What exactly are jobcentres for?

Photo from the jobcentre by http://photos.snapsthoughts.com/blog

20150811jobcentreI wonder some days.

Here are a few more stories:

Leafleting at the Kilburn jobcentre yesterday with the Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group, I spoke for a while with an older woman. She said that she was 62. She was very confused about benefits and her entitlements. She said that she’d received a call the day before from the DWP. The person who’d called had either told her that she wasn’t eligible for employment and support allowance, or that an existing employment and support allowance claim would end. She was agitated and not entirely clear about the call, or the instructions. “They told me I had to ask them about JSA,” she said.

She had brought paperwork from her doctor. I think she had an idea that she could take the paperwork into the jobcentre and that someone there would look at the doctor’s letters and help her sort her benefits out. Nothing of the kind happened, of course. I don’t see too many jobcentres providing an on-the-spot service, even for people who are older and clearly struggling. At best, people are given DWP contact centre numbers to call and told to go outside and call them on their own phones (some of them cost to call. I made a whole lot of 0345 calls to the DWP yesterday. Wonder how that bill will turn out).

I went into the jobcentre with this woman and we were stopped straightaway by security. The security guard we spoke to wasn’t as antisocial as some, but he was adamant that this woman couldn’t see an adviser until she rang the DWP and sorted out an appointment. There was no other option. It didn’t matter that she was in her 60s and obviously concerned. Requests to see someone were just met with a blanket No. The woman had scrawled a number on her doctor’s letter when the DWP had called the day before. The security guard told her to go home and call the number from a landline. That was the end of that.

I talked with another woman then. She said that she was a carer and was receiving Income Support. She had two small children: a toddler and a new baby who was born just eight weeks ago by c-section. It seemed this woman had to attend the jobcentre every six weeks. She wasn’t at all clear why she had to do this, because nothing happens at these appointments. She said that the appointments took a grand total of about three minutes. She shows up and her attendance is noted, and that’s it. There’s no CV-writing, or obvious work-related activity at these appointments. She gets her sister to look after the kids for the morning, travels to the jobcentre, has her attendance noted and then leaves. It sounded totally pointless. No doubt it was totally pointless.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else had heard of this sort of attendance requirement for people on Income Support. I was under the impression that people didn’t have to attend work-focused appointments until their youngest child was a year old, but god only knows that I get confused, and perhaps this is something else. Perhaps it’s monitoring. Perhaps it is monitoring for the hell of it. I certainly see a fair bit of that. The thing is – people often don’t know why they’re doing what they’re being told to do. I keep meeting people at jobcentres who don’t know why they’ve been asked to come in, or who’ve been told by jobcentre advisers that their attendance is entirely pointless except as a tickbox exercise, or who’ve been given instructions that they absolutely can’t fathom. Nobody seems any clearer about things when they leave the jobcentre, either. The older woman I talked about at the top of this post was a case in point. Anyway – you do wonder what this is all about some days. It’s certainly not about helping people into work, or helping people with their benefits. There are days when the whole setup strikes me as a weird sort of lab experiment – making people perform a few strange actions and make their way through a maze before they’re allowed to collect a benefit.

Odd. And creepy.

Update: Link to Child Poverty Action Group advice on avoiding work focused interview sanctions. Cheers to Paul in the comments for link.

10 thoughts on “What exactly are jobcentres for?

  1. You’re completely correct about lone parents with a child under one year old not having any requirement to attend work focused interviews. Unfortunately, we’re increasingly hearing about poor and sharp practice from jobcentres around the country.

    You might find it useful to flag up our online information about avoiding sanctions related to WFI’s http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/ask-cpag-online-how-can-you-avoid-%E2%80%98work-focused-interview-sanction – it won’t necessarily stop JCP staff insisting that people do come in, but we’re hoping that some people will be able to use the content, as well as JCP’s own guidance to show why they can refuse these demands without fear of losing benefit.

  2. Makes me think that their system isn’t acting in a joined up way, Would be interesting to see if its happening to people with a single child under a year old. Otherwise it might be that their computer system is rubbish, and its flagging up the fact that older children are over one, and so there should be the occasional meeting, but not flagging up that there’s a younger child that should disqualify the parent from being called in. (the same fault might show up more regularly with someone with multiple children under 4)

    Of course on the other hand it may just be that the office is trying to fiddle its performance figures to look good to head office, and damn the consequences to its users

  3. I see this often in my local jobcentre. People in their late 50’s and early 60’s, trapped in a sort of unemployment wasteland. With no real chance of a decent job.

    Many were formerly registered for disability benefits, or have serious health issues. They are simply being re-processed by the DWP machine , round and round again. Forced into the Work Programme, Mandatory Work Activity, military ‘motivation’ courses etc.etc.

    Making hundreds of largely token applications for jobs that even the jobcentre knows they have no real chance of getting. Day after day. On the internet in the local library. Grey hair, spectacles and confusion. Applying, and applying.

    Just to keep their meagre benefits being paid. Glad that every passing year brings them nearer to retirement. When they can get out of this wretched system altogether.

  4. The 62yo lady should qualify for Pension Guarantee Credit if she’s 62.5 ( as it currently is) which means she can kick Jokecentre Minus into the long grass.

  5. Reminds me of some yank comic (whatshisname?)

    He says he was just hanging around at work when his supervisor comes up and asks why he’s doing nothing. He says because he’s finished it all. Supervisor says, “Well, can’t you pretend to be working?” Comic says, “Why don’t *you* pretend I’m working?!”

    Faced with all the rhetoric of shirkers and shysters, going into a Job-centre as a claimant (ooops – customer!) means one is very sensitive to the efficiency – or otherwise – of the staff and the system. So many employees seemingly doing so little, so badly and at such cost. Half of them now are bodyguards? Under the worst of Thatcher I never saw bodyguards at Jobcentres.

    When one tries to claim, the first question is still, “What benefit do you want to claim?” How is one to know? I always say “You work here, I don’t. You tell me!” And then we start on the Q+A. No other public service would be tolerated to be run this way.

  6. Pingback: If austerity really is over (ha), everyone must benefit. That includes people we’ve been told to hate. | Kate Belgrave

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