#HelptoWork: nowhere to be seen. More stories from the #jobcentre

And so to Hammersmith jobcentre this week as part of the ongoing leafleting sessions I’m taking part in with the Kilburn unemployed workers’ group. We went to Hammersmith to talk with people there who are on JSA and who are dealing with sanctions, to see how things were going at jobcentres outside of Kilburn.

We were also there to see if we could find anyone who was long-term unemployed and participating in the government’s rubbish Help To Work scheme – George Osborne’s “you must sign on daily at the jobcentre and/or take workfare jobs,” concept that was announced to such fanfare a few weeks ago. We’re not seeing much evidence that Help to Work is underway if I’m honest. That’s no bad thing, given that the whole idea is bollocks – it is based on the widely-discredited notion that workfare leads to work. We certainly found people who were long-term unemployed at Hammersmith as you will read below, but we didn’t find anyone who was on the Help to Work scheme. We haven’t been able to find anyone who is on Help to Work up Kilburn way either. The fact that so many organisations refuse to participate in workfare could certainly be one of the reasons for this. Long may these shambolic workfare schemes fail.

Anyway – to long-term unemployment. This first interview transcript goes out to the Labour party – especially members of that party who think the best way to beat Ukip is to quasi-endorse anti-immigration rhetoric. You’ll see what I mean when you read the article below. I hope members of the Labour party note that the man quoted in this transcript made a couple of anti-immigrant remarks, and comments about drug and alcohol users. Members of the unemployed workers’ group I was with simply responded by saying “don’t let the government and MPs turn us against each other,” and “if someone is on benefits, I don’t judge them in any way,” and the guy we were talking with seemed to take those points on board. I have no idea what he said or did after that, but the point is that he was prepared to have the conversation at the time.

So. My point to Labour worthies, like they care, is that this is a conversation worth having with people. There are alternatives to jumping on the anti-immigration bandwagon when people turn on immigrants. One very good alternative – this one certainly appeals to me – is to remind people that they should loathe a ruling elite that lines its own pockets at everyone else’s expense. Labour won’t do that, of course, because its own elite is part of the ruling elite that is implicated in the kind of larceny that makes the rest of us hate the ruling elite – but you see my point. It’s possible to have different conversations with people. There are alternatives to rolling over for fascism.

Anyway.

Here is:

Daniel, Hammersmith. Has been signing on for six years. Said he was still trying to get JSA money refunded after winning an appeal against a sanction. He was confused about the amount of money he’d been repaid after his sanction and about the amounts of money he now received.

He said:

“Some of them [in the jobcentre] are the nicest people in the world, but some of them are the biggest arseholes in the world. There are women in there who would help you literally until you are blue in the face, but there are some people who will turn their nose up at you as soon as you walk in. Just because they get wages, they think they can look down at me, innit. It’s a joke.

“They got me one of them already – a sanction. I had to appeal against it. You might be able to answer me this question. When I got sanctioned, they sanctioned me for three months, I appealed against it this year and I won my appeal, but they only paid me back with hardship pay. They didn’t give me my actual benefit money. If I won my appeal, I should get my jobcentre money, not hardship money? It was basically half the money that jobcentre would pay you. When they told me about the sanction, because I actually done it with a manager in there, they told me that I am not entitled to hardship pay and I got to go for it [see out the sanction] with no money at all. So, I appealed against it, because it wasn’t my fault. They had made a cockup with the whole system. It worked out that I only got £395 back after three months. So, they owe me money innit, but no matter what I do, I basically can’t get that money back off them. No one in there is willing to help me all. They’re telling me – you got paid didn’t you?

“No one answer that question for me. Last week, I got only £83 in my account. It goes up and down as they please. I phoned up Glasgow – like they say “go and ring Glasgow” and spend my own money that I haven’t got really to spend [on a call]. When you phone them, they say – “oh, we can phone you back in three hours.” That’s it. No one phones you. And then you got to use more money to phone and they tell you – “oh, we can phone you in an hour’s time.” Even if I say I want to talk to the manager I got to wait and if they don’t ring and it goes 24 hours and I got to do it again and they say “we can call you in three hours.”

“I’ve been signing on here for six years and I’ve been up down, up down, up down. I’ve been on every course you could possibly have, but I still ain’t got a job out of it. I want to do anything just to earn a pay packet, basically. I don’t want to live off the jobcentre for the rest of my life.

“I done every work programme that they can possibly give me. I been to Acton College to do their work programme. I been to Aldgate East to do their work programme. I been to Work Directions. I’m getting to the stage where I’m getting tired of me going out to look for a job and you’ve got alcoholics and drug addicts coming in here and getting £400 a fortnight to live off just to go and drink with. I’m getting to the stage where I might walk in there with a bottle of vodka and say “I’m an alcoholic” yeah – and more money, innit. At least I’ll be earning £400 a fortnight. [That’s the] same wage as everybody else and I could sit on my arse and drink a bottle of beer. That’s what I’m sick and tired of.

“I go out every day on a day like this, walk my arse off looking for work, which I’m not going to get. I’m a British fellow and I ain’t getting no work. Only work I’m getting is if I become a drug dealer, or if I go and rob someone. That’s all I can do – go out and do illegal scrapping, or get some cash in hand. These lot in here – they don’t care. They are not trying to find me a job. They say “go out and look for a job.”

“I got to do a minimum of seven jobs a week [for my jobsearch].

“Like before when they stopped my money, they said you ain’t got money to eat – go to a foodbank. They give you some little piece of paper saying this person is from the jobcentre and they need food, but I been down there and the food they give me wouldn’t even survive me for three days. They give you a packet of rice and they expect you to have one cup of rice a day and I’m a big guy. I don’t look to ration my food.”

Daniel says that he doesn’t like Universal Jobmatch. “No – me, I walk around. I don’t sit on there on the shit computers. I walk around and I talk to a person’s face, but what they’re trying to do now is they’re trying to stop me from that. They’re trying to tell me that I lie, because I walk in a shop and I talk face-to-face. My proof is that I’m British. I will walk and talk to a person and say – look towards him with respect and say, like, “is there any jobs available?” If I’m doing it through email, I could be waiting for up to six months for that email to be answered. If I send them a letter….my way of looking at it is that I have to talk to an employer face-to-face, but now, because I put on my job search that I walk in and hand it in, they say that isn’t good enough for them.

“This is what I’m saying. I get to the stage where I’m coming out of my estate to spend more money in an internet cafe to show you that I’m going to look for a job. I’m not going to get a job if I keep sending them emails.

“… this is disgusting. If you wasn’t from this country – if you come to this country, you will be given a house, you be given a benefit, you be given anything that you want, but because I was born in this country and I’m trying to make a wage, you can’t do nothing about it.

“Perfect example is White Dee from Benefit Street. She come back from Spain twice, but she’s on benefits. She does work for over 16 hours. She earns £110 every day, but she still claims benefits.

“The one job I’ve ever had – one job from this jobcentre, they give me a labourer’s job. They told me go and do the job, it’s a full time job. I had the job for a week and then the job was finished. I got told go back to the jobcentre. I’m from the streets… and I haven’t got money, but they don’t want to help you. One thing I want to do is get my SIA badge and become a doorman, because I’m a big dude. I don’t want to be sitting in no office. I said – can’t you help me with that? My ideal job is security work.”

And:

“You know,” says one of the guys from the unemployed workers’ group, “don’t let them play us off against each other.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Daniel says. “They make people in the streets turn against someone.”

“Someone is on benefits,” says the unemployed workers’ group member, “I don’t judge them in any way.”

“Sooner or later, everyone who is on benefits will turn against the government,” Daniel says. “They’re trying to stop benefits.”

“Don’t let them turn us against each other.”

“They’re going to find the shock and find it is us who is going to turn on them,” Daniel says. “The police are petrified. If we turn against them, it’s roughly about six of us against one of them. The day they cut everyone’s benefit is the day that the whole of London goes mad. They’re going to break into shops, innit. How would they feel if they go to their bank account and there is nothing in it?”

6 thoughts on “#HelptoWork: nowhere to be seen. More stories from the #jobcentre

  1. This is also what i found at the jobcentre. I think they forget that we have worked all our life in the past and paid income tax and National Insurance stamp. The jobcentre is a joke. I don’t understand the purpose of it apart from trying to get people to sign off benefits that they need to survive. It is disgraceful the way some of the jobcentre staff look down on unemployed people. they too may be unemployed noe day. It is apparent that you get some people that think there better than you but these people don’t live in the real world.

  2. Esa support group since 09 jcp stated there is nobody my journey started under labour then Tory nothing to choose in it to be honest just find it bizzare medical evidence 08/09 I most Certaintly should not have had what I had farcical answers I haven’t a clue

  3. Of course, it is out of order for anyone to make racist remarks. I mean actual racist remarks – based purely on someone’s race, colour, etc. And we should do all we can to fight against such things. And of course much of that prejudice, especially with relation to benefits, comes directly from the pages of the Daily Mail – the newspaper for lunatics, written by the devil.

    But, during all the recent immigration/Ukip/racist controversies which for a while almost dominated UK political news, I simply could not see why this precludes examining immigration policy. It is almost as if ANY mention of immigration labels you as a racist or fascist.

    It is quite often said that raising immigration as an issue is scare-mongering. But this is usually not the case, I believe. People on the whole would not say that immigrants are to blame, but simply that they think there should be some sort of control on numbers. Is that unreasonable? Most of the talk about immigration is about numbers, not against immigration per se. Technically Ukip, for example, when it comes to stated policy are not anti-immigration. (yep, that’s right, and I will defend what I just wrote!). And it is not good enough for people not to address this issue, to dismiss it by saying: “of course they’re racist,” and walking away.

    I think the left has too often dismissed people’s natural inclination for local and national identity too lightly. In Britain, to be proud of the country and wave the union jack, etc., is seen as jingoistic, prejudiced almost – while abroad it is more natural and accepted. The fact is that the pace of immigration over the last two decades has been much higher than it was before. So is it a surprise that people, many immigrants themselves, find that pace of change unnerving? Of course, it is plain wrong to go on about foreigners taking benefits, etc. But really people are talking more broadly, about how their communities have changed from what they once were. I can guarantee it – do a poll of people’s attitudes to immigration and the majority would say they are not against immigration, or against immigrants, but do think that things have happened too quickly. I know such things as human nature and national identity may be out of fashion as subjects of discussion amongst current intellectuals and policy-makers, but I think they have ridden rough-shod over people’s basic needs and ways of thinking and living, how they see the world, how they identify with others, how communities cohere. About continuity and change and about what it means to look to the future meaningfully and know what you’re aiming for as an individual and as a family.

    It is too easy, and intellectually lazy to instantly label every mention of immigration as racist. It’s like some people are trying to sniff it out even where it does not exist. And because this issue hasn’t been properly discussed and thought about for decades, and because the average person finds that the policies implemented lack consideration, balance, or any idea of integration, we therefore have idiots like Ukip appearing with all their Thatcherite policies on other issues. I believe that if this issue had been addressed by the left (using the term loosely) years ago we would not now have hundreds of thousands of people voting for Ukip – a party which would further undermine the NHS, supports TTIP, and many other regressive policies.

  4. Pingback: Rising Rage | Gabriel Vents

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