Sunday, 3 May 2009

Fear and loathing at the Jobcentre

Anyone watching Jeremy Kyle (Britain's answer to The Jerry Springer Show) would be forgiven for thinking that appearing on the show is a favourite pastime for anyone claiming unemployment benefits. The daytime TV show famously described by a judge as "the human form of bear-baiting" seems to take particular pleasure in featuring surly, inarticulate, under-educated dole-claimants whose sole ambition seems to be appearing on the show to air their personal lives on national television, shout at each other, and be shouted at by Jeremy Kyle himself.

While I'm not going to judge the circumstances under which people claim state benefits long-term, I do wonder how they can bear it. Quite aside from the vocal moral outrage of those like Kyle [left], the fact is you still have to get yourself to the Jobcentre to attend a "sign-on" meeting every 2 weeks in order to receive the dole money and let the staff suggest "suitable" available jobs to get you back in work. Personally I can't stand the Jobcentre. It's one of the most disorganised and chaotic institutions there is. Often the queues are so long and the staff are so stressed and confused that by some unhappy accident you seem to end up spending most of the day there waiting for someone to see you... only to be told that your name was mistakenly crossed off the list. When you finally get a meeting with a member of staff they ask you about your qualifications and skills to match you to suitable employment, then inform you that you're "far too qualified" for the long-distance truck-driver role that their computer database has somehow suggested as your ideal job. Fortunately the recession has meant that the staff no longer tell people like me that we're "too qualified" for the jobs they attempt to foist on us, as obviously a lot of formerly high-flying professionals have been walking through their doors.

But anyway... it would probably come as no surprise to any of you that, given my less-than-favourable impression of the Jobcentre, I forgot about my "sign-on" meeting. No problem, I was told; I could come in the next day (last Thursday) for a "late sign-on", but as my unemployment benefits claim still hasn't been processed yet, I wouldn't be paid yet. I turned up the next day, only to find that:
a) they'd forgotten to add my name to the list of "late sign-ons" that day
b) someone had come along and closed my unemployment benefits application without bothering to read the note on my file about the "late sign-on" meeting.

So it seems I have to go through the whole rigamarole again. Not that I was told this at first: after being advised one thing and then another by various Department for Work and Pensions people over the phone, I then found out I have to go through the whole applications process again "because I haven't received any dole money yet". All this in spite of the fact that my initial claim has yet to be processed! I know it's partly my fault for missing the meeting in the first place, but what a pain. I have no idea how long-term benefits claimants put up with the amount of hassle one has to go through.

Whilst in theory it's nice that countries like the UK have some sort of safety net to help those who are actively looking for work and might need a bit of support in the meantime, in practice it's complicated, cumbersome and unreliable. I'm not even sure the staff themselves know entirely what they're doing. Common advice on losing your job is that you shouldn't delay in claiming benefits, whatever your financial situation; but to be perfectly honest doing so can be a job in itself.

I'll certainly be glad when the application process (or re-application process in my case) is over next week and I can concentrate on doing the things I need to do to find gainful employment. Until then, I shall just enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend.
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  1. Several years back I went through a similiar process here in the US and it sounds very much the same.
    The standing in line, being crossed off lists, benefit paperwork mix-ups, etc.
    I guess some horrors are the same, or at least close, no matter where we are.
    My thought will be with you through your ordeal.

  2. Wow that sounds like an extremely long and complicated process. How is it that places like this, that are created to help people, often cause more stress than the actual job hunting process itself?

  3. Squirrel Queen:
    Blimey. It sounds like the welfare state across the pond is just as much of a mess as here! Ah well, at least it'll be over soon.

    Yup. An extremely long and complicated process for a maximum of £60 per week of Jobseekers' Allowance. Which is not really enough to live on anyway, especially in London - you'll probably need at least 4 times that amount just to survive. Plus I've already been told - even though my original application hasn't been processed - that I wouldn't be entitled to the full £60 a week anyway. Hurrah!

    I suppose we just have to make do with the benefits system we've got, but I really don't understand how anyone would want to do this long term. But there you go, it'll be over after this week hopefully! :-D

  4. Nations like the UK and the US do have safety net programs (mainly taxpayer-funded programs from the government). However, it irks me when people start depending on those programs and forget the reason why they're on those programs in the first place: they're unemployed/can't afford to make ends meet. What are they doing about their situation? Relying on those programs instead of making something for themselves.

  5. I need to sign on. I've been looking for work for what seems like an age but sadly my pride and general disgust at even attempting to visit the jobcentre is putting me off. I had psyched myself up to sign on this week but after reading this, it's put me off again! EEEEEk!

  6. Imee:
    Unfortunately providing government help like what we have in the UK and US will come with its own set of problems that are difficult to solve. Some of the long-term benefits claimants are people who really can't work because, say, they have to care for a disabled parent, and either can't afford extra help or can't afford to go out to work as they need to provide physical help for 24 hours a day. Or they've got health problems of their own which would make having a normal working day difficult. But then it's true that there are some long-term claimants that have no intention of getting off welfare even though they could. I'm not sure how wide the problem is - and not even sure if it's as wide as the media outrage makes out - but regardless, I don't really understand why anyone would WILLINGLY choose the long-term benefits option. But then I suppose that's why I've led the life I have!

    Whoops! I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to put you off - I'm sure your experience would be a lot more straightforward than mine was! I know what you mean about pride getting in the way - it's why I didn't go to the Jobcentre straight away myself. Besides which I (laughably) thought I'd be back in work within a month - obviously all I want is just for a role to help finance the career change - but didn't realise it would be as difficult as it has been! I reckon you should go and sign on this week; every little helps :-)

  7. I will sign on. I know i need to. I've been trying to psych myself up again today and i've decided to definately do it this week. That's progress right there!

    By the way, i've tagged you on my blog. Its a different silly game than the one you tagged me on. Feel free to ignore if you wish! :)

  8. Yay! You do that, I'm sure it'll be fine. I have my meeting with them early tomorrow morning - wish me luck!

    I saw your blog post, thanks for tagging me. I probably won't put it up immediately though, not so soon after the other one - but I will put it up at some point :-)