As we gear up for 2015 and an election that will be at least in part about abusing people who claim benefits and are out of work…
We went back to the infamous North Kensington jobcentre yesterday where people were complaining again about a jobcentre adviser there who they say abuses power. “Got some sort of vendetta against claimants…” one woman told me. “They [jobcentre advisers] don’t understand how we have to live – not pay our rent some days, or take from our gas money some days, only to be thinking to ourselves “do we have a roof over our heads? They are drawing money, so they don’t understand how we have to go through hardship.”
This woman, who has been unemployed now for some years and is getting older and worried about it, was especially angry about the daily JSA signon regime at North Kensington. She must travel to the jobcentre every day to sign on for her JSA and she must do this for three months.
Like most people I speak with, she says that being forced to travel to the jobcentre daily to sign on is ruining any chance she has of finding a job. Like most people too, she felt that the jobcentre was pretty much going out of its way to prevent her from finding employment. I have to say I agree with this line of thinking a lot of the time now. I certainly agreed with it on this occasion. There’s something very strange about the way these places are operating – if operating is the word. At its simplest – if the point of jobcentres was to find people jobs, there’d be a lot more action along those lines, rather than endless obstacles. There’d be phones that people could use to call employers (so many jobcentres have got rid of onsite phones. People have to call employers themselves, with phone credit they do not have). Signon sessions with jobcentre advisers would last more than five minutes and there’d be dedicated support for people who wanted it. There is not. Jobcentre advisers would ring employers on behalf of claimants and set up job interviews then and there. They don’t. I’ve seen none of that sort of thing at the signons I’ve attended with people. It all makes you wonder. It certainly makes me wonder. One thing I’ve started to wonder in particular is if jobcentres like to keep a group of people unemployed for the long-term so that they can channel those people to work programme providers and into useless work skills courses, and keep the lolly flowing in that direction. Those are big businesses, after all, and they need bums on seats.
This woman must attend the jobcentre every day at a different time. Nobody lifts a finger to help her find work while she’s there. And more than that – in her case, the daily signon regime seems actively to have separated her from a drop-in centre where she used a computer, worked on her jobsearch and seemed to get a bit of help. “I haven’t been able to go to my drop-in centre [since I started daily signon]. My drop-in centre is so helpful. I had use of the computer and advisers there. They are a world of good to me, but coming here [to daily signon] means that I cannot get there, because my drop-in centre is [open] from 9 to 12… [For daily signon], I have to come in every single day and I don’t know from one to another what time it is. Today, I came in at ten o’clock. Tomorrow, I’m in at 11.05am. The day after, I might go back to 9am or 3.30pm. I don’t know.”
My first thought was – why not excuse her from daily signon? Why not call the drop-in centre and set something constructive up? As it happens, I know the answer to these questions. Everyone does. People tell me that the point of daily signon is destroy any chances people have of organising cash-in-hand jobs and earning a few quid on the side. Can’t have someone on the bones of their arse finding an extra tenner here and there, and feeling a little less desperate. People might forget that grovelling is supposed to be their main job when they’re out of work. The truth is that daily signon affixes people to JSA and their jobcentre in a very twisted way. They can’t plan anything else. Any other activity has to be organised around that signon appointment and at the last minute. By definition, daily signon can’t improve people’s chances of getting out, because it locks people in. I think the same of the 30-hour-a-week community work placements that I’ll be posting on shortly (have been spending time recently with people on those workfare placements). The overriding impression I get is that these things are designed to keep people who’ve been out of work for a while exactly where they are.
This woman said:
“They [jobcentre advisers] are working by their own system to push themselves up the ladder at our expense. Because we come in to sign on, we’re not [considered] people. That’s what it is. That’s what it has become like. I’ve worked [in administration] and I’ve paid my taxes like everyone else. Coming to a place like this – it’s so degrading.”
“I have to do daily signon. They didn’t say why. One day I come in and the next minute they told me I have to do daily signon. So you who is genuinely looking for work, you haven’t got nowhere to turn. I’ve decided that if I can’t find work in what I’ve worked in, I will go back to doing some sort of carework to fill the gap. But now they [the jobcentre] have told me that they can’t do anything to help to get my CRB check. How am I going to find that money? It’s £65 and we get £140 a fortnight [in JSA]. So that means I have to either go without – and I’m already going without for gas, electric and all these things. How are we supposed to get out there to work when they’re not helping us in any way at all? My definition of a jobcentre is that when you go in there, there is somebody to assist you. But there is nobody there to assist you.
“I have to come in every single day. I don’t know from one to another what time it is. Today, I came in at ten o’clock. Tomorrow, I’m in at 11.05am. The day after, I might go back to 9am or 3.30pm. I don’t know. They’ve messed me about so much I haven’t been able to go to my drop-in centre. My drop-in centre is so helpful. I pay my own fares and everything as well to go there. I have got use of the computer and advisers there. They are a world of good to me, but coming here [for daily signon], I cannot get there, because my drop in centre is from 9 to 12.”
“The government has to really check and see what they’re [jobcentres] are doing. There’s no help for the unemployed. They think that people love to be unemployed. I do not love to be unemployed. If somebody walked up the road now and offered me a job, I would take it. [I was made redundant] – the company that I was working for, they closed down so many branches. These sorts of places, they don’t give you no confidence to go out to work. If I wasn’t a person who keeps on going, they would break me down. I would end up being on the tablets and being at the doctors. That’s how they deal with you.”