Let’s start with a bit about the ritual humiliations people have to put up with when they claim jobseekers’ allowance:
I was at Kilburn jobcentre early this morning. Everyone had to come in to sign on between 9am and 11am, because the jobcentre was closed this afternoon. This meant that the signing-on exercise was even more pointless than usual. I was at the jobcentre today with Eddie, the 51-year-old man with learning and literacy difficulties who I’ve been accompanying to the jobcentre for about three months. He’s no closer to getting a job than he was when we started. Today’s effort certainly would not have helped. His jobcentre adviser didn’t even look at Eddie’s jobsearch sheet. The adviser just said hello, made a couple of notes in the computer, and that was the end of that.
Staff wouldn’t say why the jobcentre would be closed this afternoon. Whatever the reason, they should have just excused everyone from their sign on sessions this week rather than making them come to the jobcentre for two minutes. “We’re cattle,” several people said as they were herded quickly to advisers. There was already a crowd outside the jobcentre by 9am when I arrived. The whole thing was just pointless. People had to make a trip all the way to the jobcentre in the rain for a rubber stamp. Daily sign on regimes are the same. People can’t argue the toss, because they’re unemployed and so they’re not allowed to challenge anyone, or any point. They have no rights. They can’t complain. They just have to follow meaningless, pointless and patronising instructions. I do sometimes wonder when being unemployed became such a hideous crime. The freedoms people lose are not just financial. They might as well be tagged.
It really is like that. Today, a security guard tried to stop me from accompanying Eddie to his appointment. There is inevitably a scene like this. The guards look constantly for reasons to get in everyone’s faces. They pick people up for no end of so-called infringements. Last week, a security guard tried to confiscate my coffee, even though it was nearly finished. They tell people off for eating – a problem for Eddie, who is diabetic and sometimes needs to eat the biscuits he always carries with him. Today, it was You Can’t Go With Him, which was laughable – and new, at least for us. Eddie is entitled to have someone along, particularly as he needs help when he’s writing things down. It’s never been a problem in the past.
“You can’t go upstairs,” the security guard said today.
“I always go with him,” I said. “I go with him when he signs on.”
“You can’t go up there unless you’re signing on,” the security guard said.
“They said that it was all right,” I said. “He has trouble with his reading and writing, so I go with him to help.”
“You can’t go with him,” the security guard said. I mentioned the reading and writing again, and he thought about it. Then he said it was all right. Then, we went upstairs for the sign on session that literally last a minute.
Reasonable adjustment – not
After that, we went to the Costa on the high road, where we settled in to do the job that jobcentres and overpaid work programme providers should be doing, but are not – filling in the job application forms that Eddie needs help with.
Today, he wanted to apply for a job at Morrisons. We did the same thing as last time – I wrote out the words Eddie wanted to say in my notebook and then he copied them onto the form as well as he could.
These are the word I wrote in the notebook:
“I like working in customer service. I’ve worked with customers before. I am polite and like people. I would like to work in Morrisons because I have great customer service experience.”
These are the words that Eddie wrote on the form:
So. This is “reasonable adjustment” for unemployed disabled people in the millennium. Haven’t we come a long way. Eddie’s been on the work programme and so-called skills courses. He really wants a job, because he always worked (usually in kitchens as a general assistant) and he liked the money and the structure. He was made redundant about four years ago. These days, a lot of Eddie’s jobsearch activity is about sitting with me in a Costa every few weeks and filling in application forms which employers will chuck straight in the bin.
I bet work programme providers like Reed, A4E and Seetec will have a great Christmas, though. Suppose they think they’ve earned it.