Right. This one goes out to anyone who still believes that there’s a safety net in place. It’s also for anyone who believes that the jobcentre system is still vaguely functional, or that there are checks and balances in it to keep things fair.
This post is an update on a story I’ve been writing about a man with learning difficulties who is signing on for JSA. He sometimes struggles with his jobsearch, because he isn’t able to use a computer to apply for work. He hasn’t been sanctioned so far, because his jobcentre adviser has been reasonable. The problem is that she’s suddenly no longer his adviser. Now, he’s in a precarious position. It is unlikely that he’s the only one.
Let’s start from the beginning:
Readers of this site will know that I’ve been spending time with Eddie (name changed), a 51-year-old Kiburn man who has mild learning difficulties. He also struggles to read and write with any fluency. He has spent most of his life working in general assistant jobs in commercial kitchens and stores, but was made redundant about four years ago. He’s been signing on for JSA ever since. Eddie is desperate to find another job – but he doesn’t think that is going to happen through the jobcentre. Neither do I. That’s because I’ve seen the whole process in “action.” Every fortnight, Eddie goes to the jobcentre to show his adviser his jobsearch papers. He must prove that he’s searched for 14 jobs every two weeks. The adviser checks his papers, sets a time for his next appointment and then waves him goodbye. The whole exercise takes ten minutes, if that. Nobody ever offers to call employers on Eddie’s behalf, or to put his CV forward, or to organise interviews, or to liaise with anyone who might take him on for work. It is incredible to think that some people are now being forced to engage in this moribund process every day. It is unpleasant to know that Iain Duncan Smith believes he’s onto a winner with this kind of “concept.” It is also unpleasant to know that he may well be onto an electoral winner with this kind of concept, given that the “scroungers” line has well and truly taken hold and there’s no political opposition to the destruction of support for people who are out of work.
Anyway – in my last post, I wrote about the problems Eddie had completing an online jobsearch. His jobcentre advisor had told him to choose and apply for at least three jobs online as part of his fortnightly quota. The problem was that Eddie couldn’t use a computer well enough to start this jobsearch (as you can read here, he wasn’t sure what a browser was). He was unable to type in the complex urls that he’d been given – you can see some of them on the list he was given here:
and he struggled to follow the text on the job application pages. He was very concerned that he’d get sanctioned if he didn’t complete the three online applications. I ended up typing his CV and then submitting the online applications for him. When we went to his signing on appointment, we raised these issues with his jobcentre adviser. The adviser freely admitted that she knew Eddie couldn’t complete the online jobsearch – but said that she was unlikely to sanction him because she knew about his learning and literacy difficulties. Unfortunately, as I said at the time, that isn’t good enough. People in Eddie’s situation can’t rely on a forgiving adviser to protect them from sanctions. We’re in a sanctions-driven environment here. Things can change very suddenly. Advisers come and go, or take leave, or go off sick, or move to new jobs. A reasonable adviser can suddenly move on.
Which is, of course, exactly what has happened. Last Thursday, Eddie turned up for his fortnightly signon session, only to be told that the adviser we’d seen two weeks ago wasn’t working on Thursdays any more. (I wasn’t able to accompany Eddie to last Thursday’s appointment, so he went alone. He said he didn’t have a good experience. People often report that they are treated with less respect when they go alone to their jobcentre appointments). Eddie was instructed to show his jobsearch papers to another adviser. He reported to me today that the new person was impatient and told him that he’d need another appointment. Eddie was worried that this meant he was going to be sanctioned. Unfortunately, this new adviser wasn’t prepared to reassure him on this point, or to make a new signing on appointment for him.
This is where things got ridiculous. This new person told Eddie that he’d need to come in on Monday morning (today) to see his usual adviser who would make the new appointment (with someone else) for him. So – basically, we went to the jobcentre this morning to go to an appointment to make another appointment. I’ll say that again. We went to an appointment solely to make an appointment. That’s where things are at.
The appointment itself was as…brief as ever. We really didn’t get very far. Readers of my last post may remember that the jobcentre adviser told us at the last appointment that she’d try to set aside a morning to help Eddie and other people who struggle to use computers for online jobsearches. It became clear today that this was not going to happen. Because this adviser now works elsewhere one day a week, her days in the jobcentre are booked solid. So, that is probably the end of that. Eddie’s now been sent on a computer course. The issue is that this course probably won’t help Eddie find the money for a computer, or, if one is bought for him, help him run it, or set it up. The real point is that Online isn’t the solution for everyone all of the time. Iain Duncan Smith wants everyone to apply for Universal Credit online. Iain Duncan Smith has no idea how a lot of people live. Eddie wants one-on-one support to find a job – someone to make calls for him and talk to employers. He keeps talking about that and asking for that.
The other concern, though, was that today’s “understanding” adviser won’t be checking Eddie’s jobsearch for the time being. Someone else will and that someone else may not cut Eddie any sort of slack with his jobsearch. Today’s adviser made Eddie an appointment to sign on with a someone else in a fortnight. We made the point that Eddie could face sanctions if he was sent to an adviser who didn’t understand his learning and literacy difficulties. His adviser agreed that this was now a risk. She actually said that the person Eddie was booked to see was “quite strict.” I didn’t find that very encouraging. To try and counter potential problems, today’s adviser made a note about Eddie’s learning difficulties in his online booking form – the hope being, I guess, that the “quite strict” adviser will read the notes and take them into account and/or won’t cave in to pressure to hit a sanctions target when Eddie turns up to sign on. I’d like to think that there is something better in place than hope and crossed fingers, but there we go. If there is, I haven’t seen it.
So. This is the kind of thing that happens. This is why I just stare or say “do me a favour” when people try to tell me that jobcentres make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, or that there are checks and balances in place to make sure that people are treated fairly. If you still believe that, you’ll believe anything. The only check or balance around that I can see is the likes of the the unemployed workers’ group who introduced me to Eddie and support other people in the same situation, If it wasn’t for that group – people from it attend meetings with JSA and ESA claimants all the time – a lot of local people would be going through this dire thing by themselves. There’s certainly nothing in this sytem to protect people that I can see. I can only conclude that it is being run into the ground to ultimately justify a mass outsourcing. Which is not an uplifting thought.
Anyway. Where’s the PCS when you need it.