A few thoughts on bullying at jobcentres:
I get the feeling that there is an adviser at the North Kensington jobcentre who over-enjoys, if I can put it that way, the power that jobcentre advisers have over JSA claimants. We’ve spent a few weeks now talking with JSA claimants outside that jobcentre and a lot of them mention this person. They certainly did last week. Here are three quotes I took. Two of them are from or about people who tried to say No to an instruction from an adviser:
“There’s a woman in there who signs people on. She is bullying people. She is the worst one. She ain’t there today, but she’s really horrible to people and she ain’t doing her job properly. She shouldn’t be working there.”
“There’s a woman in there. She’s a fucking cunt. All the other advisers – I have no problem with them. But she’s saying that she’s going to put me on an IT course, even though I’m signing off soon. Every day there’s an argument with her.”
“Yes, she said that to a guy who is 60…They had cut him off [sanctioned him] for four weeks, because he wouldn’t go on the computer course. But he’s in his 60s, retiring soon anyway. So he’s off for four weeks and they do that to a lot of people.”
So. This is the terrible power imbalance at jobcentres. On one side of the equation, you have advisers with the power to cut off people’s JSA money then and there. On the other side, you have JSA claimants who must hope that staff don’t abuse that power to stop money and/or aren’t under pressure to sanction. It isn’t much of an equation, particularly if you’re on the claimant side of it.
Some jobcentre advisers are reasonable – they’re trying hard to do an impossible job in an appalling environment. Others are not. As I wrote last week, a lot of the people we meet at the North Kensington jobcentre must sign on daily now – an utterly pointless exercise where people have to travel to the jobcentre every day at a different time, tell the adviser they see that they’re looking for work and then leave again. They also must hope like hell that they see a reasonable adviser each day. Your chances of seeing a vindictive one surely increase when you must go in daily. I think of all this when people tell me that so-called back to work schemes like traineeships are voluntary. I wonder what happens when you try to say “No, I don’t want to/can’t do that” to some advisers and managers at this jobcentre. I think jobcentres should be opened up to spot-checks and scrutiny from campaigners, journalists and MPs, so that we can all go in and find out.