"We'll stop your benefits if you don't turn up, but we're not telling you where it is you have to turn up to."
A friend of my Mum’s was on JSA a while ago when she received a letter from them telling her to go to one of their employ-ability courses. The letter said that, if she didn’t turn up, her benefits would be stopped. Unfortunately, they hadn’t thought it important to include the venue on the letter. As people on benefits are well known for being people in comfortable houses with well topped up phones, I expect the job centre also thought that rather than leave any contact details on the letter, it would be more fun for her to ring various phones numbers until she could track down the sender. Presumably they had also missed the English class about letter writing as there were no contact details in the top right hand corner either. After ringing seven different numbers, she was eventually able to speak to someone who could tell her where this course was to be held. By now she was quite used to them threatening to stop her benefits, as they had previously told her to turn up to two separate meetings, both on the same day, at the same time and in different places, and both of which would result in her losing her benefits if she didn’t turn up. Fortunately though, the joke is on them because, while she is on their system to help her find work, her husband is in full time employment which means that, in fact, she doesn’t actually receive any benefits from them anyway. And they think we’re stupid!
I was once told off by the job centre for getting work experience. I admit; this one was partly my fault. When I told my case worker at the job centre that I would be volunteering, he did say I should ring them on the day that I’d usually sign on. Unfortunately, surrounded by 50 screaming young people, a food fight and a game of dodge ball, I forgot. I admit; my mistake. And if my money had been stopped for this reason I would have accepted it. But that was not the reason.
When I rang the next day, the employee I’d originally spoken to was unavailable. The woman I spoke to said I should never have missed my signing on day, whether or not I had rung in, and that I needed to come to the office as soon as possible. She asked in disbelief whether I was really working from nine till five every day, with a tone that suggested that an unemployed person couldn’t possibly be working hard. When I replied that I was in fact working from 8am until 10pm she sighed and said that I would not be able to have any money for that week or the next one.
I was lucky. I was still living with my parents so I could still access electricity, hot water and food with or without the money. In fact I was extra lucky because when I went back the next week and spoke to my case worker, he told me I could have my money after all. I was grateful that this woman, whoever she was, was not my case worker. But what about her clients, who have to choose between getting enough voluntary experience to become employable and feeding their children that week? It’s so difficult to find jobs as it is, but without getting any experience it must be nearly impossible. So the job centre are telling people not to volunteer so they are free to sign on? Really job centre? And they think we’re stupid!
I already had a job. The problem was it wasn’t going to start for another few weeks. That meant that in order to claim JSA I had to continue to apply for jobs. So I spent my time emailing employers and explaining that I was only available for two weeks but would still be interested in a job if they would like to employ me. Of course, none of them did, but I didn’t mind going through this box ticking exercise if it kept everyone happy.
I had a holiday booked. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: why did I need benefits if I could afford a holiday? Well, it had been paid for months earlier when I wasn’t on benefits and anyway it was just camping; nothing fancy. So it was all arranged. I was very honest with the Job Centre. I wasn’t going to be away for a signing on day so I could have got away without telling them at all, but I like being honest. Anyway, their policy is that you can have holidays as long as they are within the UK so I didn’t think it would be a problem.
The issue arose when I mentioned on my form that they wouldn’t be able to contact me. They say they want to be able to contact you in case they find you a job. I have never met anyone who can tell me that the job centre have ever rung them to say they’ve found them a job. In fact, this particular job centre had admitted to me that they can’t find people jobs. But anyway, they wanted to be able to contact me. I explained that I couldn’t charge my phone because there wouldn’t be any electricity, but they were welcome to try and call me, if they liked.
“Well don’t be silly dear” the woman replied “What if you want to make a cup of tea?” I decided that “I don’t like tea” wasn’t an appropriate response so I explained to her about the invention of the camping cooker. She attempted to disprove my crazy idea that people could live without electricity with a few more points like this. Then she frowned for a moment and then looked triumphant: surely this time, she had got me! She fixed me with a condescending stare, sighed and said “Well there must be electricity, otherwise, how will anyone straighten their hair?”
Perhaps it is a way of cleaning up their statistics, or perhaps it really is the best they can do, but the government like to put unemployed people on various “courses”. At best they learn interview skills, team work and about their learning style and at worst they learn how to bake cakes, play card games and put up a tent. While interview skills are obviously very useful, I wonder how much help they are when all the other candidates have been on the same course. I also wonder what employers do with thirty sets of identical interview responses. Perhaps they work out who is best at making cakes.
My friend was part way through an employability course like this when she was offered a job interview. Her course was going to take place from 12.30-4pm and her interview was at 2pm, about an hour’s bus ride away. When she explained to the job centre that, for this reason, it would be difficult for her to make the course at 12.30, they said, “Well then come to the course at 1pm.” After patiently explaining to them that 1pm is in fact still before 2pm and that she therefore still couldn’t make the course, they concluded that the best thing for her to do was to miss the job interview. And of course, if you refuse to do what they say you will lose at least one week’s worth of money and have no means of buying food for the next week. And even if this wasn’t the case, is this the best advice they can give? Really? Miss your job interview to go to an employ-ability course? And they think we’re stupid!
I am a creative writing graduate living in Devon. I love writing either to express myself or to make people think.I have a lot of friends who are unemployed and was on JSA for a time myself. I think the treatment of clients at the job centre is so appalling that sometimes you have to go home and cry, take a deep breath and write about it in a way that will make people laugh. So I started this page. I hope to change people's attitudes about people on benefits but if I can't do that then I at least hope you'll laugh with me.Apart from this page, I usually write poems and prose poetry and I've recently started blogging. I'm happiest when I'm by the sea, getting on a plane, or at McDonalds with my best friend. As well as writing I'm passionate about dance, friendship and above all Jesus. One of the things I'm most grateful for in life is my wonderful Godson. I want to see the world and when I do I will write about it the way I see it. Thank you for visiting my site. I hope you enjoyed it.