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My JobCentre experience

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job centre queue zimbio

Not as exciting as The Full Monty (from zimbio)

I’ve just listened to a discussion on Radio 5 Live about the JobCentre and unemployment featuring Theresa May MP and Jim Knight MP. Mr. Knight quoted a report from the  Department of Work and Pensions, and said that JobCentre staff had been “heroic” in their efforts during the recession.

Last year, I spent three months on Job Seekers Allowance after completing my BA Hons Journalism course at UCLan. Those three months were the most depressing three months of my adult working life, and signing on is an experience I do not want to repeat for the rest of my life.

Overall, the JobCentre staff I encountered at Bolton were incompetent, lazy, and un-motivated. There are three instances I experienced that highlight the problems.

  1. The Diary

The first time I went to the JobCentre was to sign a few forms and to make sure I was who I said I was. A lady gave me a bundle of paperwork including a diary to be filled in as I applied for jobs, to ensure that I was maintaining my commitment of looking for work. She also said that some jobseekers preferred to keep this diary on their computers, which for the next two weeks I did. When it came to my first sign-in date, a young JobCentre worker, who looked about as happy to be there as I did, asked me if I filled in the diary, and I said that I kept it on my laptop, to which he nodded and continued tapping away on his keyboard. Sign-in complete. Two weeks later, and on my next sign-in date, I signed-on with a different lady, who kindly informed me that I MUST fill in the paper diary regardless of whether I was filling in an online diary or not, and that I would not receive my payments if I did not fill the paper diary in. Nice consistency.

2. Time spent looking for jobs

One of the most frustrating parts of signing on is the length of time spent with “advisors”. I’m not sure if this is a nationwide JobCentre policy, but the advisors regularly swapped desks – jobseekers are told to sign-in at a designated “box” (desk), in my case it was Box F. In my three months there, there were four different advisors I spoke to. Again, there is a lack of consistency. On one occasion, I spent 45 seconds with my advisor. 45 seconds. I didn’t mean to time it, I just happened to glance at my watch at the beginning and end of the “session”, which consisted of:

Advisor: “Have you been looking for work over the past few weeks?”

Me: “Yes”.

Advisor: “Where have you been looking?”

Me: “Hold the Front Page, Guardian Jobs, The Bolton News, Direct.gov”.

Advisor: “Right ok, sign here”.

I wish I was lying about this and that it was an crap comedy sketch by 6th formers. A rip-off of The Full Monty. It’s not.

3. The graduation

The palaver over my graduation was the most infuriating period of the three months. When I first signed on (when I received my “diary”), I was told that my sign-on days would be on Fridays. I told the lady that my graduation day was on Friday July 17 (my 21st birthday coincidentally), and asked if I would be able to change my sign-in date for that one day. Maybe change it to the Thursday or Monday. The lady said that that would be fine, and that I should speak to my advisor the fortnight before my graduation. Which I did. I was then told to call the JobCentre on July 15 to re-arrange my sign-in date. Which I did. I called, and I was told that this was not an acceptable reason for missing a sign-in.

Not allowed to go to my own graduation. You know, that celebration that 18 years of schooling has lead up to? You know, that party at the end of your three years of university that Labour have pushed and promoted and encouraged so many young people to go into over the past decade? Remember Education, Education, Education? So you saddle us with £20,000+ worth of debt, then you tell us that we can’t celebrate our graduation? And going to my own graduation is not a good enough reason for missing a sign-in which I tried my best to re-arrange?

Heroic, Mr. Knight. Heroic indeed.

On July 15, I was alsotold to call the JobCentre on Monday and explain why I had missed my sign-in. I did, and was then told that my claim had been closed and would have to be re-opened. Which meant more bureaucracy, form signing and passport checking. All for my graduation.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending…yet. I’m currently working at Next on a 12-hour per week contract. The JobCentre offers jobseekers who work less than 14-hours-per-week subsidised benefits. But after my experience with the JobCentre, I do not want to deal with those “heroes” ever again.

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Written by bjobbo

February 17, 2010 at 12:26 pm