Back to Kilburn jobcentre this morning for a Thursday signon session with Eddie, the 51-year-old man with learning and literacy difficulties who I’ve been working with as he’s tried to get his fortnightly jobsearch done and avoid sanctions.
The jobcentre was pretty chaotic this morning – understaffed, I think, and tense. Most of the seats in the waiting area were occupied by people who were waiting to sign on. A number of people were pacing around.
Eddie was one of them: “I want to get out of here,” he kept saying to me. “Let’s get it [the signon] done and go.” Eddie hates the jobcentre and he seemed fraught this morning. He said there’d been some sort of fight between a claimant and adviser and/or Security just before I arrived. I knew something was up, because I’d seen four or five coppers climbing out of their car and heading into the jobcentre just as I turned up at about 9.30am. By the time I got upstairs, the police were all hanging around on the first floor in the waiting area and I could see a couple of coppers talking to people in a side room.
They unsettled Eddie. He can barely tolerate being in the jobcentre as it is. He can’t sit or stand still when he’s waiting to see an adviser. He gets up and down and up and down from the waiting area seats. I watch Security’s eyes following him. Eddie’s been signing on for four years and he knows that his chances of finding work through a JCP are zero. I know it, he knows it and everybody here absolutely knows it. Nobody at the JCP lifts a finger to help find him work, which means that he’s trapped at the jobcentre now in a weekly signon loop. If you want my opinon and I’m sure you don’t, I think that the system basically sees him now as work programme/work course fodder. The jobcentre sends people in Eddie’s situation on the work programme and on so-called work skills courses, and providers charge for it all, but nobody does anything practical to help Eddie find the work he wants to do and has done successfully for years. Nothing here is geared to helping people sort their situations out.
Eddie worked for years as a kitchen assistant, but was made redundant four years ago. He wants another job. He really does want another job. He talks about little else: “I could work in a hotel kitchen, or a hospital kitchen. I want to do that job, but they give those jobs to someone else.” There’s nobody to help him to find a job though – nobody to call employers on his behalf, or put him forward as a candidate, or set up interviews, or to talk employers through his literacy difficulties, or to sort out any adjustments that he might need.
The jobcentre should be doing those things for him, but it is not and it will not. I’ve posted before about Eddie’s struggle to apply online for jobs – he finds it almost impossible to navigate around a jobsite or to run a jobsearch and to complete an online application on his own – and I’ve posted below about the problems he has completing a paper application. He finds things easier if someone is around to help him. “I couldn’t hardly read a newspaper when I left school, but the courses I did at the college helped me and they were better.” There’s no doubt in my mind that the jobcentre has given up on Eddie entirely – if it was ever fighting his corner in the first place. When we go in for his signon appointments, advisers glance at his jobsearch record, set a date for his next signon appointment, then wave him goodbye. Today, his appointment lasted about five minutes. The adviser we saw looked utterly exhausted and harassed.
It’s hard to push for help and more support when an adviser seems stressed, harassed and distracted. Still, we tried. We always do. We raised again the problems that Eddie has filling in job application forms and said again that he needs someone to help him if he is to find work and/or avoid sanctions for not completing a jobsearch properly. The adviser agreed and hurried off to find another adviser who he said “helped with CVs.” That adviser couldn’t be found though, and the first adviser obviously wanted to get rid of us, so that he could move onto the next appointment. That – again – was the end of that. It really was all over in about five minutes. The only other interface of note took place when Security came over to tell me off for bringing in a takeaway coffee. I’d noticed that one of the guards – a man who is not at all popular with people who must sign on here – was watching me and that coffee. We made eye contact a number of times. It took him a while to make his move, though. I’m pretty sure that he was trying to decide whether or not I was a JSA claimant and if not, who I was and if I had any clout. If I was a claimant, he would cut loose and tell me off. If I was a support worker, or social worker though…he wasn’t quite sure. He could see that I was with Eddie. In the end, he compromised: he said I could keep this coffee, but must never bring in another one. So go the little power trips.
Filling in forms.
The photos below are from a recent session at the Costa in Kilburn where Eddie and I sat down for an hour or so to fill out a job application form. The one we were filling in here was for a customer support post at Argos, if memory serves. We completed the forms together. Eddie would read the individual words on the page out loud and then he would ask for some help to get the meaning of the whole sentence straight. Then, he’d think about the written response he wanted to put on the form. Eddie can find it difficult to write words out in the right order with the right spelling. He decided that the best thing would be for me to write the words he wanted to say on a sheet of paper in my notebook. He’d then copy those words into the space available on the form.
Like last time, I have mixed feelings about posting these photos, because this feels a gratuitous and invasive exercise. Am going ahead, though, because I want to give you an idea of the support that people in Eddie’s situation need, but are absolutely not getting in any shape or form from jobcentres and work programme providers. Those providers are taking the piss, my friends. They’re taking the piss in a very big way. People who need any sort of support at all to find work don’t stand a chance with them. Our disingenuous political class would have the world believe that people who are long-term unemployed are lazy. Actually, they’re not. They’re just foundering around with this pointless shit.
The first question on the application sheet was:
“Talk me through a time when you experienced great customer service. Why does this stand out for you?”
The next question was “What does health and safety in the workplace mean to you?”
I wrote down the sentences that Eddie wanted to say. My own writing can be pretty hard to read (I’m lefthanded and my writing and the ink goes all over the place), but we got the words down.
Eddie wanted to say:
“I have had great customer service in a Wetherspoons restaurant. The waiter was very good, very polite. He showed me the menu.”
“Heath and safety means a safe environment where there are fire exits. Make sure there are fire extinguishers and fire exits.”
These are the words Eddie put onto the page.
I spelled most of them out for him. You can see that he struggled to put some of the words in the right order and left some out. It took us about an hour to do this.
Some of these organisations get thousands of job applications. I imagine that they go straight into the bin if they don’t make sense. I could even see some people having a laugh at the wording that has ended up on the form here.
Anyway. That’s enough. You get the picture.