I recently went back to Clay Cross, where the DWP plans to close the local jobcentre.
People who use and work in the jobcentre are furious about the closure plans.
On the day I attended just before Easter, Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centre people were collecting signatures for a petition to keep the jobcentre open. It was one of the easier petition exercises I’ve been involved in over the years. Everyone signed. Even the jobcentre’s G4s security guard was happy to see people out the front collecting signatures.
“Oh, good,” he said when the petition was revealed.
The reason for this unity was obvious. People are angry about service closures in the area. The jobcentre is not the only local target at the moment. The Clay Cross Lloyds bank branch is due to shut. People also said that they worry generally about the local library staying open in the long term and/or about library hours being cut, because local councils are under such pressure. I got the impression that a lot of things feel tenuous.
Not that the architects of such closures give a damn about that, of course. Those people don’t even make sense a lot of the time.
“We’ve been clear that this is about improving the services we deliver, while making best use of taxpayers’ money,” the DWP told me when I asked last month about the impending closure of Clay Cross jobcentre.
Closing a service improves it, eh? I love this sort of line from officials who are trying to justify service closures. I really do. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I would argue that it’s not actually possible to improve a much-needed service by closing it – certainly, locals never think it is – but government is always keen to argue that such a concept is perfectly logical everywhere. I’ve been interviewing people about service cutbacks for over a decade and I’ve never once heard anyone who uses jobcentres/libraries/banks/hospitals/whatever say “Yay – our local jobcentre/library/bank/hospital is closing. That’s a step forward for the town. That’ll make life easier.” Closures don’t make life easier for people who actually use the services. No doubt that’s the point.
Certainly, locals think that’s the point.
Take Mark, 46, at Clay Cross. I spoke to Mark outside the Clay Cross jobcentre for about half an hour (there’s a transcript from this conversation below).
Mark signs on for JSA at Clay Cross. He said that he would have to travel the half-hour by bus to Chesterfield to sign on if Clay Cross jobcentre closed (the return trip costs £4.20 and Mark did not think he’d be reimbursed for every trip. The DWP says that people won’t be reimbursed for signon trips: “claimants will only have to pay fares when they sign on – on other occasions if they are called into the jobcentre, fares will be reimbursed,” the department told me. I’m not sure how people who must sign on daily and so on will handle this. I suppose people who make a trip to a jobcentre to ask a question or get a form, etc, particularly when they can’t get through to the DWP on the phone, will have to fund their journeys themselves. There can be no doubt that people with support needs will find themselves on the rough end here. It’s definitely my experience that people with support needs who struggle with the DWP’s complex phone and form systems prefer to drop in to local jobcentres to try and get face-to-face help.
Mark was concerned about meeting the DWP’s strict jobsearch requirements if the Clay Cross jobcentre shut and he couldn’t use the jobcentre computers to look for jobs online several times a week. He supposed that everyone would have to shift their operation to the Clay Cross library and do their jobsearches there. Like many people I talk with, Mark had a big problem with the DWP’s claims that people who need benefits can easily use and/or find a computer. He kept talking about that:
“All they do now is go: “We don’t need that [service] open [and] we don’t need this service open [because] everything is online…” but not everybody can use computers to go online … I’ve got to put £15 a month on my phone to do jobsearch. Some fortnights – my bills, I have to pay bedroom tax, [about] £13 a week… I can’t always put money on my phone… I come in here [to the jobcentre] and they’re moaning, “you haven’t done any jobsearch for the week.” Well, I can’t do it, mate.”
“What it is – I haven’t got facebook all the time on the phone. I haven’t got internet… no, when I haven’t got internet, I can’t do jobsearch. I got to go up here [to the Clay Cross jobcentre] and go in here. If they close it down … there’s about 50 people a day doing jobsearch in here …. it’ll bugger everyone around if they close it.” As Mark said, everybody knows what happens if you don’t meet the DWP’s jobsearch requirements. You risk sanctions. Mark was exactly the sort of person the DWP wants to checkmate with these jobcentre closures.
People in Mark’s sort of situation are, increasingly, cornered from all directions. Every option is removed. Doesn’t matter whether or not you think they deserve to be clobbered. Removing services just makes the daily experience more difficult. It pushes people further away from options – doesn’t get them closer. People can’t get work, or enough work, to ever get clear.
Because they must sign on, they are at the mercy of strict jobsearch regimes (they must prove that they are dropping CVs off to employers, or emailing CVs to employers, or applying for jobs through Universal Jobmatch, etc).
No matter that the DWP’s jobsearch demands are actually pointless for a lot of people – at least as far as finding work goes. Jobsearch is primarily a bureaucratic exercise. It’s a charade. It’s about forcing people to go through a set of motions in exchange for their measly dole. It’s like making people do a cute little dance before chucking them a handful of change. It’s done to please those taxpayers the DWP rattles on about – those people who presumably want to know that no prole gets something for nothing. Jobsearch is about making people prove that they’ve searched for a certain number of jobs in a set time. It doesn’t matter if people get those jobs, or if they have a chance at getting those jobs, or even whether those jobs exist.
This is especially true for people who really are going to struggle to find work. There are people who are in that category whether the world likes it or not. In the past three or four years, I’ve attended jobsearch meetings week after week and year after year with people who get no closer to employment and are frankly unlikely to, because they’re older, unwell, and/or have a record and/or there isn’t much work around. They must still demonstrate their attempts to find a job each time they turn up to sign on. Everyone involved knows that these demonstrations are a complete waste of time, but on they must go. Making people travel further afield to jobcentres to engage in such empty exercises is pretty perverse.
Mark and I talked about this. He couldn’t really see how signon trips to Chesterfield would improve his odds. Neither could I, if I’m honest. Like a lot of people I speak to these days, Mark had a prison sheet. He’d been inside for growing weed and converting vans. A number of people I meet at foodbanks, jobcentres or lunchrooms at the moment have done time for similar:
“I’ve been in prison several times… I got two year at one point… I was stealing to order transit vans. That’s about 14, 15 year ago.”
Punishment continues after people leave prison. I’ve made that point before. Bankers and corporates can crash an economy and dodge taxes and god knows what else, and all of that is perfectly fine. It’s a different story when the Lower Orders transgress. They get rubbed into the ground. Doesn’t matter whether or not you think they deserve it. There they are all the same. People and their problems don’t go away, just because government says those people shouldn’t exist, or shouldn’t be supported, or should change their circumstances, or whatever. I would have thought the Brexit vote had taught government that people on the rough end don’t just go away. But maybe not.
Anyway. The transcript:
Mark, 46, outside Clay Cross jobcentre, 12 April 2017:
“I sign on [at Clay Cross jobcentre] and use it three times a week for jobsearch. That’s the main thing. For jobsearch… because they’re on about shutting the library [with its computers] and all that and if they take that away…we’re buggered…
What it is – I haven’t got facebook all the time on the phone. I haven’t got internet… no, when I haven’t got internet, I can’t do jobsearch. I got to go up here [to the Clay Cross jobcentre] and go in here. If they close it down … there’s about 50 people a day doing jobsearch in here …. it’ll bugger everyone around if they close it.
I shouldn’t even be on JSA…. I should be on ESA… I’ve been to three tribunals. I’ve lost them all… See the guy who went in before me? I’ve got two smashed legs. I’ve got one lung, fractured skull… I’ve got all sorts wrong with me, do you know what I mean, and then some guy that went in before me come out… he got awarded it. I went in floods of tears, in agony and I was crying and [had a] walking stick and everything. No, no – [you] can’t have it. [You] have to do this.
They say, “do this job and that job,” but I can’t do it, because of my back – but if you don’t do it, apply for the jobs, then you are going to get sanctioned. When people get back in touch with me going, “blah blah blah, why did you apply for that job if you are not interested in it? [It’s] because I’ve been told to. I’ve been told to [do] this.
[If the Clay Cross jobcentre closes], I have to go to Chesterfield. Because you only go in once a fortnight, they won’t refund the bus fare. They won’t refund the bus fares, which is £4.20 just to sign on. Like I say, if I haven’t got the thing [internet] on my phone… sometimes, I don’t have the thing on my phone. I can’t ever do universal jobsearch on there. If they shut [the jobcentre] there, we’ll be buggered.”
You wouldn’t be able to go into Chesterfield three times a week to use the computers?
“No … £12 for three trips… £4.20 each trip.”
Are there jobs around here?
“Not round Clay Cross… All they do now is go, “We don’t need that open. We don’t need this open. Everything is online – but not everybody can use computers to go online … tell you what. I’ve got to put £15 a month on my phone to do jobsearch, just to do jobsearch… some fortnights, my bills. I have to pay bedroom tax £13 a week, all of that. Because of that, I can’t always put money on my phone. I can’t always do it and I come in here and they’re moaning, “you haven’t done any jobsearch for the week.” Well, I can’t do it, mate.
[They need to] keep this, [the jobcentre], keep the library. All they wants to do is build everything over there on that new estate and take everything off here – but it’s history. It’s [Clay Cross] a little mining village… they started doing this in Alfreton. Alfreton’s not so bad now, because more things started opening up, but two years back, Alfreton was dead. They’re going to do the same thing with this. This is an historic… god knows how many… because they’re building a new estate [a housing for sale development] over there, all this has got to go [to] give money into that…
Put money into keeping this street here…
We’ve got all these food places… and nail bars. I’ve counted them – 16 [sic]. We don’t need 16 hairdressers in a little village like this. It is a joke. It’s either that or food places…. I was going to bring it up, but I didn’t want to sound stupid. They are going on about spending money on this and spending money on that. They haven’t got money to do this [the jobcentre], but they’ve got the money to spend on the [new build] estate.
What’s Alfreton got? It’s a little village. It’s got a KFC. It’s got a McDonald’s, right, even … if you walk around here, what’s Clay Cross got? We haven’t got a KFC. I don’t particularly like McDonald’s to be honest with you, but we don’t have a KFC in Clay Cross. Instead of going into these little places and getting this fried chicken which is, excuse my French, crap, build a KFC, because I tell you what. If they did a drive through with a KFC, within a year – you think of the money that they would drag back within that year, because everybody goes to KFC. Everybody. That would keep the village alive, that.
…It just needs all the same shops, but they just need revamping a bit. I’ve seen [kids and people] smoking weed…. I’ve seen them sat on the corners, smoking weed. They go and buy it off people. I know people who sell it… they go and buy it off people and then they sit up corner and smoke it and then when the police come and when they ask people, they go, “well, I ain’t got it off him…”
Have you worked around here?
Not round here… any jobs around here. Had my own business three times. I had a car yard… in my youth, I had a car yard there. I’ve had a couple of market stalls selling toys and that. Kids’ posters and toys… valeting business when I was in my 20s – Escort van and a Marina van. Used to get sent out for valet service… now bugger all there.
I mean…who the hell [is going to employ me]? I’ve got a criminal record… I’ve got all these injuries… what are employers going to look at? They’re going to go – we don’t want him. We don’t want him … weed, several other things, criminal damage, I’ve been in prison several times… I got two year at one point. I did – it was stealing to order transit vans and that’s about 14, 15 year ago. Got sent down. I did a year and a half, then I got out…I am skint at the minute… JSA. I’ve got stoppages coming out of it, so I’m getting 50 something pound a week to live on… it’s absolutely ridiculous, because I’ve had loans and that…. court fines, criminal damage, they expect you to live on it. I reckon everyone on dole ought to be getting £100 a week…
Can’t do it. Can’t do it. I mean – even to go and have a breakfast now somewhere, you’re talking six quid. You know what I mean. It’s just, I can’t afford food. I went to my mum’s yesterday and she’d been shopping and she gets two of everything, so when I go to my mum’s, half the food she’s brought [sic], half the food she’s brought [is for me], because I can’t afford to buy food… once I’ve paid my bills, that’s it, love. I’ve got no left…
On using foodbanks
I’ve had about 50-odd times [sic] in about year and a half… they get fed up with seeing me. I go in there and they go, “oh Christ – not you again,” and I go, “well, what do you want me to do? It’s either sit up street begging and get arrested for it, or come to foodbank. I know, I know….”
What do you think of Brexit?
… they come in down that….if they changed all that – I’m not racist, or all that, but they’re changing all of that and they’re wondering why there’s bombings in Manchester, Birmingham and London…no, it’s never… it’s not the Irish anymore, is it? I get scared, I do. If I’m on a bus going anywhere and somebody gets on wearing a rucksack, I actually can move. I can actually stand up and move, because you never know, do you. You might be sitting beside one of them and Boom.