Dehumanisation and the Job Centre

“Go behind these screens and follow the path to the door to the stairs. Go to the first floor and someone will sign you in there.”

“Hello Mr Walsh. Please take a seat, someone will be with you in a minute.”

I had never been to the Job Centre before, but I had heard many horror stories from people I had worked with, and from the people who worked there. That said, it had started pleasantly enough. The staff were sombre yet amicable, but there was an air of depression that you couldn’t escape.

My appointment was at 11.20am, so I made sure to arrive five minutes early. I sat and waited, surrounded by solemn faces. The constant tapping of keys sounded like something you’d hear in the background of an office-based sitcom. The faces of the staff were all so focussed, so serious.  Monkeys and typewriters kept coming to mind, though I suspect some of the staff members would only recreate the words of Shakespeare if they were trained to, even if their time limit was infinity. The centre is open-plan with no privacy, so I overheard parts of other people’s conversations. A recent graduate seemed to be complaining about the course of action his adviser was recommending: “That’s not good enough. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s good enough. That’s really not good enough.” I heard him say. I’ve no idea what he was complaining about, but I’m inclined to agree with him. Next I overheard two advisers talking:

“That bloke was in his last job 36 years!”

“36 years? He doesn’t look old enough!”

“I know, that’s what I said.”

“What was it, redundancy?”

“Yeah, that and relocating up north.”

Great work on the data protection front there.

Others in the waiting area came and went, approached by a variety of advisers. Some were warm and friendly, some had the demeanour of public school headteachers calling a naughty pupil to detention. Having worked with a variety of work and learning advisers over the past two years, I knew all I could do was hope for something resembling a human being to talk to.

Sadly, twenty-five minutes later, this was not to be the case.

“Mr Walsh? Sorry about the wait.”

“Oh, don’t worry, it can’t be helped. Just to let you know, my girlfriend is ill, so I’m going to leave my phone on. I’m sorry if it goes off but…”

“Fine. Here’s your information the screen. Does it look okay?”

I glance at a screen full of gobbledegook and try to take all the information in. “Err…”

“Is it okay? Good. Now let’s move on to the next screen. Is this correct?” (she points at the screen)

“Err… I think so, let me just look a bit clo…”

“Good. Now what about this screen?”

At this point I gave up. “Yeah, fine.” I said, and at the same time I resigned myself to the fact that this adviser had no interest in me at all. I don’t think I was even a human being to her.

For the next thirty minutes she primarily talked at me, never asking if I understood what she had told me, never stopping to explain anything in plain English, though she would occasionally stop and ask me to check that the information on the screen was correct.

I was given two sheets of A4. One explains the agreement that I have signed up to, and the other is a list of websites that I can use to search for work locally. Gee, thanks for that. I was also given a “work-related activity” diary where I have to record all of my job-seeking activities. Each week I have to undertake three “work-related activities” – this could be asking for more information on a job, or, err… well, that seems to be about it, actually. I also have to apply for one full-time job each week.

When I pointed out that I’m running two businesses, and trying to grow them both, therefore I won’t need the full amount of JSA each week but I need time to grow the businesses, I was told:

“Unless you are a full-time carer or you have dependents, you have to be available and looking for full-time work.”

When I pointed out that I am growing a business, and just need a little support to pay the rent during the weeks when I don’t have any paid work, I was told:

“Unless you are a full-time carer or you have dependents, you have to be available and looking for full-time work.”

When I said that I’d be applying for part-time work so that I could continue to grow my businesses, I was told:

“Unless you are a full-time carer or you have dependents, you have to be available and looking for full-time work.”

When I pointed out that if I am allowed to grow my businesses I will be able to EMPLOY people in the future, I was told:

“Unless you are a full-time carer or you have dependents, you have to be available and looking for full-time work.”

At this point I realised I was talking to a machine, so I searched for the reset button. I couldn’t seem to locate it anywhere on it’s body. It certainly wasn’t in the vacant look on its pale white face. It didn’t appear to be in the diamond ring, or diamond-encrusted watch it was wearing (seriously? HOW insensitive?) but before I had the chance to look any further it appeared to spring back into life.

“This is what we keep your information stored in when you come in for your fortnightly meetings.” she said, holding up a tatty piece of cardboard with a hole in it. I somehow resisted the temptation to scream with excitement. “If you can’t make an appointment, for instance if you’re ill or you have a job interview, let us know on this number. If you just don’t turn up (and don’t let us know) we’ll stop your benefit immediately, as we’ll assume that you no longer need it. Here is the number of the benefits team, if you have any questions about when you’re receive money, call them. We can’t help here, you need to speak to them. They’re the only ones who can help.” Okay! I get the idea…

So I put everything into my bag, pick up my coat and prepare to leave…

…and then the final insult…

“If you need some money immediately, you can call this number for a crisis loan.” She then stopped to think for a second, before cheerfully reminding me: “Oh, but you’ve got savings haven’t you, so you’ll be fine.”


Not even a “goodbye”. She just turned back to her PC and carried on typing.

Monkey at a typewriter.

Addendum 9/2/12: I will be scanning in my form and posting it here each fortnight. Stay posted for fun and games.

Tagged , , , , ,

3 thoughts on “Dehumanisation and the Job Centre

  1. Babi says:

    Guy, unfortunately this not only happens here…. A pity how the system works- (no works)

  2. Jackie chastney says:

    My Husband has had the same problem he was involved in a car crash he was working right up to that time, with some of us from the family, he was sent a letter stating that he won’t get any money after the time when we thought there was going to be some money to pay the bills went to the bank no money in. We were told it would go in but then we get a letter stating we are not getting any money first it was going to be four 4wks because he hadn’t been actively seeking work which he had. Then the next excuse not to pay him again was because he asked for the time to be changed as he would have to wait in the town where they had sent him on a course for 3hours after the course had finished. This time it is till June we have to children to feed. As long as they have their money in the bank they don’t care about anybody else and to keep David Cameron happy. Plus my eldest son has had the same he has signed of but is still looking for work.

    • Guy W says:

      Sorry to hear that, Jackie. This was two years ago but I’m going through it again now. I’ve actually just signed off to take my chances because I’m sick of the system. The more honest you are, the harder they make it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: