Back to Stockport jobcentre – where I recently spoke at length with Ben (named changed). I’ve posted the transcript below.
Ben was 58 and long-term unemployed. Ben did not think that his situation would change soon.
The DWP was after Ben on several fronts.
The DWP is often after people on several fronts.
The department refuses to leave people alone for five minutes. The department drags people to compliance interviews, sends people on useless “employability” courses and makes people attend jobcentres to sit in front of computers and apply online for jobs they never hear about again.
None of this is about helping people find work. It’s about something sinister. It’s about standing over people who are least likely to find work. It’s about reminding people who are out of work that they are not entitled to even a little autonomy. There’s a whole industry devoted to making sure that people who are long-term unemployed are permanently under the thumb.
If you’re out of work and signing on, the DWP owns you.
The DWP certainly owned Ben.
For starters, the DWP was coming for Ben on compliance.
People are called to compliance interviews when the DWP wants to accuse them of earning while claiming, or having secret savings, or whatever. I’ve seen more compliance letters over the years than I care to count. The amounts of money are rarely startling and anyway, the DWP’s accusations are often completely wrong. This doesn’t stop the department frightening the hell out of people by firing out fraud accusations. If you’re out of work, government likes to take any opportunity to rough you up. If there isn’t an opportunity to rough you up on the immediate horizon, government creates one.
Ben had received a compliance letter and a call from the DWP that morning.
The DWP had accused Ben of earning a bit of money and not declaring it.
Ben was furious about this. He was angry about the accusation and, it turned out, about the problems that working a few days had caused him.
Ben had worked as a security guard for three days and had been paid, and declared that. Then he worked another three days as a security guard, but the company he’d worked for that time never paid him.
This happens ALL the time, just so that you know. People land few days’ work with some fly-by-night company and/or sub-sub-subcontracted contractor, but they never get the pay they were promised. They can either go to war with the company in question to get their money, or they can let it go and hope things work out better next time. It’s not much of a choice.
“I’ve just had an accusation this morning… they sent me a…I have a [compliance] interview… that’s the letter [Ben showed me the compliance letter that the DWP had sent]. It’s a compliance thing. I’ve been accused of working…and I haven’t… this other company, I worked for them in August in the hospital for three days – three 12-hour days. They never paid me. I didn’t get slips or anything. They [the DWP] said, “Oh, you were working.” I said, “I never got anything except a uniform they sent me…” They’re [the security company] probably saying, “he’s got the uniform. We’re not going to pay him…”
So, there was that.
Ben’s second problem was the pointless jobsearch activities that the jobcentre was forcing him into right then.
Ben had been sent on “employability” courses and shown how to write a CV so often that he literally couldn’t stand it. He was 58. He felt that he’d been shown to write CVs by every dodgy course provider in the country.
Nonetheless, the DWP was really going for it. The department does this from time to time:
“They put me on a course recently at the football stadium. It was three weeks. It was Monday to Thursday, Monday to Thursday, Monday to Thursday.. I told her [Ben’s jobcentre adviser] – what was the point of it? … I’m 58. This other chap [on the course] is 64. We said, “it’s pointless. We’re doing the same things that we did when we were on the careers scheme when we were children. We’ve all got CVs and we’ve all got the necessary letters and cover letters. All that was the same thing.”
Someone’s doing well out of these courses, but it isn’t the people who are forced to attend them.
Ben’s third beef was the meaningless online job applications that he had to make all week. He had to fill in and send five online applications each day. Like absolutely everyone I talk to at jobcentres, he never, ever heard back about any of these job applications.
I’ve written about this before. How many thousands and even millions of these never-to-be-read job applications are sent across the web each day? What sort of pervert gets off on making people dance this way every day for their measly Universal Credit or JSA?
“I do five a day. I send five applications away a day, but it’s only clicking on…you’re getting away with it. If you get an application form, you’re going to spend ages on it and when you get to the end – [the application says] “references, please.” If you haven’t got those, it all folds up…it’s a waste of time, because they don’t get back to you. They receive it and that’s it. I’ve had no offers. I’ve only had these zero hours offers in security.”
I’m saying it again. This is twisted. Chills me in a way: this endless money and endless resource devoted to making sure that people get nowhere and go nowhere. It’s sick.
“I haven’t got anywhere,” Ben said. “I’m annoyed, though, that they there’s a lawless aspect in it.”
Here’s the full transcript:
“They’re [jobcentre advisers] are difficult when I often think that they might be breaking the law.
I’ve never liked that thinking that, because you’re in a position of vulnerability. They can sort of twist things and have it their own way, but I don’t see what can be done about it…
They put me on a course recently at the football stadium. It was three weeks. It was Monday to Thursday, Monday to Thursday, Monday to Thursday.. I told her [Ben’s jobcentre adviser] – what was the point of it? … I’m 58. This other chap [on the course] is 64. We said, “it’s pointless. We’re doing the same things that we did when we were on the careers scheme when we were children. We’ve all got CVs and we’ve all got the necessary letters and cover letters. All that was the same thing.
I mean…[we had to search for jobs] on little laptops like that that didn’t even work… and then when I’d done it, I don’t know when she’s going to say, “oh, do this and do that, do the other.” They’re just throwing people on the same course and they don’t like them…because you’re trying to get a job. I’m a security guard and you’re looking for…
The course at the football ground – CVs, letter writing, interview techniques… they showed you a video and told you when you did the wrong thing. It was that sort of business – all barriers, 15 barriers, things in the way to getting a job.., well of course there are barriers. I’ve been out for so long, so many years.
Nobody’s going to bother [with me] and they wouldn’t have it… it’s just sheer asinine, you know, for the sake of nothing and I’ve got other things to do. Some of them [people on benefits] do five hours [jobsearch each day] on the computer. Why do you come in here [to the jobcentre] just to do five hours jobsearch on the computers in here? Do it in the library. One guy here, he’s a glutton for punishment. I never use it [the computers] in here. I always do it on the phone, or in the library.
“I do five a day. I send five applications away a day, but it’s only clicking on…you’re getting away with it. If you get an application form, you’re going to spend ages on it and when you get to the end – [the application says] “references, please.” If you haven’t got those, it all folds up…it’s a waste of time, because they don’t get back to you. They receive it and that’s it. I’ve had no offers. I’ve only had these zero hours offers in security.
I’ve just had an accusation this morning. They sent me a…I have an [phone] interview… that’s the letter. It’s a compliance thing. I’ve been accused of working…and I haven’t, because that’s it there… and I said to her, well, I did three or four days with their basic pay, but when I got that I went in there [to the jobcentre] and I told them that’s what I’ve been paid and then they adjusted the benefits, so they know full well about that.
But this other company, I worked for them in August in the hospital for three days – three 12-hour days. They never paid me. I didn’t get slips or anything. They [the DWP] said, “Oh, you were working,” and I said, “I never got anything except a uniform they sent me and I got that.” They’re probably saying, “well, he’s got the uniform. We’re not going to pay him…”
They still sent me a payslip saying “uniform deducted” and so I couldn’t declare anything in there and so this [compliance accusation] has just come through today.
I told them that I’ve been absolutely honest with them and it’s despicable, because someone has just sort of written in and made the allegation. I’ve never all the years… I’ve been absolutely honest, so I don’t like the way it goes on. These compliance interviews. They seem to increase…it’s more coming through…
She didn’t ask for the bank statements this time, because it was on the telephone. She [the DWP compliance officer who rang] didn’t ask for the bank statements, or how much have you got.
I said, “I haven’t earned anything. If they didn’t pay me, they didn’t pay me.” How can I prove that you know unless I showed them the bank statement and there wouldn’t be anything in there. So, it’s ridiculous.
The other thing I don’t like is the fact that you do this little bit of work and it throws everything out, because you’re going up to the housing benefit, you’re coming in here [to the jobcentre], they’re sending you more paperwork – “we’re taking it away for two weeks… all goes back again.”
It’s mentally distressing. There’s no regularity with anything. If you just got the benefits all the time that let you work a couple of days on top of what you get and then with all your bills… when you get that zero hours situations, they’re all zero hours.
I haven’t been offered anything else five days a week, or anything like that, so it’s a failure. It’s all right for people who are married and the wife works. You can go out and do any job you want whenever it arises. A lot of it is seasonal now – the festivals and security for that…
Oh a long, long time [since I worked consistently]… I did a year in a shop as a supervisor was all I did, but that was a minimum contract of 6 hours – a Sunday supervisor. That was only extended, because the managers in other shops weren’t there. I went in and filled in for the week, so one week I did three days, but it was generally just a Sunday supervisor’s role. So I did that for a year, but before that, oh, it goes back donkey’s years. I haven’t done anything for a long, long time, but I’ve always lived on it what they have given me until this silly accusation.
I think when they’re trying to get you to work… you say, “Oh, it’s worse. I might as well stay on benefit…” you feel worse it’s more of a trauma [to work] and it is. You don’t get the security. I said to the manager of this firm, I said, “well, I’ve got to pay £145 a month in water, gas, electric, telephone, mobile – and everything like that has got to go out.” They said, “thanks for being honest with me.”
I got [my security guard badge] for nothing, because I did it through a Manchester firm. They said if I did a two weeks course before it… they’ve changed the rules about it now. It’s not five days. It’s three weeks and the first two weeks are not the door supervisor role. They’re customer service, fire safety handling, all these certificates. You get ten certificates and then you do your door supervisor’s week and you get that certificate, your conflict management certificate. The badge was free, but it’s £220. It only lasts three years and then it’s another £220…
The old one had a chip in there like a credit card, so it’s actually some kind of biometric now. They have changed the way… you can’t forge it now. I got it free, but when that expires, I’ll have to pay it…this time for another 3 years, but why when I’m not earning anything…
[With security jobs] it’s easier, because it’s more straightforward to send through without filling out masses of forms. If they’re keen on you, they’ll just send you a form and you put some details in, put your badge in and upload your badge and everything and that’s more or less it. You do an interview and if they like you, that’s it, so it is easier, but some of these proper jobs, 5 days a week, it’s all this rubbish of filling in everything that you’ve already filled in so many times.
I feel really that they should interview people first and then fill in the application, because it is all so pointless.
I think they have a sort of template that selects out… and it throws out [the rest]… Marks & Spencer have a thousand [job applications] a week. It’s totally pointless. They closed Marks & Spencer here [in Stockport]. They’ve closed everything – Toys R Us and then in there [in the jobcentre] they’re saying, you know, “try to get into retail.”
I tried everything. I’ve got the food hygiene certificate. I did it just over there in that building, but it was last November…[the jobcentre said] “you have to do courses now.” I must do English Level 2. I must do a warehouse course certificate. I must do hygiene. So I went in and I did all three, but the hygiene certificate [is pointless]. I have no catering experience, so when I send it off [applications for catering jobs] I know that they’re not going to reply
If it doesn’t say chef or something that relates to food, they just kick you out.
I haven’t got anywhere. I’m annoyed, though, that they there’s a lawless aspect in it.”