This is a report about having to sign on every day for jobseekers’ allowance – an entirely pointless “process” that seems to be taking hold:
On Wednesday, the Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group and I went to talk with JSA claimants at the North Kensington jobcentre.
Almost as soon as we got there, people brought a significant fact to our attention: the North Kensington jobcentre appears to have instigated a daily JSA sign on regime for some people. Daily sign on does, or at least is, pretty much what it says on the tin – it means that people must present themselves at their local jobcentre every single day of the week and sit and wait until they see an adviser for a brief time. Their attendance is noted and there’s a (very) quick catchup about people’s jobsearches. And that’s it.
Daily sign on was one of the platforms government’s ironically-named Help To Work platforms. The Help To Work scheme was launched in April to much fanfare (by government) and consternation (by reasonable people). I wonder if we’re seeing evidence now that it is underway, after a fashion. We’re certainly seeing evidence that people were right to dread it. The daily sign on exercise is nasty and utterly pointless – certainly as far as helping people into work goes. The three people who I talk about in this article reported that absolutely nothing happens at their daily signon appointments. I think we’ll say that again – absolutely nothing happens. JSA claimants must turn up at their jobcentre and have their attendance noted. One person reported a quick chat and check with a jobcentre adviser about jobs applied for – “and that’s ridiculous, because they can check everything that I am doing online,” he said. “They forced us to use [Universal] Jobmatch, so they can check everything already.”
When that’s done, the person is given a time for the next day’s appointment. After that, it’s all over until the next day. (A man I spoke to at length at the Clacton jobcentre recently reported exactly the same experience). Talk about an exercise in humiliation and futility – like people who must use the already-degrading JSA system needed another one.
People can’t use jobcentre phones to call employers (the man who described daily sign on process as “ridiculous” had got into trouble with security for demanding that the jobcentre let him use a phone to call prospective employers), no employers are rung on their behalf, no job interviews are arranged. I can well believe that – I’ve attended a few sign on appointments with people now and have seen how this system “works.” I don’t think I’ve been to one that has lasted more than ten minutes. Which means that daily sign on is not about finding people work. It’s about taking people by the scruff of the neck and keeping a very tight hold. It’s about letting people who are out of work know that their lives are no longer their own – that once people are unemployed, they’re not entitled to even a few hours’ peace of mind, or relief, from the DWP. It’s about disrupting people’s lives and making sure that they get up each day not knowing whether they’ll still have JSA at the end of it. It is depraved. Nobody we spoke to on Wednesday knew from day to day what time their sign on appointment would be. They were given a time for the next day’s appointment at the previous day’s appointment. That means people can’t plan their week, or even from day to day. They’re not allowed to plan their week. The subtext is that people who find themselves out of work have no lives – and, perhaps more to the point, are not entitled to lives. If you’re unemployed, you must forfeit your right to yourself. The people we spoke with were absolutely furious about it. I am too, just by the way. I think we’re very much at the point where the DWP should be forced to open the doors on all of this. This regime exists to deliver stress and panic, and nothing else. That needs to be fully revealed.
The first man we talked was in and out of work, as so many people we meet at jobcentres are. He was 46. He worked in marketing and business development – “anything. I will take it.” He found work himself and was hoping that a few leads he was following would pay off soon. His problem was that he could only get short-term contract work. I find that again and again.
The daily sign on (he’d just started) was angering him badly and very disruptive to his actual jobhunting: “it is so time-consuming and it doesn’t serve a purpose for me or them. It costs me and them time and money for me to be here every day.” Because of that, he’d asked the jobcentre if “it was possible for them to provide me with additional services while I’m here – where I can use the phone for basic things.” Using a phone for half-an-hour or so would mean his daily attendance wasn’t a complete waste of time. Unfortunately, this suggestion was not well-received. He raised his voice and management was called down. “The lady decided to that I was being awkward and she walked away and she calmed down.” That, he said, was ridiculous. “All I wanted was access to a phone. There’s nothing there. I don’t think I was being awkward asking them what provisions they have.” As I say, his actual appointment was a complete waste of time. “They went onto the computer to see whether I had done any jobsearches. But I said that I want them to provide a service.”
He was struggling with the notion that all jobhunting must take place online. “Managers [have this] idea that we should do everything online – even chase applications online. But that’s not how it works. You need to followup with phone calls. I think this is really unfair.”
The next man we spoke to was 40 and wanting to work as a recruitment adviser. “Not like them,” he said, looking at the jobcentre. “A real recruitment adviser.” We had a bit of a laugh about that. He said he worked from time to time as a volunteer. His big problem was that he had a criminal record “for drugs.” He was finding that past almost impossible to put behind him. “I’m going to pay for that forever,” he said. He probably will, too. Such is our punitive era.
This man said:
“They put me on one course and say that they are going to guarantee me a job, but I haven’t got a job. Ingeus, A4E – I been to them.” He had been out of work for two years.
He said that the the daily sign on “feels like I’ve got to sign on at a police station. They are keeping tabs on you.” (I thought that was an interesting and potentially relevant comparison to draw, by the way. This is slightly off-topic – but I’ve worked on stories about electronic tagging and have wondered if tagging would ever be extended to people who sign on. I say this because my own investigations into Capita’s plugging for the Serco and G4S tagging contracts found that tagging companies planned to extend their offer far and wide – certainly beyond criminal justice. Capita wasn’t too keen to tell me who they had in mind for tagging outside criminal justice, either).
“I’ve been doing it for the last two weeks, every day. But for what. There is nothing when you get here. Sign my name and they give you another time for the next day. [It is at] different times, so I try to get them to do it in the morning. I can’t go away for a day or anything. I say they got me by the short and curlies.
This man was sanctioned about three months ago. “I missed an appointment.” He challenged the sanction, though – “and finally I got the money back. I only missed one appointment and they sanctioned me for a month. That’s fucking long enough.”
He wasn’t sure how to overcome the problem of his criminal record. “It’s hard. They won’t help offenders. As soon as you put down [the criminal record on a job application] they say “no thank you.” I have applied for a job and put Yes for a criminal record and got a reply right away saying “no thank you.” No matter how you dress it up, they won’t look past it. I’m still young. I’m 40. Opportunities are just going past me. It’s a waste of time.”
The third person we spoke with was a woman who had her daughter with her – a young girl of about 13 or 14. This woman was signing on because she’d been made redundant. She’d recently been on the work programme and as soon as she returned, the jobcentre told her she had to start attending daily. She’d first assumed the daily sign on was a sort of punishment. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” she said. She’d also been sanctioned. “They said I wasn’t following the regulations… It affects everyone,” the woman said. “She [my daughter] had to suffer as well… [before I was made redundant] I never, ever thought this would happen, that it would be like this. They just mop the floor with you.”