Am surfacing briefly today to make the point to Ed Miliband and other Labour greats that quite a few of the young people I meet who claim jobseekers’ allowance ARE in work. The problem these young people have is that they’re in and out of work, because the work they get is very insecure and low-paid. They pay in while they’re working. They just don’t get enough ongoing work to pay in on a regular, ongoing basis. Because that’s our era, Ed. People can train all they like and as hard as they like, but that won’t count for much if the only work on offer is badly paid, or not paid at all. That’s the point to focus on, Ed. That’s the ONLY point to focus on. If Ed is really serious about sorting out youth unemployment and low pay, he might like to support a few boycott workfare protests.
The young people who I’ve spoken to outside jobcentres this year generally report that they land a few months at a job here and a few weeks at a job there, and then the work dries up and they have to sign on until another crap job comes along. Said Ravi 22: “Contract work – it’s not ideal. Once the contract is over and you haven’t got any backup, then yeah, you lose everything that you’ve worked for. You save up and when the contract ends, if you haven’t got another job, everything that you’ve saved up goes onto your bills and stuff like that and you’ve got to start again.”
These people also seem keen on meaningful, paid work and often say things like “I don’t really want to go back to dealing.” Said Gio, 19, below: “I don’t want to be on the streets drug dealing and stuff to earn the money, because I’ve been through that stage.”
Ravi, aged 22. Signs on at Kilburn jobcentre. We met in March. He’d last worked in January. He worked in sectors like retail and banking. He wanted something ongoing, but was struggling to find permanent work. He was trying to sort out a sanction the day that we spoke – he was waiting to go into the jobcentre for a meeting where he hoped things would be worked out.
“I have to come here every week. One week is to just sign on and one week is to speak to an advisor – but it’s not really to speak to an advisor. It’s just to sit in front of them and they are just going to say “there’s nothing to really match your criteria here – retail – so see you next week.” It is a system set up for you to fail. If you don’t turn up for an appointment – because [for example] you have got to come in every morning and they say, well, you didn’t turn up, so you’re suspended.
“They suspended my benefit. Apparently, the reason was that my jobsearch wasn’t correct. Apparently, you can’t hand out CVs any more. They go – “95% of your jobs are online” and they [said to me] “a few of your jobsearches say that you handed out CVs and these places don’t accept CVs. Therefore, you’ve been suspended.”
“I was sanctioned, yeah. I think I still am. I’ve got to come back to talk to someone at 3.15pm and they are going to explain it. It’s a bit difficult. My adviser [that I’m talking to today] – out of all of them, he’s okay. He’s more understanding, unlike the rest of them. I think they’re fed up with their own jobs to be honest. He’s quite good. He’s really understanding. He would actually advise me, unlike the rest of them.
“I asked them – what was the reason for the sanction? I asked them like three times and they kept diverting the conversation. So I honestly didn’t know. [It came about this way]. Basically, I came in on time and it was 9.15am or something, and then one of the advisers looked through the [jobsearch] sheet and he said “come back at 11.15am to the third floor.” So I came back at 11.15am, not knowing what I was coming back for. She said “the reason why you’ve been told to come back is that your jobsearch is incorrect.” I asked her “Why? What’s wrong with it?” and she was like “some dates are missing,” and I was like “it’s all there. Maybe I’ve just made a few mistakes on it.” She actually gave me the chance to do it again in front of her, so I literally done it again in front of her. I spent like 15 or 20 minutes doing it again and I handed to to her and she said “it’s still incorrect” and I said – “I honestly do not know what you want me to do. I’ve done it again.” I don’t like arguing and things like that – some people there really argue and shout – but I’m not like that. I was like,
“Okay, fair enough.” It’s their decision, so I just left them and I’ve been told to come back today to sort it out.
“This is my first time of being sanctioned, so it was pretty confusing. This is my second time at the jobcentre since I’ve been 16. I’ve always been working, so I’m not used to the system. I’m not sure what it’s all about to be honest. So it’s changed. It’s more confusing. They were telling me that there’s like a million people from age 18 to 24 on benefits, so obviously they’re probably frustrated behind the scenes and all, but I think that the way they take it out on us is not right. I’ve seen the way that they treat people upstairs myself and I don’t say anything, but I think it’s not right.
“The way that they treat people – just because they’re sitting behind the desk and they’ve got the job, they don’t know what is going on in the lives [of people claiming JSA]. You know, maybe they had to leave work for a personal reason. It’s not because they’re lazy, or they don’t want to work – but they [jobcentre staff] actually think that everybody is like that. They just don’t understand that. The day I got sanctioned – I went in and I gave my book to a man… I was told to give it to him, because the person who asked for it wasn’t there on a Monday morning. They hadn’t turned up. [The person] wasn’t in the office and they [the other staff] were all getting a bit anxious – like, “where is she?” and “we’ve got to do her work now?” and they were all in a panic up there and I think that sometimes they take out their personal anger on us. There’s nothing we can do really.”
“Work – I don’t mind [what work I get]. I’ve worked in heaps of jobs. I’ve worked in retail, I’ve working in banking, I’ve worked for the NHS. I’ve had loads of different jobs, so at the moment, I just want to get back into work. I’m pretty much looking for anything – maybe back in banking, or retail. I worked until January this year. It was contract stuff and that is the problem. I get the work myself. I have never had a job through the jobcentre. I always get the jobs myself. If I’m honest, there’s a few people I know who have [got a job through the jobcentre], but it’s very few out of all of them. Maybe one or two.
“Contract work – it’s not ideal. Once the contract is over and you haven’t got any backup, then yeah, you lose everything that you’ve worked for. You save up and when the contract ends, if you haven’t got another job, everything that you’ve saved up goes onto your bills and stuff like that and you’ve got to start again. I’m more stressed out coming here once every week [than when I’m working] because it’s really stressful. You don’t know what they’re going to say.
“I have to do 20 jobsearches a week. Twenty a week is [difficult], especially if you have to go out places and if you’re sanctioned as well – you haven’t got the money to go out. I had to explain that to them. They booked me a place to go [on a course about apprenticeships] after they sanctioned me. I called up and I said – “I’m not going to make it, because I haven’t got the travel money,” and they said – “Well, you’ve got to make it. You’ve got to find a way to get there,” and I said “look, I’m just looking for a full time job to be honest,” but she said “you’ve still got to go.”
Next up we have:
Gio, 19 – also at Kilburn jobcentre. The day we met, he’d visited the jobcentre to get forms to apply for a loan.
“My rent is £1250 a month. I’m working part-time in a supermarket as a manager and I’m getting about £655 a month. They’re giving me about £192 a week [in housing benefit] – so that about £450 off my wages going on the rent. There’s £78 council tax and I also have to pay the bills – gas, electricity and stuff like that. There’s the baby’s milk and the baby’s nappies – stuff like that. So I just came for a crisis [sic] loan form, because I can’t afford it. It has just shattered me this month.
“I’m a manager and I’m still getting the minimum wage – £655 a month working about 25 hours. I showed them [the jobcentre] my payslips and I got a letter from my manager saying look, I need more help. I’m young and I got a kid and I don’t want to be on the streets drug dealing and stuff to earn the money, because I’ve been through that stage. The lady turns around and says “that is all we can do,” and I said “okay, well if that’s all you can do, I’m going to sort it out somehow.” I don’t want to go back to my old life. My mum and my dad – they don’t want nothing to do with me. I work about 25 hours a week. It’s hard to work more [at the moment] because my wife is very ill. She’s had a cesarean. It will take her a couple of months. I just hope they help me.”
Next is Amy (name changed), who signed on at Neasden jobcentre. She was 19 and had just been signed off JSA. Amy lived in supported accommodation. She was pregnant. She worked part time in a large retail chain. Her wages came in at about £150-£200 a month. Sometimes, she worked eight hours a week and sometimes she worked overtime. She worked overtime during the Christmas rush. She said she had been claiming about £10 a fortnight in JSA which she spent on food.
She was very confused about the information that she’d been given by the jobcentre and the reasons for her own signing off from JSA. People make this sort of point a lot at jobcentres. They sometimes find their entitlements and JSA search requirements difficult to understand when they work and when they work different hours each week. That is often because they’re told very confusing things. When confronted with this sort of confusing information, people sometimes just find it easier to sign off:
“They said [at the jobcentre] to do more hours, but my hours vary, because sometimes I do overtime. She [the women at the jobcentre] said to me that I have to do more hours. Then she said to apply for ESA. I’m going to have to call them later on.
“They tell me they are going to pay me £10 a fortnight [in JSA], but I can’t live on £10. I’m working, but all that money goes on my bills. They’re cutting off the tenner now. And now I can’t get that. I’ve signed off. I need that money because it pays for my food.
“I have to give them proof of looking for another job… I didn’t think they were going to hound me [for that ten pounds]. If you’re on JSA, you have to look for work, but I’ve already got work. But it’s not enough hours for tax credits. Then I have to go off on maternity in two months. I get £7.50 an hour [at my job], which is not bad.
“I asked for the hardship fund, but they said I can’t get it… But I have nothing to live off, now so I’m living off him (she points to her friend) until I get paid. They said go off JSA and go onto ESA. I have a GP letter which says I can’t work more hours.
“I’m working eight hours a week and they want me to go up to 16, or to get another job as well. They signed me off, because I couldn’t look for more hours. I was getting £20 a month from them. I’m living in supported accommodation. I pay rent for the house, bills, TV licence. My pay from work goes all to my bills. I get about £150-200 a month. Roughly. They made us work extra hours over Christmas, so I had more then.”