills on their CV, who were aged between 16 – 24.

I was 22/23 at the time, but I DID have work experience on my CV (spanning back until the age of 15) and I had lots of skills listed due to vocational courses I have done. However, I was desperate to get a job and knew that if I could get one of these 6-month vacancies I would have a better chance of applying for a permanent job somewhere because when you’re unemployed it seems people wont hire you if they can help it.

So I was given a sheet of local businesses who had these exclusive vacancies and one was at a local theatre whom I got in contact with, applied for the vacancy with, and got the job with. I was employed as a ‘Sales and Publicity Assistant’. I had a job. I was ecstatic. I no longer had to sign on. I no longer had to feel humiliated when I got rejection letters. Woohoo!

It seems though that I was one of the lucky ones because my six-month contract led to a permanent position with the company as their ‘Arts Marketing Officer’. Many of the other people who had temporary jobs from this scheme that I’ve spoken to have had much different experiences and are now back on benefits with no prospects of another job.Of course, they would have had to wait weeks without money while their application for ”Job Seekers Allowance’ was being processed. Back to Square one.

What about the very reason FJF was created though? To give skills to people who didn’t have any to list on their CV? Well, many of their temporary jobs saw people being given titles similar to my ‘Sales & Publicity assistant’ title, but actually just treated like office assistants who would do the crap tasks nobody else in the office wanted to do.

The whole point of the ‘Future Jobs Fund’ vacancies was sold to us as jobs designed to help those without much listed on their CV to get experience and skills they could list – ‘washing up’, ‘filing paperwork’ & ‘photocopying’ aren’t exactly skills that are going to make you stand out against the 50+ other people applying for vacancies.

The general feeling from people who were given temporary jobs by Future Jobs Fund was that companies took part in the scheme to get free labour, and the Job Centres enrolled us on the scheme to get us off their books. The latest news in The Guardian suggests to me that we might have been right all along.

How delightful.

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5 Responses to "My experience with the Job Centre"

I sympathise because I had a very similar experience after I finished my degree and was on JSA for short while. The whole process desperately needs overhauling. My experience was that I came out of the jobcentre feeling depressed and demoralised and not “supported” at all. I felt that I was one of the lucky ones as I had some experience and qualifications on my CV and was fortunate enough to find employment after not so long. I really feel for people who genuinely are looking for work but are having the confidence sucked from them every time they go to sign on. I feel that this process has to be a lot more supportive and a lot less threatening because most long-term unemployed suffer from low confidence and low self-worth. I don’t blame the staff as I found them quite friendly, it was just the way the system is focussed. Great article!

Three people of my acquaintance have had depressingly similar experiences for entirely different reasons.

My dad has been on JSA for around 2yrs. He really wants to work, but nobody wants a computer-illiterate 61yr-old with no qualifications other than membership of the Federation of Plumbers Merchants, diabetes and two gammy legs (requiring dressing by a nurse twice a week) that tend to ooze if he stands up for too long. Nobody has a job for a nice bloke who just wants to chat to folks, potter a bit, perhaps answer the phone, make the tea and who can name a toilet at 300yds from his 30yrs in the bathroom trade. They tried to put him on courses, but he found it difficult to learn when his classroom was filled with ex-offenders and those who really didn’t want to be there, being patronised by instructors who obviously felt the whole thing was a waste of time.

A friend of mine found himself unemployed after getting his PhD. The Job Centre didn’t have a Scooby Doo what to do with him – the vast majority of the kind of employers he was looking for work with were the kind who wouldn’t be seen dead advertising their vacancies through the Job Centre. It ended up with him just turning up to sign on each fortnight, and that’s it. There was nothing they could do to help him.

An acquaintance has been unemployed for a while. The Job Centre did manage to get her a place on a Princes Trust training scheme, but she has falling victim to the sorts of sanctions you describe above. However, she has appealed and won, and is now fighting to get backpaid JSA (I was sympathetic to her plight up till the point she got all angry on Facebook because she needs the back pay to buy festival tickets for this summer – not for rent, or food, or utility bills, but festival tickets – my blood boils). The Job Centre have mucked her about and she recently found out that they’d changed their records to state she was married, even though she isn’t (she did recently move in with her boyfriend). Plus in January she was offered a job, only to find that it somehow got readvertised and given to someone else, while the Job Centre denied all knowledge of it ever having been offered to her.

Of course, with the reassessment and reclassification of hundreds of thousands of incap benefit claimants, already stressed Job Centre operatives are going to find things even worse as they will be inundated with a new flood of unemployables they can’t do anything with…

Well I was on JSA for a while before being switched over to ESA- which is basically disdability allowance. But I always hated the job centre, in fact it contributed to my emotional problems. I would get panic attacks near the building.

I found them either condescending, or flippant and only ever met 2 genuinely human beings there. There is also the other assumption I hate that those of us n benefits are either lazy, or addicts. I get sick of hearing the suggestion that those on JSA or similar should have to do drug tests.

There is a stigma concerning being on benefits and its going to get worse as this government contuinues to take moneyf rom those who need it and ignore vast amount of tax owed by large companies.

I continue my new mantra of “I hate Humanity”.

I don’t live in Britain; I’m Irish, but I have had similar experiences of administrative chaos. Once, in the Bad Old Depression in Ireland back in the Ninties I was on a special program where because of my qualifications I was working in a well-known Arts Centre, but only for the same amount of money as as the standard welfare payment for a single unemployed individual. I was very enthusiastic, and threw myself into the work, often going well outside my hours, and going from basic duties into teaching art classes,designing graphic materials, running Departments etc. The distasteful material came into violent contact with the air-conditioning apparatus though when the full-time, fully paid administrative staff wanted me to source repairs for their damaged computer system (I didn’t have the expertise to do it myself) and then train them in, in the new software. While being on a small social welfare payment – about a quarter of what some of them took home a week – after taxes. I finally decided to stand my ground and point out that this was unfair – and they complained to the local Social Welfare Office. Guess who got in trouble? Me. I was told I was lucky (to work while being on the dole?) and I shouldn’t rock the boat.

Oh, the ignomy.

Not entirely relevent to the tone of this article, but I have recently been writing a drama-comedy TV series about six diverse individuals and their life claiming JobSeekers allowance. Reading the article, and of course the comments, has been great for my research/inspiration. So I would just like to thank you guys. If anyone would like to contribute any humourous/strange/annoying experiences or stories regarding your time on ‘the dole’, it would be very very helpful.

Thank You,
Danny

email: daniel-james-turner@hotmail.co.uk

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Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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